The Immediacy of the Silence in Muted: A curatorial statement by David Pay
December 04, 2018
You know when you walk into a darkened room? It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust, but then you’re able to see all the details.
Muted is the aural equivalent of that. Everything is very quiet, but after a while, you notice every single sound in a new way. You hear the violinist’s hand pass over the strings of her instrument. You hear her footsteps as she moves around the audience. Muted invites you to re-acquaint your ears with silence and with quiet sounds.
Violinist Monica Germino’s ears are changing, and she can no longer be exposed to anything louder than 80 decibels. As a musician, she initially feared that her performing days would draw to a close, but composer Michael Gordon told her “I’m going to write you a piece so soft, I don’t care if no one can hear it.” Michael and his Bang on a Can colleagues David Lang and Julia Wolfe invited legendary Dutch composer Louis Andriessen to co-create Muted; a quiet, moving, piece for violin, voice, whisperviolin, frame violin, and a multitude of mutes (pieces of wood or metal that dampen the sound of the violin).
Not everything in Muted is super quiet though. Monica sings and tells stories using her speaking voice. While there are moments that are magnificently quiet, there’s an immediacy to all of the sounds. When Monica walks past audience members and you get to hear the violin, very quietly, right next to your own ear, it’s magical. There are funny moments too, and moving moments.
Muted is a surprising piece, especially if you know Monica’s past work at Music on Main. She was one of the loudest violinists on earth along with the other four composers who are also known for loud, hard-driving music. Muted, however, is something different altogether. The composers all know Monica really well, and they very deliberately created a piece that takes advantage of Monica’s warm and gregarious personality.
Muted isn’t just about quiet sounds; it’s about a full range of expression, contained under a kind of veil of quiet volume. It’s a piece that draws us in and sends us back out into the world a little more attuned than when we arrived.