Friday, December 15, 2006

Step Afrika

Peformed at Dance Place, November 11 & 12, 2006

One of my biggest and most difficult projects of the last year wrapped up recently -- I wrote music for a new multi-media piece by Step Afrika. The piece, titled "Nxt/Step," is their first attempt to push stepping in a new, modern direction. It's put together as a long-form piece (20 minutes) which is quite unusual in stepping, and it includes hi-tech video integration. These were all new challenges for them, which only amplified the challenges for me. Most stepping doesn't include additional music - the dancers make loads of sound with their feet, hands, and voices, so there generally isn't much need or space for additional music...

Going into the project, I made some naive assumptions about stepping. I thought the rhythms would be pretty straightforward - with steady tempos, even meters, and nice symmetrical phrases. Not so. It's much more like African drumming, where each rhythm has it's own length and tempo - very different from what I'm used to, so I had to get caught up fast. My first approach was to do some live processing and looping, manipulating the sounds of the dancers. After a few rehearsals, and disappointing results, we ditched that idea. Eventually we came up with some short riffs and phrases that I could build on, and we put something together.

The piece still feels to me like a work in progress. Elements of the choreography were still changing right up through the dress rehearsal, so I had to keep several sections open (by only using live guitar music that I played along with them). For a few transitions, I had recorded cues, and some of those had some live guitar added on top. There's a good chance we'll be revisiting the piece in spring of 2007, so I'm looking forward to continuing to develop it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

DCIC and Golden Arm Trio

at DC Arts Center, 10/15/2006

We had the priviledge of sharing the bill with the fantastic Golden Arm Trio from Austin, TX. We planned on doing three pieces, but they wound up segue-ing from one to the next very nicely, so it probably sounded like we only did one long piece. Oh well. I love that the group has the ability to improvise with some structure, and then let go of or modify the structure, all together, in the moment.

GA3's set was fabulous. And we all went next door for Ethiopian food afterwards. Yum.

Let's catch up - Fall 06 dance gigs

Fall was a busy season. During September and October I performed with two dance companies. First, Daniel and I revisited our duo, "Unmapped." We performed a 10 minute version as featured guest artists on the Choreographers Collaboration Project's fall concert at the Lee Center in Alexandria. A few weeks later, I performed with Cross Currents Dance Co. as part of the Joy of Motion 30th anniversary weekend. We also revisited "Unmapped" -- Daniel created a piece for them last spring called "Unmapped 4x4" which we re-staged for this mixed program. First night I played it pretty safe, second night I cut loose and rocked out. Much better that way.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Eigenvalues' first show

Last week, Cameron and I did our first show as "Eigenvalues." We haven't figured out exactly how to describe what it is we do... spoken word / text / sound pieces using electronic processing and a few instruments. The event was put on by the Alexandria Performing Arts Association as a sort of preview for "Yockadot,"an avant-garde poetry / theater festival coming up next spring.

We split the bill with a group called "Old Songs." They do original songs, in an old-fashioned Appalachian sort of style, using texts that are original translations of ancient Greek poetry.

We did five pieces, and they all seemed to go pretty well. Our performance was well received, and we got some good feedback, especially about our work-in-progress: a piece derived from Bach's Cello Suite No.1. So far we've only done the prelude, and I think it's safe to say we both are totally unsure of what people would make of it. So, it was really nice to get some reassurance that we're heading in the right direction.

Thanks so much to all of our friends who came out for the show - it was great to see all of you!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Metro DC Dance Awards

Some interesting news from last night's Metro DC Dance Awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center... Big congratulations are in order to frequent collaborator and Improv Arts Co-Director Daniel Burkholder and his dance company, The PlayGround, who won the award for "Outstanding Group Performance" for their piece, "together/apart (we each go our way)."

I was also a finalist for an award, in the category of "Excellence in Sound Design/Original Composition." I was nominated for a project I worked on by Nejla Yatkin called "De/Reconstructing Mata Hari." It felt strange to be nominated for that one, since I didn't write any of the music. I was hired pretty much as an audio editor. Well, I did a fine job, I guess. Anyway, I didn't win that one - which is for the best. It would've been really strange to get an award for a little editing job but I suppose "finalist for 2006 Metro DC Dance Award" looks just fine on my resume, no?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

DCIC mastering session

On Sunday, I went back to Silver Sonya for our mastering session. It went very smoothly, and as expected, working with TJ Lipple means it sounds great. Since he did such a bang-up job during the recording and mixing, there wasn't much fixing that had to happen - just some minor tweaks and edits. Now the new DCIC CD (working title is "Triangulation") is "in the can."

Honestly, we haven't a clue what to do with it now that it's done. Well, I mean we know we want to release it somehow, but beyond that, well, plans are a little fuzzy.

So now I have two CD's "in the can" and ready to be released... The new Fending/Matis disc, "Three Rocks" has been done for some time, and is going to be released in the next few months on Sockets CDR. Now we have to figure out who might want to help release a DCIC recording. Any thoughts?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Ka Himeni Hehena

Eigenvalues, my text/sound duo project with Cameron, is gearing up for our performance later this month (Sept. 29). This is one of the pieces we'll be performing. It's the only one we're doing that's not an original; this piece was written by Charles Amirkhanian. The text is all in Hawaiian, although it doesn't make sense. He's simply playing with the sounds of the words. The title means "The Mad Hymn." When we perform the piece, there will be two tracks of recorded voices, and then we do two voices live.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sound Design project

cameron and wickett
Originally uploaded by J_matis.
I've had the good fortune of being hired for a unique sound design project. I'm developing recorded work for a choral piece by Don McCullough. The work is called "Let My People Go" and it's an arrangement of spirituals for choir and percussion, with two narrators. The narrators deliver text about the underground railroad and related stories. My recordings will provide a sound environment for the narrators.

Since most of the stories told by the narrators take place at night (since this is when travellers could be active on the underground railroad), I'm using sounds of crickets and nighttime bugs as a foundational element. Towards this end, Cameron and I were able to turn our weekend getaway to a cabin in West Virginia into that lovely thing known to us self-employed folks as a business expense. Our cabin turned out to be an ideal spot to record those little nocturnal forest dwellers in full swing - with little interference from traffic, and other people noises.

Making those field recordings only took about 30 minutes, so we also had time to enjoy the hot tub on our large screened porch (nice "cabin" eh?) and a day of hiking in various parks nearby. This photo is from our morning hike in New River Gorge National Park. Wickett came along for that one...

DCIC at Red and The Black

Last Sunday night (Aug. 20) we played again at The Red and The Black - a new venue on H Street, northeast. It's a nice room, small and warm sounding. I've played there three times now, and it has consistently been a welcoming environment for music. Hopefully the H street corridor will pick up some more traffic over time...

We played on a four-band bill featuring two touring groups from Tallahassee, Florida: Arch Trio and Dead Legs, plus another local artist: Meesh. DCIC played as a trio: Ben, Mike, and me.

We didn't have any rehearsal before the show, and since Mike got stuck in traffic on the way there, we didn't really have time to even discuss a "game plan" for our set. We just had to get on stage and bring it. Seems like the trio is working well enough that we can pull that off. Honestly, I don't think that discussing the set before we played would have made it any better or worse - the three of us have enough experience now playing together that I think we can communicate pretty well in the moment simply through the musical choices that we're making.

DCIC with Greg Osby

It seems I've gotten a bit behind in the blogging dept... so I'm going to try and catch up with a few impressions about recent goings on. Unfortunately, the blog is now messed up: it's not in strict reverse chronological order. I should embrace this new freedom and enjoy the flexibility of posting things not necessarily in the order in which they actually occurred - after all, who gives a crap? But it just feels so wrong. Ok, I will suppress my bean counter nature and move on - out of order.

Back on August 5th, DCIC had the opportunity to perform with a very special guest: saxophonist Greg Osby. The show was a benefit for Alkem, and was held on the main stage at Warehouse Theater. Joe Lally opened, playing a whole bunch of new songs from his forthcoming album. For this performance, we had the full group: Ben Azzara (drums), Dan Barbiero (bass), me (guitar), and Mike Sebastian (tenor sax, and saxello) - plus the incredible Mr. Osby (alto sax).

Overall, things went really really well - better than I expected. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, so I'm not sure what that means.

What I mean is: Greg Osby is a brilliant musician. He really "led the way." Every time he put the sax to his lips, he gave us such clear and rich material - it was easy to improvise with him. His ideas were so well put together that it felt like the group was generally following his lead - although (and here's where he really was impressive) he didn't take the spotlight. His performance was very much as part of the ensemble -- not "Greg Osby accompanied by DCIC." It was really a collective effort - but he's just a damn fine player and incredible talent.

We made up a "set list" before the show with 5 pieces... various duos and trios, plus some full group playing. What actually happened was a bit different - we played three pieces - but still managed to hit most of those duos and trios. Dan was really "on" that night, he delivered several nice solos and kept things moving through the whole set. Mike also rose to the occasion - I'm sure it was a difficult spot - playing sax next to such a highly accomplished artist - but that was a total non-issue. Mike's playing was very different, stylistically, and made a great counterpoint to Osby's playing.

We recorded the show, and it's been added to "The Vault." Over on the DCIC website, we've set things up now so instead of an overwhelming catalog of mp3's available for free download, there's an archive with a player built into the page. So now you can stream random tracks from "The Vault" for free right from your browser. If you'd like access to everything we've ever recorded it can be had for the price of whatever price you think it's worth - just make a donation to Improv Arts, and you get a passcode to access "The Vault" and download anything and everything... including everything we haven't recorded yet. So, this show is in there (and the recording sounds pretty good if I do say so myself).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Black Stars

This is a song by Jolie Holland. She's a phenomenal songwriter and performer. I made this recording as part of an anniversary present for Cameron. If you listen, you will quickly discover that I'm not much of a singer. I'm very self conscious about it, but am posting the recording here as part of an effort to "get over it." Also wanted to share with everyone what a sap I am - and how totally smitten I am with Cameron.

Plus, I want to spread the word about this brilliant song (even though this performance may not be all that). Dave Maddox wrote a great essay about this song, and one other from the same album. Click-through to read it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fending/Matis tour: "Malibu Death March"

I just finished up a little mini-tour with Brian Fending. Last summer, we recorded an album in Minneapolis. It's being released on a local label called SocketsCDR. So, my thinking was, we'll get the album ready to go and then play a few shows to announce the cd release. Things didn't quite work out so smoothly. We started booking the tour about three months in advance. Two venues that were lined up right away were in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Two weeks before we hit the road, we learned that both of those shows fell through. Our friends in Philly scrambled to get us booked at another venue, and we removed Pittsburgh from our itinerary - and played a last minute show in DC instead. I opted out of our Buffalo show and Brian got a sub for that night, which made the logistics much simpler and cut our losses significantly. Oh yeah, and the CD isn't quite released. We made a small batch, but the packaging isn't quite as nice as I'd hoped. But at least we had something on-hand to take on the road.

Brian's Chevy Malibu had a few troubles. The check-engine light gave us a scare while we were in Manhattan, but it went out the next day for no apparent reason. Before heading to Philly, one of his tires went flat. Fortunately he just needed a new valve stem which took ten minutes and under twenty dollars. Otherwise, logistics went smoothly. Brian and Rachel are shopping for a new car.

First stop was New York City. We haven't played there since 2001 (as part of Gray Code at the Knitting Factory) so we made up for lost time by playing two shows in one night. One very warm Sunday night. First show was 8pm at ABC No Rio, part of their COMA improvised music series. No a/c in that place, so it was warm. Our set was ok, not our best, but we hadn't played together in a year so we got reacquainted. Audience size was about 8 or 10. Loaded out and headed up the street to CBGB's Gallery for our 11pm show. Another audience of 8 - 10. Only two of them in the actual gallery, rest at the bar in back. Cameron says the people at the bar were listening and enjoyed it. This set was much more "rock." Louder, darker. Our only paid gig on the tour - we made $4.25. Seriously. Another load out, and off to Cameron's friend Amy's parents' home on the upper west side. Nice to have friends who have friends in New York whose parents summer in the Berkshires. Load the gear out, into the apartment. Park the cars.

Next morning (Monday), shuffled the cars and gear. Checked Brian's check-engine light. Quick breakfast and drive back to DC. Much less traffic on Monday. Made it back in time to cook some dinner before heading off to the show at The Red and The Black - a new venue in northeast DC. John Berndt generously agreed to come down and play a double bill with us, and brought his new band, "Death in the Maze." Two people in the audience for this show. Music was good, though.

Tuesday, off to Philadelphia. We stayed with a friend of Brian's from grad school, Elton, who lives in Suffolk, New Jersey - about 30 minutes outside of Philly. Elton was awfully nice and a generous host. We piled all the gear into his truck and the three of us headed into the city for dinner at Gianna's Grille (vegan steak and cheese. mmm.). Then off to the venue, The Avant Gentlemen's Lodge. The neighborhood made Elton very nervous about his truck (with good reason, I think). We opened the show, which was very well attended thanks to the rest of the bill: Satanized, Mary Halvorson and Jess Pavone, and The Flying Luttenbachers. The venue seems to be a group house with a large garage that's been turned into a venue. Audience was really listening. Such a nice change (to have people in the room - and then to have them listen). A real treat. Interesting scene up there in Philly. We didn't stay for the Luttenbachers so Elton could get his truck safely returned to the 'burbs.

Wednesday morning, Brian and I parted ways. I returned to DC (Hyattsville) and he drove back to Buffalo. Zero CD sales, and we lost a bunch of money. Looks like this kind of DIY touring may not be the best model for Fending/Matis… In any event, it was great fun to play with Brian every night for a few days. Hopefully we'll get the business side worked out a little better - and we'll be letting you all know when the CD is "officially" released. For now, you can hear a few tracks on our myspace page.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

DCIC at Fort Reno

Last night, DCIC enjoyed the privilege of opening for The Evens at Fort Reno. Despite the extreme heat, it was loads of fun... and thanks to the big draw of The Evens, we played to our largest audience yet, probably a few hundred people. This was particularly exciting for me, having attended concerts at Fort Reno for years, it was a kick to get to play one. Ben Azzara (drums) plays there at least twice every summer, and has done so with his various bands for the last 12 years!?! Well, about time I started catching up to him...

We had planned to do three pieces, but things worked out a bit differently. The first one went by quickly, and led into the second without a full break (although opinions differed about whether we played the second piece, a structure we've named "Triangulation." Mike and I thought we were playing that one, and Ben didn't -- but it worked out ok, really). That was also fairly brief, and we found ourselves with 20 minutes left, so we played a few totally free improvisations and then closed with our "punk jazz" thing. The title is the score.

Mike and Ben were great, as always. We couldn't hear ourselves too well - Ben mentioned at the end that he couldn't really hear either of us. He did surprisingly well if that's true.
Mike seems to have a really inexhaustible supply of musical ideas, and as usual, he demonstrated some really great listening - following my sometimes unpredictable chord changes as well as covering up some of my less brilliant note choices.

Anyway, it was a blast playing at Fort Reno and opening for The Evens... either one of those facts would've been something else - but both combined, will that's too much fun. And now we get to do it again this Saturday at Warehouse Theater - playing with Greg Osby!! How cool is that?

The real star of the evening was our dog, Wickett, who finally got to come hear one of my shows, but more importantly kept all the kids entertained for hours (he's totally O.C.D. and will play ball until he can't stand up anymore... which he did).

Here's a shot of Wickett showing off for his many admirers as The Evens set up for their soundcheck in the background. This is, in fact, very close to the image that appears in my mind when I think about "DC in the summer:" Dog, park, Ian Mackaye, Fort Reno. Just as it should by Cameron McPhee.

Monday, July 24, 2006

unmapped in the news, part 2, 3, 4, etc

Now that the show is done, here's a recap of some the press coverage...

Trey Graham at the CityPaper did two posts about the show on his Fringe blog. One preview video, and one short post-show comment. Thanks Trey!!! Here's the video:

and his post-show comment is here. Since it's combined with a few other things, here's the text:

I did catch one iteration of unmapped, the 24-hour improv thing with the dancer and the electric guitarist. It's done and gone, so no point in my going on about it, but I did think one thing was interesting: I don't pretend to know much about modern dance, much less contact improvisation, but the contrasts in the piece helped make clear what it is you're meant to look for.

Here's what I mean: When Matis (the guitarist) began to move, the sharpness and the strength and the clarity of Burkholder's choices were suddenly apparent; when Burkholder twiddled with the guitar--and then Matis returned to it, extracting a series of sounds that stacked up almost architecturally through the electronic loop he had going--it was likewise clear whose strengths were being played to.

It was fun, too, to catch myself interpreting, trying to impose a story arc on a piece that I knew was being invented as I watched. Slaves to the narrative are we.
The DCist had a quick note of encouragement:
In case you were wondering, we checked in with a few people who headed out to the Warehouse last night in the wee hours to see Daniel Burkholder and Jonathan Matis doing their 24 hour long performance piece unmapped, and the pair were not cheating or anything. Kudos to you, gentlemen, for bringing a dose of unhinged ambition. We hope you have a good night's sleep tonight.
The Washington Post had a big feature in today's style section including little capsule reviews of a slew of Fringe performances from this past weekend... The good news is that they ran a huge photo of us. Glance at the print edition if you get a chance. The bad news is what they had to say about the show... Here's what Nelson Pressley had to say:
A pajama party broke out at the Warehouse Main Stage Friday night at 9 as dancer Daniel Burkholder and guitarist Jonathan Matis, both barefoot and in soft, loose outfits, improvised a roughly 30-minute show every hour on the hour for 24 hours straight. Two reports:

10 p.m. Friday: Dancer Burkholder and musician Matis start in opposite corners but gradually share the space, swap roles, jointly fiddle with the guitar and pickup that feeds back the blips and pings they tap out on the strings, or that Matis creates at one point by patting the instrument on his face like a towel.

10 a.m. Saturday: Reportedly they made it through the night with only 7 a.m. as a show with no audience, and they danced anyway. At 10 a.m. there was an audience of two, plus two very-latecomers [ed: hey, those were my parents!], watching roughly the previous night's dynamic play out again, with the inventive Burkholder dancing in exploratory circles close to the ground and the less graceful Matis moving like a man trying not to fall over. They have a silent rapport, but the guitar is the invaluable partner, swirled and shared and placed on a stool as the lads whack it delicately with sticks. Boys with toys . . .
Ok, I guess it could've been worse. In any event, we seemed to do better than many Fringe shows, in terms of getting press. So, for that we are grateful. I'll post about the actual process and more about the piece soon. I think I need a little more rest - and probably a little more distance before I can sort through it.

We had a terrific crew of volunteers who helped out with the production - talking up the show on the street outside the venue, working box office during the late-night and early-morning shifts, tending to a "commissioning club brunch" on Saturday morning, etc. We owe a huge THANK YOU to all the volunteers and crew that worked on the show. You all totally rocked.

At this point, I'm simply glad to report that we did the show - all 24 hours of it, and survived. More details coming soon! In the meantime, hope you can catch some other Fringe Festival shows... I'll be getting ready now for the release of the new Fending/Matis CD (and little tour in August), DCIC on 7/31 at Fort Reno - opening for The Evens (yay!!), and preparing for our Eigenvalues show in September. That's coming along nicely... just you wait

Friday, July 21, 2006

unmapped in the news - part 1

There's a little interview with me in the Thursday arts preview section of the Washington Post Express... they ran the full version of the interview on their website. Click here for the feature.

(actually, that expanded version that they posted on the website is not the full version of the interview. Since I'm a sucker for completeness, here's the full text)

1) What the hell are you thinking?

Apparently not much!

2) No, seriously, what goes through your mind while making music on the fly? Is it panic? Are you carried away by tides of inspiration?

How about "c) none of the above?" Hopefully it's not panic. I've been playing improvised music for quite some time and one thing I've learned is that something will happen. Even if I go into a situation with no ideas (and often that works best), something will happen. Especially if I'm performing with other people – there's so much information being exchanged that there's always something to draw from, respond to, or build off of. Even if I'm not particularly "inspired" at any given moment, there's always an unlimited supply of information coming in – which, if I'm really listening, equals an infinite number of artistic choices I can make.

3) You must interact very sensitively with the other performers. Is there a great deal of trust involved?

Yes yes yes. Loads of trust. Great big boatloads of trust. Daniel and I have been working together for years. Same with the people I play with in the DC Improvisers Collective. They have proven, time and again, that even if I give them something less than stellar (perhaps even "crap") they always seem to make it into something. Hopefully, that also works in reverse, although I can't think of a time when any of them played anything less than brilliantly.

4) Describe your role in the performance.

see below

5) And Daniel's.

One of the main issues we're grappling with in this piece is erasing the boundaries between our usual "roles." Typically, when Daniel and I perform together, it's my job to play music and it's his job to move his body. Ultimately, that approach proved to be frustrating. After performing improvised duets a few times, Daniel wanted to find novel ways to interact – beyond the constraints imposed by those roles. For example, we could influence one another with the choices we made – my musical choices, and his movement, but that ignored the fact that we're both on stage -- two people on stage performing together. Why is one of them doing all the moving, and the other doing all the sounding? For this piece, we've been working really hard learning skills from one another. Now I have to be in the space moving, and Daniel has to take the guitar and help construct the music. We have to explore all of the permutations of interaction as we perform together. Over the course of the rehearsal process, we've (hopefully) achieved this obliteration of our separate roles. Now we have the flexibility to work together in the space and in the moment: both in terms of movement and sound.

6) What's the atmosphere like? Do people come and go, fall asleep, get lunch whatever and you're still there, banging on a chair?

"unmapped" is going to be performed as a 30 – 45 minute piece, 24 times in a row. Our intention is that audiences enter and are seated. A performance happens. Then there's a short break, people can come and go, and then we do it again. The piece will be different each time – we're making it all up on the spot, but we are performing one show each hour – and each show will (hopefully) be a complete, artistic whole. At the same time, there's another "arc" unfolding that is the course of the whole 24 hours.

The ticketing is set up so that any ticket purchased is good for as many shows as you'd like to see during the first 23 hours, and all shows start at the top of each hour. For example, buy a ticket to the first hour at 9pm on Friday, and come back and see us as often as you like during the night, during the day Saturday, and see how things are progressing. But if you want to see the last hour, when we're totally delirious and insane, well you have to buy a special ticket for that one.

7) What do you think is the value of improvisation for the performer, for the audience, for the art forms?

Well that's the million dollar question – and I've been working on this for the last 15 years as a composer. Basically, in music, it's the composer's job to give instructions to the performer. We even have a highly specialized notational system for writing down these instructions. But what happens if I allow the performers to bring more to the table than just their capacity to decode special instructions? What I've found is that they contribute incredible things. There are so many wonderfully talented people playing music – why do I need to tell them exactly what to do? So for years and years, I've been trying to figure out – for each piece – how specific do I need to be? How much can I leave to the performers? Inevitably, they have ideas that are better than what I would have written. As a performer, this kind of freedom is truly liberating. How great is it that when I go to play a piece of music, I can actually be present to whatever is going on in the moment – and really bring that into the performance? I don't have to be attached to one fixed way of doing it. Of course this works against me sometimes too… I got some feedback from a grant review panel (I didn't get the money) and they looked at my scores, and listened to the recordings I sent, and they felt that the music would be completely different if it was played by different people, some other time. Exactly!!!! Different people, in a different place, at a different time – and they would bring something very different to the performance. That's kinda the whole point of what I do.

Life is improvised. We're all making it up as we go along. Every time you have a conversation with someone, you're improvising. I think making work this way allows us to really dig in and explore what happens in life, in the world. Our simultaneous existence in the universe is a truly chaotic system, right? No matter how much we try to plan, and work out all the details, things very rarely unfold as we planned. Now let's take that as a given, and explore it artistically.

8) Dumb but obvious question -- don't you get tired? Daniel must be a living wreck by hour two and a half -- that's a full-length warhorse ballet and it's not like the prince has to dance in every act, even.

Yes, we're both going to be very tired. I've been nervous about this, and working hard to get in shape so I have some ghost of a chance of still being able to move by hour 20. Daniel's in better shape than me, but this will be a real challenge for both of us – on several levels. Clearly, there is physical exhaustion to deal with, and then there's the artistic side of exhaustion. After we've made up six, seven, eight shows in a row, what are we going to do next? What happens when we run out of ideas and have to keep pushing? We'll see… Part of the challenge of this piece, and one of the main reasons we're actually going through with it is that we will have some kind of transformational experience – the structure is going to force us to. We have to keep crossing boundaries, of physical exhaustion and creative exhaustion. Where we'll be towards the end is totally unknown. We hope, of course, that this transformation proves to be as exciting to watch as it is exhausting to perform.

9) Is the capitol an odd place for the fringe festival? It seems so ... unfringy the rest of the time. It's like freaks descend on the city and frighten the horses and be-pearled matrons. Then they leave and the Capitol Steps come back and make everyone feel safe again.

Well, "fringe" is a hard term to define – particularly in relation to this festival. The vast majority of participating artists are, in fact, locals. The freaks aren't descending on the city for a special event. We've been here all along, but you just haven't heard about it because what we're doing is outside of the mainstream and we have very limited resources. As far as the festival, it certainly does present a great challenge to the conservative arts audience, but in fact, that conservative audience is probably a myth. This area is home to an awful lot of overeducated people who have wide ranging tastes and interests. There's tons of interesting stuff happening here all the time, it's just "underground," or happening in lots of very small, disconnected little "scenes."

And I'm not so sure how "fringy" most of the festival shows are really going to be. In terms of the festival, "fringe" just means DIY. All financial risk of each production is actually borne by the artists themselves. So, the festival is largely semi-pro, or amateur companies performing for the hope of getting noticed, but with the assumption that they're going to lose money. It's basically a sucker-deal for artists – we're all competing so intensely with each other for audiences – it remains to be seen what kind of draw this is going to be overall.

10) What does Improv Arts, Inc. do the rest of the year?

Well, it's like this: Improv Arts acts as an umbrella for our "core companies" i.e. Daniel's dance company, The PlayGround, and my music projects, such as DC Improvisers Collective. This way, we can set up one nonprofit and run all of our projects under it's auspices. We also have some other projects in the works, such as SPAN (the Spontaneous Performing Artists Network) which is a national network of improvising dancers and musicians, and we'll offer some classes and workshops in dance and music, after we move into our home at the New Joe's Movement Emporium in Mt. Rainier, Maryland (it's currently under construction). So our "upcoming events" look like this:

July 31: DC Improvisers Collective and The Evens at Fort Reno

August 4 – 9: Fending/Matis cd release mini-tour (a drums/guitar duo project of mine). We'll be playing in the Buffalo InFringement Festival (a sort of small scale fringe fest in Buffalo, New York), then two shows in NYC, and shows in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Our new disc, "three rocks" will be released by a local label called Sockets in a joint thing with Improv Arts.

The PlayGround will present a weekend of shows at Dance Place next spring, and Daniel is going to create a new piece – called "My ocean is never blue." All about water, and using the dancer / musician blurring of boundaries that we've started with "unmapped." Personally, I don't know how we're going to raise enough money to do that piece the way it should be done… but that's a different conversation.

Also this coming spring, DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC) will be releasing a full length album. We recorded it in early June at Silver Sonya. The session went so well, I'm thrilled about it… we still have to finish mastering, and then figure out how we want to release it, but I really can't wait to share it.

Perhaps the more honest answer to "what does Improv Arts do the rest of the year?" is really, we try to raise some money to make art. No easy task in this town, but hopefully this festival is a small step towards building an awareness of new and different art in Washington

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

unmapped - schedule and tickets

Only a few days to go until "unmapped" - my 24 hour crazy improv performance with Daniel Burkholder. (for more info, click here)

The schedule and ticketing is a little confusing – so here's how it's going to work:

The show starts at 9pm on Friday night. Each performance will last between 30 and 45 minutes. Then we get a little break. Then we do it again – starting at the top of every hour. So there's another show at 10pm., another one at 11pm, and so on – you get the idea. That means there's a show at 6am on Saturday, and at 7am, and so on – all day long! So I'm SURE there's a time when you can come see the show. Come see us late-night when the bars close on Friday night. Come see us at sunrise on Saturday morning. See us at lunchtime Saturday. See us at tea time Saturday. Whenever. There's a show time that's right for you!

If you want to see any show during hours 1 through 23 – just buy one ticket and come back as often as you'd like – to any show during the 1st 23 hours. If you want to see the final show, when we're delirious and insane, you have to buy a special ticket for 8pm on Saturday night.

The performance is on the main stage at the Warehouse Theater. 1021 7th Street, NW, Washington DC. Easy to get to by metro: Mt. Vernon Square / Convention Center stop is a block away. Gallery Place is a short walk.

Now about the tickets… You can buy tickets at the door before each performance. Or, you can buy tickets in advance at the Fringe Festival Box office (conveniently located at Warehouse Theater), or you can be totally high-tech and buy tickets online.

The Fringe festival is doing all the ticketing and our 24 hour performance doesn't fit their system too well… so here's what you do to buy them online:

click here to get to our page in the online ticketing system.

then click the big red button that says "buy tickets online"

then – for any shows starting between 9pm on Friday and 7pm on Saturday, choose "9pm on Friday, July 21." That ticket is good for any shows during hours 1 through 23.

If you want to buy advance tickets for the final show, click on the "8pm on Saturday, July 22."

It's strange that the ticketing website only shows two shows… but we don't have any control over how that's set up. So we hope that's not too confusing… and please help spread the word. The Fringe Guide also doesn't really list our show clearly as every hour, on the hour – but now that you understand you can help eradicate confusion and send lots of people our way (please). We really gotta sell a lot of tickets to break even on this show…

Friday, July 14, 2006

Commissioning Club

Earlier this year, Daniel Burkholder and I created the Improv Arts Commissioning Club, a unique opportunity for individuals to invest in the commissioning of new work. So far, the Club has supported a weekend of performances by The PlayGround at Dance Place, and a recording session for the DC Improvisers Collective.

The Club provides a means for broad participation in the cultivation of new work. We invite you to participate in this network of support by joining the Improv Arts Commissioning Club. Whether your gift is $25, $2,500, or somewhere in between, you will be participating in a new model for arts patronage - building a community of support for performing arts in the region.

This summer, the Improv Arts Commissioning Club will support the premiere of “unmapped,” a new duet by Daniel Burkholder and Jonathan Matis. This piece is a large scale, 40 minute structured improvisation that Daniel and Jonathan will perform every hour for 24 hours straight. The performance will be part of the upcoming Capital Fringe Festival, beginning at 9pm on July 21st and continuing until 9pm on July 22nd, at the Warehouse Theater.

Commissioning Club members will receive complimentary tickets to the performance, and a special invitation to a members-only brunch at the Warehouse Theater's café during the performance - Saturday morning, July 22nd.

For more information about "unmapped," including a podcast about the piece, visit:

We know that there are many organizations, individuals and causes that ask for your attention and support, just as we are doing now. We also know that you understand the importance of art in the lives of individuals, communities and nations. We invite you to join the Improv Arts Commissioning Club as we continue to create provocative and extraordinary performances.

You may give online using the link above, or by mail to:
Improv Arts Inc.
6003 44th Avenue
Hyattsville, MD 20781

Thank you for your support.
Daniel Burkholder and Jonathan Morris
Co-Directors, Improv Arts, Inc.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

unmapped - the podcast

Daniel Burkholder and I are working frantically to prepare for our most ambitious performance yet. "unmapped" will be performed for 24 hours straight, July 21 through July 22 at Warehouse Theater. In this audio segment we discuss why we're doing it for 24 hours, and discuss a few other issues involved in the piece. For more info, see

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Another benefit for Joe's

Last night, I performed in another fundraiser event for the new Joe's Movement Emporium, now under construction in Mount Rainier, Maryland. The event was held at Busboys and Poets, which was very nice. Their meeting room / event space is actually a plush little venue - good sound equipment, a baby grand piano, good food and drinks, and a secret not-on-the-menu vegan calzone.

Since the focus of the evening was raising money for the Joe's capital campaign, performances were brief, and varied. Between the holistic belly dancers and the Thai dance troupe, Improv Arts (which is going to be one of the resident organizations at the new Joe's) trotted out members of its music ensemble, the DC Improvisers Collective. Or, in more frank terms, Daniel Burkholder is out of town, so instead of doing our usual "five minute duo improv" dance/music piece that we often bring to these freebie events, I needed to pull something together myself. Happily, Dan Barbiero and Ben Azzara agreed to play with me - even though we were only going to play for five minutes and we weren't getting paid.

We weren't able to schedule rehearsal time together before the show, so we played one of my existing pieces, "shut up and listen." It's originally scored for electric guitar, cello, and laptop. I shared the score and recording with Dan last year, and he made his own version for double bass instead of cello. He did a beautiful job with it, and I really like his take on the piece. Hopefully, we'll have a chance to record it sometime. Ben added hand percussion (bongos, played with hands and brushes) and that worked out really well.

If you're curious, a pdf of the score is online here, and a recording of the guitar/cello version is on my myspace page.

So a big "thank you!" to Ben and Dan for their generosity - and here's hoping we helped raise some money for Joe's...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Philadelphia Mint

Cameron and I spent some time this weekend working on our Eigenvalues project, and we made this recording of a new piece... Cameron wrote the poem during a performance I was in back in the beginning of April. I was playing with a group of improvising musicians from Philadelphia in a project called Sound Exchange, led by Pauline Oliveros. Our first concert was actually a concert by Dr. Oliveros' "Deep Listening Band," but we all played with them during the second half of the evening. She titled this large group piece, "Philadelphia Mint" - so since this piece of music inspired the poem, Cameron borrowed the title.

The music is done live with laptop, clarinet, and a bamboo thing I call my "Tibet Store Flute." I start with the bamboo flute, which is processed and looped, transposed down one octave. This material makes a smooth transition to the clarinet, and helps tie in the text references to various wind instruments. As for the notes, that's all improvised.

I think this is a nice addition to our repertoire, since it has original text (as opposed to found text), and it's also quite personal - where our other pieces are more detached.

It's also up now on our myspace page. We'd love to know what you think.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


As some of you may know, Cameron and I have been collaborating on text / music pieces. We have a band-name of sorts and now a brand spankin' new myspace page. We even have a gig coming up in September. So be our friend and visit our new Eigenvalues page.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

DCIC at the Red and The Black

Tuesday night, DCIC played at a new venue in town: The Red and The Black (12th and H Streets, NE). It's a nice room - small, but warm and inviting. I think they're planning to have rock shows in there, which will be way too loud for the space -- but it was perfect for us.

The three of us fit nicely on the small stage, and we could really hear one another well -- which makes a world of difference. I felt like our playing was really focused - and the group listening was happening nicely. The recording session we just finished turned out to be a great exercise for us - I think the trio lineup is working really well.

Sadly, I forgot to bring any recording gear, so the performance wasn't documented at all. Oh well. I guess you had to be there...

We were opening for a trio from Switzerland called Day and Taxi. I wrote a few thoughts about their set on my other blog.

We just got some exciting news -- we'll be playing at Fort Reno on July 31st, opening for The Evens!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

DCIC recording session

Last weekend, the DC Improvisers Collective recorded our new CD. We spent two and a half days at Silver Sonya with T.J. Lipple, working very hard. I mean, it was great fun, but we really did work and work and work. We started Friday evening, setting up and getting sounds. The fact that T.J. is a genius was obvious from the start. Our group is somewhere between jazz and rock, and he got the perfect sound... not close mic-ing everything, so we had a spacious jazz sound, but kept a ballsy rock feel. Hard to explain... but you'll hear it when we get the mastering done.

We spent about 11 hours on Saturday recording. So, we had plenty of time to document what we usually do, and then still had time to try some new things, and to just plain push ourselves to keep improvising and inventing new music after we had exhausted our usual habits. This included an interesting excercise where we did three short pieces in layers - with one of us recording a track, then the other two adding overdubs -- removing the dynamic interactivity of group improvisation and replacing that with one-way communication. I think one of those three will end up on the album, but we'll see... we haven't figured all of that out yet.

Sunday was a twelve hour day of mixing. That can be pretty tedious, but T.J. brought the mad skillz and total concentration and burned through it. We left with over two hours of material mixed. Now we have to decide what "makes the cut" and goes on the album, and what gets left on the metaphorical editing room floor, or gets saved for the outakes that get slapped on the re-issue (that's a joke), but seriously, we can probably use some of the "out-takes" as bonus stuff to give away online or something... we'll get that figured out.

Of couse I couldn't be happier. The session was far more productive than I expected and the recordings sound really wonderful. Once we figure out what goes on the album, we have to go back to the studio for mastering... then we'll have some things to share.

Mike totally rocked all weekend. He pulled out some wild tenor playing, plus several gorgeous pieces on bass clarinet, and several interesting tracks on his new saxello (a wacky hybrid soprano sax thing).

Ben brought his "a-game" too... monster playing, including some cool hand percussion and toy xylophone in addition to his drumset work. Plus, his previous studio experience helped us all in terms of making the best use of the time, and keeping things from getting stressful.

So we still have some work to do - figuring out what pieces stay, and which ones have to go, then mastering, then figuring out how we want to release this thing... so that may take a little while. In the meantime, we're playing next week opening for the Swiss trio "Day & Taxi" and then in August with Greg Osby. Really. But that show happens to be smack in the middle of my little "mini-tour" with Fending/Matis, so I might miss that show. We'll see.

Ok, I can't wrap this up without the obligatory "playing the guitar with a vibrator" photo.

And here's a shot of us in the control room. You'll notice the three of us have very silly grins on our faces? That's because we can't believe how good TJ made us sound...

Photos by Travis Miller

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

DC Improvisers Collective - and you

Dear friends and family,

I'd like to thank all of you for your support and encouragement over the last several years. My career as a composer and performing musician has come a long way and I owe you all a big heartfelt thanks.

I'd also like to share an opportunity with you, to join the Improv Arts Commissioning Club.

Last summer, I assembled a "Jonathan Matis Commissioning Club" to raise funds for my participation in the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium including composing a new work for the ensemble FIREWORKS. That effort was very successful, and really helped move my career forward.

This model of support is now being expanded. Daniel Burkholder and I have formed a nonprofit organization called Improv Arts, Inc., that provides a framework for supporting our new dance and music projects: our collaborative work as well as our individual projects.

We have received a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to support my latest endeavor: a studio recording of the DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC). This is an ensemble that I founded a few years ago, to serve as a laboratory for exploring free improvisation in music, as well as methods for developing structured improv pieces. DCIC has consistently provided a very challenging work environment where I'm pushed hard to keep up with a group of ridiculously talented musicians.

During the first week of June, DCIC: Ben Azzara (drums), Mike Sebastian (saxophones and bass clarinet) and myself, will be working at a local studio called Silver Sonya. This is a studio adjacent to / sharing the tracking room (the space where we actually play) with the legendary Inner Ear studio, a facility famous for recording many of the area's punk and hardcore bands (Fugazi, etc.). We will be working with Chad Clark (of the band Beauty Pill), who is a gifted artist and top-notch audio engineer. Needless to say, I'm very excited about this opportunity.

Our budget for the recording process and the associated marketing to record labels is $4,000. Thanks to the grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and several major gifts to the Improv Arts Commissioning Club, we are already halfway to our goal.

This is where you come in. By joining the club, you can play an active role in producing our new album, and support the creation of new, innovative music right here in the DC area.

All club members will receive an invitation to our pre-release launch party (date and location TBA). We'll have a chance to listen to the tracks and party like rock stars, even though it will be a few months until the business end of the commercial release is worked out.

Join the club at the $50 level, "The Fan Club," and receive a copy of the CD when it is released, along with the option to buy additional copies at cost, for sharing with friends and family.

Join the club at the $100 level, "The DCIC super-fans," and receive all of the above, plus a limited edition pre-release copy of the album (please don't leak it on the internet).

Join the club at the $250 level, "Recording Sponsors," and receive all of the above plus a credit in the liner notes as a project sponsor.

Join the club at the $500 level, "Executive Producer," and receive all of the above and a special Executive Producer credit on the CD.

or feel free to join the club at any amount you'd like.

With your help, I am confident that we can raise the additional $2,000 needed to complete the project, and produce a fabulous recording. You can join online using the links above, or mail your tax-deductible gift to:

Improv Arts, Inc.
6003 44th Avenue
Hyattsville, MD 20781

Thank you so much for all of your support - and I look forward to sharing the results of our recording project very soon. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, or suggestions. I'm always happy to hear from you!

Jonathan Morris (Matis)

P.S. Please remember to check with your employer to see if matching gifts are available. I'm happy to help you with any paperwork that may require.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Get Me on the O.C.

I heard an interview a few weeks ago with the music supervisor for "The O.C." TV shows like this one, and a few others that she works on, have had an enormous impact on the "buzzworthy" bands that get on the show. Given the very sad state of radio, and the all-around turmoil in the recording industry, it has somehow become "important" for so-called "indie" bands and artists to get their work on television or included in film soundtracks (it seems there's now a term for it, "The O.C. effect"). Since I'm not entirely opposed to selling out, I thought I'd take a crack at it. My usual work is probably not so well suited for trashy teen dramas, but here's something that might be a good fit. Now I just sit back and wait for the cash, right?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

DCIC at Warehouse "Black Box"

Last night, the DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC) played as part of a four-band bill at the Warehouse's "Black Box" theater.

Since we're heading into the studio in two weeks to make a CD, we wanted to get another chance to play out and see how things stand up with an audience present. Funny that it's always so different in rehearsal vs. performance.

The space is a challenging room, acoustically. It's pretty small, and very very live. Everything seems loud in there. Even when Ben was playing softly, the drums seemed loud. Mike tried to start the show with his bass clarinet, but things were just too darn loud to make that work. The tenor and soprano saxes worked out just fine. However, we all had a hard time hearing one another and had no idea what the audience was hearing. I'm not sure if this show really helped with our process for preparing for the upcoming recording, but that's how it goes, I guess.

It was a crazy and interesting night of music. Supernatural Hot Rug and Not Used opened the show with a short prepared guitar duo. They were followed by Na, which was a hard act to follow. Kazu performed in a costume made of two plastic garbage bags, tin foil helmet and tin foil boots. Their mix of spaz-out improv, goofy humor, and full-on noise makes for quite a bit of unpredictable theater. They ended their set with all three people kneeling on the floor pummeling a cymbal that was also on the floor, and screaming. All of them pummeling and screaming, like some kind of ritual - very Artoud, I suspect.

Following us, Mandarin Movie performed. They were also intense, but in a different way. Two bassists (one electric, one upright), drums, and trumpet/electronics. The drummer was excellent - great jazz technique and pure adrenaline rocking power combined. But with the two basses, and ferocious drumming, it was hard to hear the details.

unmapped 4x4

Here's a recording of the piece I did for Cross Currents Dance Company. This take is from a run we did an hour before the show last Sunday. It's a live recording - instrumentation is guitar and laptop. I'm following the form of the dance piece - but the structure of the piece is somewhat open and changes every time, so I have lots of room to improvise. Does it make you wanna move?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cross Currents Dance Co.

This past weekend, I performed in two shows with Cross Currents Dance Co. For their 10th anniversary season, they commissioned a new work by Daniel Burkholder, and I played the music. The two of us haven't really done other "works for hire" together before, so this was something new... I think it worked out very well. They got a strong improv piece that works (which is no small feat considering how unaccustomed most of the dancers were to improvised performance) - and they got some live music on their program, which is a very good thing if I do say so myself.

I recorded the music at both shows, and the last few rehearsals. Since the music is quite different every time, I want to give them multiple recorded versions, so if they do perform the piece without me, they can mix up which version of audio to use. I haven't gone back to listen, if there's one take that holds up on it's own, I'll podcast it later.

The piece was done just with guitar and laptop. I had great freedom to do whatever I wanted. The piece had some structure (actually quite a bit of structure) so I followed the overall form of the dance quite closely, but actual musical materials were totally improvised.

Ok, gotta run and pack up my gear for tonight's DCIC show (which conflicts with Pretty Girls Make Graves at the Black Cat, so sad to miss their show!), will post soon about the DCIC show and our upcoming studio time.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Duet with Tom Bickley

My friend, Tom Bickley, is in town this week for a library conference. Happily, he had some time free last night for a brief visit. We used to play together in a quintet called Gray Code. Strangely, I'm the only member left in the DC area. Hmmm.

We made this little recording. It's a duet - alto recorder and classical guitar. We recorded two passes. It's all improvised. The only pre-determined structure was the decision that we would allow ourselves the possibility of overdubbing, and the duration would be between five and six minutes.

Monday, May 01, 2006

SUV "World Premiere"

Yesterday, Cameron and I gave the first public performance of "Sport Utility Vehicle" as part of the Baltimore Composers Forum's annual fundraiser concert at An Die Musik. We shared the program with Bruno Amato, Vivian Adelberg Rudow, George Spicka, James Brody, and Todd Marcus. Quite a diverse program.

Our performance went very smoothly. Cameron is a superstar. The computer cooperated, and the whole thing went off without a hitch. Seriously, Cameron did a beautiful job - even with the foul language. I haven't had a lot of "composed" music performed recently, and it was quite a thrill to hear a piece come off exactly as it was intended. We couldn't have ordered up a better debut performance for our text/sound/music collaborative duo project (haven't quite figured out what to call it yet...)

After the concert, we went to Great Sage for dinner - which was really the highlight of the trip. They had a jerk seitan special with mashed sweet potatoes (made with coconut milk), and collards. Wow. That was tasty. And while we're on the subject of vegan treats, after our set up and sound check, we had lunch at Red Emma's anarchist bookstore / cafe which was also nice - including the (vegan) Chocolate Toffee Walnut Crunch Bar.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

DCIC rehearsal

Here's a podcast from rehearsal with the DC Improvisers Collective last weekend. The group is a trio: Ben Azzara (drums), Mike Sebastian (reeds), and me on guitar. We're preparing for a recording session in the beginning of June. I felt like this rehearsal really was good practice. Practice isn't supposed to sound good. It should sound bad - since we're trying new things, and learning to do things we couldn't do before. You know, practice. Even though we're making up all the music on the spot, we can always use more practice. I think this track came out nicely, even though it was practice. Mike is playing soprano sax and then bass clarinet (mmmm i love the bass clarinet). It's the first recording we made with my new toy that lets us record up to 8 mics independently into the laptop - I think the results are promising (but I still have a few things to learn in the audio engineering department). This piece is called "Lost Civilizations, Part 2." We recorded the entire rehearsal, but I haven't had time to mix it yet... I think this might be a nice document of raw improv practice.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


This past weekend, Daniel Burkholder and I performed four shows as part of the "International Dance Jam," presented by the Theater Alliance at H Street Playhouse. This was our first opportunity to show "unmapped" - a work in progress that attempts to blur the distinction between our roles as musician and dancer.

For this run of shows, we did the piece as a fifteen minute improvisation. We set up the space with a stool downstage right, and a bench upstage left. The guitar is using a wireless transmitter and a delay - so we can move around the stage freely and whatever sounds we generate with the guitar are repeated several times, so we don't have to be "playing" the guitar at all times.

Before each show, we flipped coins to determine if we begin at the stool or at the bench, and to determine the costumes. At this point we have two kinds of shirts, and two pants each to choose from. Chris, our costume designer, built my pants with special pockets to hold my "tools" (dulcimer hammers, pencils, slide, paintbrush, vibrator).

We begin the piece with both of us focused on the guitar and gradually begin moving. We had a few light cues so we knew how much time had elapsed. During the first five minutes, only the area around the stool or bench is lit, then lights come up on the rest of the stage and we expand our movement. At ten minutes, a lighting change signals that we're "allowed" to settle into our traditional roles - I can focus on playing guitar, and Daniel can focus on movement. Another light cue at 14:00 lets us know that it's time to find an ending. Other than that - all content of the piece is made up on the spot.

This was pretty scary. I had to do a good deal of moving / dancing and I've never done that on stage before! Overall, I think the shows went pretty well. Daniel blogged about each performance, if you're interested in more detail click here.

Now we have some hard work ahead: we have to develop the piece from this fifteen minute version up to a forty-five minute structure. The full-blown "unmapped" premieres during Capital Fringe, July 21 and 22 at Warehouse Theater. We're doing it every hour for 24 hours straight. More info on that as it develops.

(photo by Cameron McPhee. Not bad for a camera phone in very low light...)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I Saw You

During our Austin trip, Cameron and I spent a day and a half working on this piece, and making a "studio" recording. It is intended for live performance, and we're almost done setting up the computer gizmonics to make that possible.

The text is taken from the "i saw you" section of the personal ads -- mostly from the Washington CityPaper, but we've left a few open slots to plug in new / local ads at the time of each performance. So in this case, there are a few from last week's Austin Chronicle. The order of the ads is randomized, old-school style. We put them on index cards and shuffle them up before each performance.

Special thanks to Graham Reynolds and Shawn Sides for providing gear and space for the recording process!

Austin, Texas

I've just returned from a few wonderful days in lovely Austin, Texas. I lived there from '93 to '97 and made the mistake of moving away. Hopefully I'll correct that situation in the next 18 to 24 months. That place totally rules.

Originally, I booked the trip as a short vacation, as well as a chance to spend a few days recording with Graham Reynolds. He's been hard at work on the score to Richard Linklater's new film, "A Scanner Darkly" (a Phillip K. Dick story, film stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., and others, and is done in the same style as "Waking Life" -- it's going to be awesome). Unfortunately, Warner Bros. called Graham about two weeks before our scheduled visit and told him he had to be in L.A. for the final mix of the audio -- for the entire time that we were scheduled to be in Austin. I guess that's good trouble to have... congrats to Graham - can't wait to see/hear the film.

Cameron and I went to Texas anyway - and Graham was generous enough to let us stay at his place (and his girlfriend, Shawn, was especially generous - sharing the house with two strangers for a few days). Shawn has a new play, "Revenge," that opened that weekend... check it out if you're in Austin, it's excellent!

So I didn't get to record with Graham, but Cameron and I took advantage of his microphone collection and spent a day working on our new piece, "I Saw You," which I'll podcast in a separate post. I also picked up a used Firepod from Graham, which is a nice addition to my home studio -- now I can record eight channels into the computer in real-time (with nice mic preamps). Can't wait to try it out with DCIC.

We also took advantage of the great weather and time away from work... Swimming at Barton Springs, Hamilton Pool, and Pace Bend park. Tofu Migas at Mr. Natural (twice). Dinner with Pat (old friend) at Mother's. Lunch with Scott (old friend) at Madam Mams. And we even spent a Saturday night at Emo's - just like old times - except that 6th Street sure has changed, and the show was disappointing, and they ran out of Shiner Bock. Hmm, a disappointing night at Emo's... that really is just like old times. Well, we sure had a great time and Austin is a very special place. Hope to get back soon!

Sound Exchange performances

Um, I got a little bit behind here on the bloggie blog... so, on April 1 and 2 I performed in Philadelphia as part of "Sound Exchange" - which was awesome. I was part of a large group of improvising musicians studying / rehearsing / performing with Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band (Pauline along with Stewart Dempster, trombone, and David Gamper, piano).

The Deep Listening Band gave a concert on Saturday night, complete with 12-channel surround sound. Nice. After intermission, the trio was joined by the full Sound Exchange group.

On Sunday, we gave an afternoon concert: it opened with the Deep Listening Band performing an acoustic trio (gorgeous) and then the world premiere of four pieces composed by members of the Sound Exchange group. My piece, "Beyond Vietnam" was up first. The performance went really well... the other musicians really seemed to dig-in, and after what I would call "minimal" rehearsal time, I was delighted that everyone really "got it" and did a beautiful job. Cameron McPhee delivered a stellar performance. She had the hardest part -- delivering excerpts from Dr. King's speech, which is no easy task. Honestly, I couldn't be happier with the performance. The event was recorded, so I hope to have a recording to share in the near future.

I'm a little short on time, so I can't write up a full blow-by-blow of the other pieces on the program... but it was a real treat to play with such a talented group. At times, it felt like herding cats (put a dozen improvising musicians in a room and try to get them to agree on what we're working on... or even just try to get them all in the room at the same time ;-) but I had a great time and it was really an honor and a privilege to participate. Big thanks to all of the artists, and to the Philly Chapter of the American Composers Forum for putting it together!!

Friday, March 31, 2006

City of Brotherly Love

Greetings from lovely Philadelphia, PA! It's a beautiful day and I have a little time before rehearsal this afternoon... so I can catch up on some news:

Since my last post about the bad day in rehearsal with Ben, I've been playing quite a bit, and things are going very nicely thank you very much. I think the allergy medicine really does make my brain foggy - so I've been trying to take as little as possible.

A few weeks ago, I performed with Jane Franklin Dance in a short performance that was part of their gala evening, held at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA. The school is really something... it's a high-end boarding school with a large and gorgeous campus. The arts center was very nicely outfitted, including some big name artwork on the wall, such as two Picasso limited edition prints, a Renoir lithograph, and a signed and numbered Miro. Quite a far cry from a public high school! Anyway, the show went well. They've added a new section to this suite of pieces including poetry that we've been working on for a few months. We had very little rehearsal time, so I had to make something up on the spot and there was little room for making revisions. I think that actually helped - I had the freedom to do whatever I thought worked best and didn't have to answer to anyone ;-)

I've also been hard at work rehearsing with Daniel Burkholder. Our new duo piece, "unmapped," will be performed in April (see upcoming events sidebar for details). Then we're gearing up for the full version in July during Fringe. This piece attempts to blur the line between the musician and dancer on stage. My guitar is hooked up to a wireless gizmo so I have to be out on stage moving with Daniel, and we can pass the guitar back and forth and toss it around, etc. (all while actually playing the music for the piece live). The two of us are also developing a new piece for Cross Currents - we've been commissioned as part of their 10th anniversary season. The plan was to use this commission as an opportunity to develop material for our own duo piece, but it doesn't seem to be working out that way.

Today (and through the rest of this weekend) I'm in Philadelphia for "Sound Exchange." Tonight is the first concert of the project - a concert by Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band. The second half of the concert features the Deep Listening Band along with the full group of Sound Exchange participants (a large group of improvising musicians, mostly from Philly). We had one rehearsal yesterday, and another one later this afternoon. It's been quite remarkable: there were a few rehearsals without Pauline and company, and the results were much different that what we played yesterday. Pauline, David Gamper, and Stuart Dempster really lead by example. We're all quite free to improvise - there has been very little structure imposed so far, but their playing (and mindful listening) really sets the tone. Yesterday's rehearsal sounded quite nice - with all members of the group showing quite a bit of restraint.

Coming up on Sunday, there is another concert - featuring new works by the four "composer participants." I'm one of them. My piece is built around excerpts from a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That came about in a serendipitous manner... our first meeting for "orientation" was on Martin Luther King Day in February. While I was driving up to Philly, I heard a fascinating radio program (on WPFW) exploring Dr. King's decision to speak out against the war in Vietnam, and examining how his remarks were received in the media. That night, after playing with the group most of the day, I was thinking of what to write and it seemed to make sense to include this material. The end result is an arrangement of King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech with instrumental accompaniment. Cameron is coming up to Philly to perform with us - she'll be reading the text. If you're curious, you can have a look at the score here (pdf).

The DC Improvisers Collective is also hard at work - we're preparing for a recording session in the beginning of June. We'll also be performing on May 15th in DC... details coming soon.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A kick in the 'nads of my confidence

Ok, so in the post below this one, I said how I was going to play with Ben and then podcast something? Well, I'm not going to. I played with Ben on Saturday and I kind of sucked real bad. I'm going to blame it on the allergy medicine. I guess this happens sometimes? We did some improvising and I had no ideas. Or only bad ideas. That sounded bad. Listening back to the tape, I felt like I was listening to old recordings of me playing when I was fifteen (and those are bad. very bad). Hopefully the recording we made (on Ben's four track cassette because I forgot to bring the power supply for my laptop) will never enter the digital domain or be heard by anyone ever again.

This week I have not one, but three rehearsals with Daniel Burkholder, plus Sound Exchange rehearsal in Philly tomorrow, and then rehearsal & gig with Jane Franklin Dance on Saturday, so I guess I'm climbing right back on that metaphorical horse and hopefully things will improve. Actually, I'm sure they will... had one rehearsal with Daniel yesterday and that was ok. But, ouch. Sorry Ben - will do better next time.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sound Exchange in the news

The Philadelphia City Paper has a cover story this week about the Sound Exchange program / workshop that I'm participating in. Click here for the article. I'll be heading up to Philly this coming Thursday for a rehearsal with the group - hopefully we'll have a chance to work through a few sections of my piece (which is still "under construction").

Tomorrow, I'll be doing some rehearsing / recording with drummer, Ben Azzara. Assuming we don't run into technical problems (like forgetting to press the record button, which I've been known to do) I'll probably podcast something in a few days...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Misc. Update

I have a Performance this coming Saturday with Jane Franklin Dance, the same suite of short dances with poems that we performed at Iota a few weeks ago, this time at Arlington Arts Center. I'’ve got to set aside some home-studio time to build a recorded version so they can do the piece without me.

"“Sport Utility Vehicle" will be released on a compilation / audio '‘zine thanks to Sean Peoples and his Sockets CDR label. There'’s a release party on Sunday at Warehouse Next Door.– We'’re not performing at that, but you can pick up a copy at a discount during the show…

Cameron and I will also be presenting the world premiere performance of "Sport Utility Vehicle"” as part of a Baltimore Composers Forum concert, April 30, 3pm, at An Die Musik in Baltimore.

I was just hired by Cross Currents dance company to create original music for a piece that Daniel Burkholder is choreographing for them. Actually, it'’s a chance for us to work out some of the material that will be used in our upcoming duo piece, "“unmapped."” The Cross Currents show will be staged May 13 and 14 at Dance Place. Daniel and I will be showing our first version of the duo piece as part of "“The Pangea Project" at H Street Playhouse, April 14 -– 16.

Daniel and I are just starting our rehearsal process for the duo project. After the shows at H Street Playhouse, we'll be preparing for the real "“world premiere"” during the Capital Fringe Festival. Exact date(s) and venue will be announced soon. We'’re going to perform the piece, which will be a 40 minute structured improvisation, every hour for 24 hours straight. It'’s gonna be nuts.

I'’m still hard at work on my piece for "“Sound Exchange"” in Philadelphia. The project is a workshop for improvising musicians, led by Pauline Oliveros and members of her Deep Listening Band. The piece will be premiered in Philadelphia at the Trinity Center for Urban Life on Sunday, April 2nd at 4pm. The piece is a large-scale work, built around excerpts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "“Beyond Vietnam" speech. I'’ll be in Philadelphia from March 30 -– April 2 for the workshop and concerts.

I just fired off a grant proposal to Chamber Music America, for their "“New Works: Creation and Presentation Program," which funds the commissioning of pieces for composer-led jazz ensembles. I hope to continue developing the Sound Exchange piece, as an evening length piece for DC Improvisers Collective. Keep your fingers crossed!

I'm heading to Austin, Texas in April (6th to 11th) and while I'’m there, I'’m planning on doing some recording with Graham Reynolds. Hopefully I'll have some material to share afterwards… I haven't seen Graham in a while, and I have no idea what might happen!

We're still making arrangements for the DC Improvisers Collective recording sessions, looks like it will be in late May, or early June. Hopefully our second full-length CD will be available shortly thereafter. As part of our preparations for the recording session, we hope to schedule two live shows before then… dates and venues coming soon.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Jane Franklin Dance at Iota

This past Sunday I performed with Jane Franklin Dance in an unusual event at Iota in Arlington. This season, Jane Franklin is doing a series of performances using poems by local writers - in very different types of venues. A few weeks ago, we were at the Schlesinger Center at Northern Virginia Community College (a huge concert hall), and this time we were in a small club.

This show was part of a monthly poetry series hosted at Iota. We did a twenty minute piece using several poems, and then the poets who normally gather for this Sunday night thing read some work, some of them inviting the dancers to improvise during their readings.

We had a few rehearsals, and I have to admit I think I did a better job in rehearsal. I made a few mistakes during the performance, and had some problems with noise from my guitar rig (probably interference from the lights messing with my single-coil guitar pickups). I think it went ok, but I didn't feel like it was my best work...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sport Utility Vehicle

I wrote this piece a few years ago and shelved it. The story goes like this: I heard a performance by Charles Amirhkanian, and a few days later (not surprisingly) I had an idea for a text-based piece. I came up with an algorithm for distributing the words using chance operations, and I found the numbers to be intoxicating and wound up getting caught up in the process, which caused the piece to go on for way too long.

Lately, I've been experimenting with some new looping tools in Audiomulch, and I came up with a revised version that could be performed live pretty easily. Cameron had some great suggestions, and we made this recording today. Hope you enjoy this new revised (rescued?) version of Sport Utility Vehicle featuring Cameron McPhee (voice).

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Guitar and laptop

Today I want to share a new recording I made at home this weekend. I've been doing some tweaking of my guitar processing rig lately for a few projects that I have coming up.

A few years ago, I sold my racks full of guitar gear and switched over to a computer based system using my laptop. I'm working with an audio environment called Audiomulch. For more information about Mulch, visit and you can learn all about it. Basically, it's a very cool platform for manipulating audio in real time. It provides a system for configuring lots of little contraptions in a very flexible way. I've replicated the system I used to have with my old hardware-based rig, plus I've added some nifty new features.

This recording was made while I was testing out my latest configuration – making sure it works the way I'd hoped it would, and I've been practicing making loops and juggling looped material along with live playing. This piece was played live – it's just one pass with guitar and live processing, totally improvised. I hope you enjoy it.

As always, you can get the latest news about what I'm working on by visiting

Friday, February 03, 2006

Good News! DCIC = Grantee

Let's all give thanks to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Through their "Small Projects" program, the DC Improvisers Collective just received a grant of $1,000 to make a studio recording!!! We plan on spending three days at Inner Ear / Silver Sonya with Chad Clark.

We still need to raise another $500 to cover the studio time, so you'll be hearing more from us about that in the near future... but today let's just enjoy the good news!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

DCIC at Warehouse Next Door, Jan 18

As promised, here's a podcast from our performance at Warehouse Next Door a few weeks ago. We played as a trio that night, and did three "pieces." This is the final one. At this point, I was kneeling on the floor, playing prepared guitar. Mike opens the piece with key clicks on the sax, while Ben is playing with brushes. Mike then pulls out a particularly gorgeous lyrical improvisation and Ben's brushwork gradually coalesces into a steady rhythm. I didn't want to mess up this nice texture, so I let them take it for a while... You'll hear me sneak in at about 2:15. The entire concert is available for free download on our website now:

Dan (bass player) couldn't play with us that night, but he did contribute titles for the tracks. He named the set "An Index of Elements" and this track is named "c) Sn (density 7.3)"

Robert Carl - Changing My Spots

Last Friday night (January 27), I had the chance to perform in a concert by composer Robert Carl. He was one of my composition teachers at the Hartt School of Music (where I did my graduate work). He came to town to present an evening of work that he performs by himself - including several nice piano pieces, and some electronic things along with some shakuhachi music. The last piece on the program is an improv piece for an ensemble of unspecified instrumentation called "Changing My Spots." For this performance (which was the "world premiere" - fancy fancy), we put together a quartet with Jodi Beder (cello), Dan Barbiero (double bass), me (guitar), and the composer at the piano.

The score is wide open, but all pitches are specified. I'm probably the weakest reader in the group, and Cameron remarked that she thought it looked "cute" when I was squinting at the page, then looking at the neck of the guitar, then playing a note or two. Well, hopefully the audience couldn't see me counting the frets trying to make sure I was playing the right notes!

Music roundtable at DCist

Just came across this nice post at the DCist. They published a "music roundtable" discussion about the state of the "industry." It's not exactly comprehensive, but a great start. I think the discussion about the usefulness of MySpace is actually pretty accurate, which is rare given all the hype surrounding that stuff these days.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

DCIC at Warehouse Next Door

Last night, DC Improvisers Collective played on a bill with Hugh McElroy (former member of the legendary Black Eyes, and currently working with Hand-Fed Babies) and the guitar duo of Don Fleming and Chris Grier.

We played as a trio again, since Dan (our bass player) couldn't make it. Happily, the trio format is really working nicely. With the bass missing, there's lots of sonic space open, so I brought my laptop processing rig and allowed myself the luxury of gadgets. When we're a quartet, I've found it works much better to leave the gadgets at home since there's no need (or space) for looping and processing.

We played this show with very little planning, we really left things open to make up everything on the fly. After hearing the two guitar assault of Don and Chris, I wanted to open with some noisy guitar playing, so we agreed to start with a short noisy guitar solo (which I did with a slide in my right hand - attacking the strings above the pickups and occasionally over the neck), then Ben and Mike entered with some droning textures and I switched gears to more ambient textured sounds. Then things just progressed organically from there.

Mike started on bass clarinet, which is a fairly quiet instrument and I had a hard time playing softly enough to match (the joys of borrowing the Azarra's delicious sounding tube amp), but when Mike switched to his tenor sax that wasn't an issue.

We were all quite satisfied with the performance. I felt like there was really good ensemble listening and interaction. We all had ample opportunities to initiate new ideas, and I think we all did a nice job of responding to one another. It may be a week or two before I get the recording posted online, but I'll podcast something when it's available...