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  • Caroline Shaw Is Not Here To Save Classical Music

     Japo_Japo updated 10 months, 2 weeks ago 1 Member · 1 Post
  • Japo_Japo

    October 1, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    When the Pulitzer-winning composer Caroline Shaw wants a snack, she soft-boils an egg. She knows that six minutes and 15 seconds leads to the ideal texture — a jammy yolk, with a chalky outer edge and a flowing center. But her ritual for the past few years has been to surrender the process to music, letting whatever she’s listening to that day dictate the precise cook time. She documents her research on Instagram, archiving each test in a collection titled “eggtime”: A screenshot of a piece of music around six minutes long, like a movement from an Alban Berg string quartet or a song by the band Japanese Breakfast, will precede a picture of the finished egg, annotated with her notes on texture. (After testing a Beethoven piano sonata movement played by Mitsuko Uchida: “Mitsuko’s cadences are on the safe side for salmonella.”)

    “The process is never going to be perfect,” Shaw said recently. “It’s always going to depend on the size of the egg, the pot, the temperature. I don’t really want to perfect it. I want there to be variation.” Her friends consider her practice more than a quirk, but a gastronomic microcosm of her creative impulses. “It would be so much easier to set a timer,” says Andrew Yee, cellist of the Attacca Quartet, “but she chooses to listen. Not every musician you hang out with loves music as much as Caroline loves music.”

    When Shaw’s composition Partita for 8 Voices won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013, making her the youngest person to ever win the award at age 30, it led her to places many of her peers never reach: recognition beyond the classical scene, and the freedom to work on any kind of creative project that interests her. In the years since, she has collaborated with Kanye West, written for film, guest acted in Mozart in the Jungle and been anointed one of the modern figures making classical music “cool.” Through her rise, though, Shaw has maintained a flexibility that makes her career difficult to define and predict. She has neither settled into a traditional composer’s path of hunting for prestigious commissions, nor swerved strongly toward pop. She continues, instead, to seek intimate, amorphous musical experiences where composing and performing overlap, and where the boundaries of classical blur beyond recognition.

    Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part, released June 25 on Nonesuch Records, is the composer’s latest attempt to stay true to that compass. In the fall of 2018, Shaw scaled up her egg operation for a few days, cooking in the mornings for a small crew at Guilford Sound, a recording studio on a lush 400-acre property in southern Vermont. She was there with Sō Percussion, a four-person ensemble that, since the 2000s, has pushed contemporary classical music to experimental, playful heights. (Found objects, such as cacti and tin cans, are as common in Sō’s performances as glockenspiels and drums.) After each day’s breakfast caucus, Shaw, the producer Jonathan Low and the percussionists — Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting — set to work on their latest collaboration, an album of songs with Shaw as the singer and lyricist. Let the Soil, the result of that freewheeling session, is a collection of clandestine earworms — nonchalant but generous music whose swarms of percussion and electronics swirl around the spine of her bright voice.

    Becoming a songwriter gave Shaw yet a new way to define what moves her. “I really love songs about wondering about the other side, the essential questions of life,” she says. “What happens when you die? How do you get there, how do you understand it?” More than that, though, she says the themes of this latest project reflect the kind of liminal space she likes to create in all her music, where a listener surrenders to a song’s evolution. “I love the harmonies that you can’t really assign an affect or emotion, the way that they have pivoted from the thing before. There’s a sweet sadness there. That is what music sometimes is for me.”

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