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.