December Artist Feature: Joanna Mattrey

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This month’s feature focuses on the work of violist Joanna Mattrey, who is relatively new to New York. Mattrey has been involved in a number of interesting improvised and composed music projects focusing on music ranging from Karlheinz Stockhausen to Anthony Braxton.


Cisco Bradley: Who/what have been your big inspirations as an artist?

Joanna Mattrey: It’s a joy to live amongst such a daring, explorative community of musicians. There have been countless moments, as both an audience member and performer, where I’ve felt changes in the flow of time brought about by everyone really going in together, and wow! Life-giving purpose. The membrane between performer and audience softens and you feel that quiet sense of unity.
Especially with improvised music, the questions, the pauses, the danger. Those elements of instability that somehow deliver us into the spiritual. I love playing new and classical music as well, but for me with improvised music, it’s just so close to the surface.

CB: How did you come to be a musician?

JM: I started playing music because my third grade teacher brought her violin into class one day  and played for us. She then called my mom and told her that moment was the only time she’d ever seen me sit still and listen. I suppose its still like that. Improvising feels like an antidote to a hectic, chaotic world. A zen practice in listening. What is going on that isn’t being heard? What  hidden wisdom? Improvising can be a state of listening that blots out all the other static, giving space to surrender oneself. Tapping into the flow of momentum that is inside and outside, and mixes with everyone else in the room. Unity finally for a glimpse!

CB: How would you describe your aesthetics as an artist?

JM: Playing a string instrument is just the best! There are so many sonic possibilities. With the lightest touch of the bow, you can make these layers of overtones and distortion. Exploring preparations and other sound worlds can create portals into faraway times and places. There is this resistance between the bow and the string that pulls something out of you, just as you draw it out. It’s a dream. Ultimately, I am looking for those rare states of full self-investment. Being in surrender, being listening. It’s such a beautiful way to experience closeness.

CB: What projects have you been involved with since coming to NYC?

JM: In September, Jonah Rosenberg, Brooke Herr and I created a multimedia Stockhausen  installation for MoMa/PS1’s ALLGOLD gallery. We created a living score environment of ‘Connections,’ one of Stockhausen’s Intuitive Music pieces. We had video, interviews, drones, and live sound installations filling the various rooms, and a library of zines and cassette tapes, of other artist’s interpretations of the ‘Connections’ score. It was such a great experience studying that score closely, and searching for ‘vibration in the rhythm of the universe.’

Sean Ali (bass), and Leila Bordreuil (cello), and I, worked intensely on the sound installation for  the Connections exhibit, and have been rehearsing and performing a lot since. It’s so exciting to
stumble upon chemistry and a shared sense of curiosity. The natural acoustic blends of the instruments, the way the overtones line up and resonate each others instruments is always shocking and awesome. It’s inspiring to find musicians you can be in dialogue with about the
process of playing and to have collaborators who are as enthusiastic about rehearsals as they are about gigs.

I have several projects that have given me that kind of freedom of exploration, Three Minute  Mullet, with Henry Fraser (bass), Joe Moffett (trumpet), and Connor Baker (drums), We’ve worked on the music of Anthony Braxton, Art Ensemble, and originals. Having incredible musicians to rehearse really challenging music with for months, and really being able to study in depth has been very fulfilling. In another group, Ancient Enemies, with Carlo Costa, (drums) and Nathaniel Morgan (sax) we have been practicing rehearsing, and some of the exercises we’ve stumbled upon have blown my mind and pushed me so much as a player.

Upcoming release:
WhoThroughThen, is a new music performer/composer collective, that will be releasing an album of original music titled ‘Ponticular’ for viola, harp, bass clarinet, piano, and electronics in the next few months on Not Art Records.

–Cisco Bradley, December 11, 2015

Cisco BradleyDecember Artist Feature: Joanna Mattrey

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