When looking through different works by Nico Muhly, what stood out among all his works was his piece, Skip Town, with its official music video. My first thought was about the purpose of music videos and why so many artists create music videos to go along with their music. Not to say I don’t feel the same when listening to their music over the radio or music apps, but the physical appearance of a video to go along with their music just adds more to the context of their song. Upon listening to and watching the music video, I found that his style of writing did not fully depart from the traditional Classical style of composing, as there was an indication of tonality, lyricism, and meter in the piano and percussion part. However, Muhly adds his own perspective and originality by incorporating natural physical sounds such as, walking, pacing, closing and opening doors. It is not uncommon in the 21st century to combine these everyday sounds into musical pieces. Therefore, we can conclude that Muhly’s mission is to merge the old with the new.
In the music video, a man is trying to eagerly get his belongings packed up so he can “skip town.” The entire music video has a sense that he is racing against the clock. The music in the piano and percussion reflected the sense of ticking with its constant fast rhythmic pattern that did not change throughout the piece. In my opinion, the music was more captivating when watching the video too, more so than when I didn’t watch the video and just listened to the music alone. You can still hear and imagine the sounds of someone rushing and grabbing their belongings in a hurry, with side car troubles, but it wasn’t as convincing or as dramatic as seeing it happen. Even when there were no sounds coming from the actor, and the piano and percussion carried on its rhythmic pattern, the actor’s flailing arms and pacing were still synced with the meter set underneath.
Like most modern art-music, 21st century composers tend to draw their inspiration from the classical Western art tradition, and in this case, I got the sense that Muhly drew his inspiration from the romantic era with his use of tonality, lyricism, and meter. Even though the tonality of the piece comes strictly from the piano and percussion’s rhythmic line, the choice in which he presents the order of broken chords creates a melody-like line. The piece is in a stable 2/4 meter that derives from the piano. All of the sound effects and motions of the actor are in some form synced to this meter. Whether it be him closing his car door on a down beat, or his timing of opening his watch to check the time.
The lyricism in the piece is not done in a traditional manner with an expressive melody line, but through the overlapping rhythms that form in the piano’s syncopated rhythm with big interval leaps. This use of a single motif played by the piano, with the addition of percussion later, is repeated throughout the piece with little variation, while new musical ideas of rhythm and sound are produced through the actions of the actor and his rush to leave town.