Sunday, May 20, 2012

Blowhards in DC

The last two weeks have featured a surprising amount of circular breathing.

Starting with Ned Rothenberg, who was outstanding as usual. He played a duo show with Ayman Fanous (5/11 at a church in Foggy Bottom).  He did one solo piece on alto sax, as well as duos making use of shakuhachi, clarinet, and bass clarinet. Amazing stuff. His new solo clarinet record ("World of Odd Harmonics" on Tzadik) is also excellent. Here's a sample - not from this concert, but recent and similar material:

Then International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), (5/17 at Atlas) whose program included a solo bassoon piece that required circular breathing. During that passage, the performer made a porcine snort with each breath. I wonder if that's a function of how much air it takes to work a bassoon vs. a sax or trumpet?

Then Travis Laplante and Peter Evans (5/19 at Back Alley Theater): The final piece of Laplante's set was a long theme and variations form built on a long chant like melody - rendered beautifully in "normal" tones then used as the basis for a series of intense psuedo-polyphonic episodes. I think this is the studio version, it's only the tune that he opened and closed the piece with at the show:

Peter Evans performed what seemed like a quartet for two trumpets, elephant and whale. He played all the parts himself simultaneously on one trumpet.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Low End String Quartet: commissioning

The Low End String Quartet is commissioning two new pieces, to be premiered in Reston, Virgina on April 14th.

One piece is coming from cello superstar Zoe Keating. The other is from experimental guitar virtuoso Sarah Lipstate (aka Noveller).

I'm having some trouble embedding the video here... so you have to click the link to see the video about our project. We're doing a kickstarter-style fundraiser, but on a different platform. One that comes with matching funds and is nonprofit so donations are tax-deductible.

Learn more and join in here:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Repetition Meditation 1

Repetition Meditation 1 by Jonathan Matis

Here's a demo of a new piece I'm working on. It's scored for 2 electric guitars and 4 horns. The recording uses fake horns. I'm on the prowl for live human horn players who might help me make an actual recording.

Score is posted here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New Release: On the inevitability of loss

Listen and download via bandcamp.

This is a set of four dark and somber pieces for bass clarinet and cello. (There should be a lot more music written for bass clarinet and cello. Bass clarinetists and cellists should be forming duos all over the place. They could name their group, "Dark and Creepy." In a perfect world, that would happen.)

It's not really designed for live performance, but was conceived for realization in the studio. To play it live would require 3 bass clarinetists, at least 5 cellists, and guitar. Most of those people would sit around not playing for most of the time. So, maybe better to think of it as duo pieces, with a few overdubs allowed.

I had the idea in the back of my mind for a long time to write duos for those two instruments. They sound so great together. Also, in certain registers, they sound almost identical. I don't think you can find a more homogeneous pairing of wind and string instruments?

The first and last pieces of the set are actually the same. First time, done by bass clarinet (with two overdubs), then the work closes with the same material performed by the cello. Track two is a straight-up acoustic duet (without overdubs). Track three is the emotional core of the work, and has the densest sound palette. On that one, I was aiming for something Godspeed You! Black Emporer-esque, but missed and wound up someplace else.

Compositionally, all of the music is kept very simple. Partly because of my own simple-mindedness, but partly as a means of maintaining a sense of austerity to balance the dark emotional tone.

I ripped off an excerpt of a very old chant melody from the Russian orthodox church, probably inaccurately. There's also a Russian lullaby tune that appears (most clearly in track 2). It also has a dark quality, but at the same time has a sort of naive innocence to it. Most of the other original material is made using the octatonic scale (or what jazz players call the diminished or half-diminished scale). Stravinsky seemed to like it, and he proved again and again that it pairs nicely with Russian folk tunes, so it seemed like a safe bet. And it was.

Most importantly, the score includes a great deal of improvisation. The best parts of what you hear were not invented by me, but by the super talented and lovely people that played the piece. They totally killed it. It's a little bit disingenuous to slap my name on there like I "own" it. But I did.

The credits:

Composed by Jonathan Matis.
Performed by:
Ben Redwine: bass clarinet
Natalie Spehar: cello
Gordon Withers: cello section on track 3, first solo on track 4
Jonathan Matis: ambient guitar on track 3
Mixed by T.J. Lipple
Produced by Jonathan Matis and T.J. Lipple
Recorded in Jon's basement

If you're curious, the score is available here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

bonus track: bass clarinet & guitar duo

I'm working on some new music, commissioned by a dance company. It's written for a sweet duo: bass clarinet and cello. I love the way those two instruments sound together.

The recording sessions have gone very well. Hiring awesome players is definitely the way to go. They got everything done in one or two takes.

We got through the solo bass clarinet music so fast that we had some time to spare before the cellist arrived; so we did a short little improv track together. This won't be included in the dance piece, so from my (metaphorical) editing room floor to you:

Bass Clarinet - Guitar duo by Jonathan Matis

Ben Redwine: Clarinet
Me: guitar
mixed by TJ Lipple

Please enjoy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

We love the saddest songs.

Navel gazing is unamerican.
Amnesia is patriotic.
Together we forget.
Together we repeat.
Together we struggle.
Together we talk ourselves out of failure.

Our favorite songs are the saddest ones.
We love the story of realizing we were wrong all along.
We love that song. We can't get enough.
We hate that story.
We refuse to listen to that story.
We love that song.

We love the songs about sadness and suffering.
About longing and loss.
About wanting and wanting.