I was really interested in hearing what multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer Adam Matlock had to say about his work and his inspirations. As a member of the Syntactical Ghost Trance Choir during its premiere performance at Roulette in October 2011, he was a wonderful collaborator (and if you were there, you may remember his accordion, as well!) . Adam has a new opera, Red Giant, that will have its premiere performances on June 9 and June 10 in New York and New Haven, respectively. The work was commissioned by the Baltimore-based organization Rhymes With Opera. Read on and I am sure you’ll learn about a few new wonderful artists to check out (I did!).
When did you start playing?
I started with classical piano lessons at age 4, and kept up with them until teenage rebellion hit and I started learning rock songs by ear in high school. I also sang spirituals when I was growing up, songs that had been passed through my mother’s family as far back as anyone can trace. So I had two very opposing forces on the back burner, both of which really started boiling over when I got seriously back into music as a college student. I joined a klezmer ensemble while in school and found the accordion because of that, and the combination of both a new instrument and an (at the-time) unfamiliar style completely re-energized me.
How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
I played in a few noise/rock bands in college, and that really introduced me to the idea of improvisation outside of a jazz context, since I never thought of myself as a jazz player. These experiences weren’t ideal, but they allowed me to start connecting the dots in my head and gave me a better idea of what I was capable of and what needed work. I also took a class focusing on improvisation which exposed me to some musicians (Cecil Taylor, of note) and theoretical ideas I probably was unprepared for at the time – but this laid a valuable groundwork for the future.
Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
The great Nina Simone, for everything, but especially for the depth of her voice timbre, and for her sensitive touch on the piano as a soloist and self-accompanist. Alice Coltrane, for her ecstatic keyboard/piano playing and studio compositions which, even at their most bombastic, convey a sense of searching that I empathize with heavily. Peter Hammill, the British songwriter who has defied most of the expected cliches and cycles of an almost 50 year career, and has put out some of his best material in the last decade. Toby Driver, who has a more intuitive understanding of electro-acoustic writing and organization than most composers I can think of. In all cases, these are people whose music I found some time ago, and keep rediscovering at crucial junctures. All of these folks, additionally, seem to have had some struggle with the labels used to promote them, but have continued their work undeterred by that fact.
What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
One of the most baffling and rewarding musical experiences of my life so far has been playing with and writing for the ensemble Broadcloth, with other TCO members Anne Rhodes (voice) and Nathan Bontrager (cello). I’ve also got a songwriting project called An Historic, with which I perform solo or with a few different folks helping. There’s also the improv-folk group Dr. Caterwaul’s Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps, which features Bontrager on cello in addition to Brian Slattery on fiddle/banjo and Michael Paolucci on percussion. That group has gone in some very interesting directions in the year-and-a-half it has been around, including silent film scores, accompanying Rhodes and soprano Zohra Rawling on songs from the opera/art-song/cabaret repertoire, and serving as the backing band for touring songwriters.
What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
The big event for me upcoming is the premiere of my opera Red Giant with libretto by Brian Francis Slattery. It’s the most involved compositional project for me in quite some time, and I’m very pleased to be working with Baltimore-based ensemble Rhymes with Opera in realizing a concert performance. That date is June 9th, at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, as part of the NYsoundCircuit festival. RWO will bring an encore of that performance (which also includes two other works from their repertoire) to The Big Room in New Haven the following day, June 10th. Beyond that, Broadcloth is going on tour with Carl Testa solo between June 22nd and 28th, which will take us as far south as Atlanta.
Recently, Broadcloth put out a live e.p. of our recent set at The Stone. That’s up for download here. The guitarist Benjamin Shirley also recently released an album of his compositions that I played on; that’s available here. And An Historic has a cassette EP coming out soon.
What are you currently listening to?
Still thinking heavily on Benjamin Britten‘s Curlew River and Scott Walker‘s The Drift, works which wouldn’t appear to have anything in common but both of which subvert the expectations of their forms in pretty excellent ways. Connecticut has some great local bands and one of my favorites is Heats of Formation (formerly The Bookslave), who make awesome shoegaze-inspired music with a pair of electric guitars, synth and shared vocals. Also, there are three albums that haven’t left my iPod since I got them – Janelle Monaé‘s The Archandroid, Norwegian avant-garde black metal group Ved Buens Ende‘s Written in Waters and Saul Williams‘ hip hop/industrial concept album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust.
What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
Primarily, I’d say that seeing the orchestra and any of Anthony’s ensembles at work provides insight into not only how the organization of sound works, but how the perception of that organization works, too. From the first encounter I had with Anthony’s orchestra and large ensemble music, I felt I had to rethink everything I had learned about how musicians and instruments interact with one another, especially when the musicians are interpreting the pieces within such a great realm of possibilities, This has had a lasting effect on both my improvising and my composition.
Any thoughts on your experience singing with the Syntactical Ghost Trance Choir at Roulette in the fall?
Working with the Ghost Trance Choir was such a fun and challenging experience. It was an immense pleasure to work among such talented singers, and approaching Ghost Trance Music as a vocalist gave me greater insight into the grand concept of Anthony’s music than I have previously had. I think it helped that a large portion of the choir were also involved in the the Trillium J excerpts that were performed during the festival, and that I had the chance to sit in on some of those rehearsals as well. Some of the moments of extreme density of vocal writing in the operas seem to anticipate some of the textures possible with the Ghost Trance Choir, but even that didn’t fully prepare me for some of the sonic terrain we covered in that performance. It was a testament to the cohesiveness of the choir as a unit that, given the extreme range of possibilities, we were able to create something that was both adventurous and coherent within 45-50 minutes.
What’s your favorite food?
That’s the hardest question so far! I’ll eat basically anything vegetarian, with a strong fondness for Ethiopian and anything that incorporates plantains.
Tags: Adam Matlock, alice coltrane, an historic, Anne Rhodes, benjamin birtten, benjamin shirley, bookslave, brian slattery, broadcloth, Carl Testa, Cecil Taylor, curlew river, dimenna center for classical music, dr. caterwaul's cadre of clairvoyant claptraps, heats of formation, inevitable rise and liberation of niggy tardust, janelle monae, klezmer, michael peolucci, Nathan Bontrager, nina simone, nysoundcircuit festival, opera, peter hammill, plantains, red giant, rhymes with opera, saul williams, scott walker, silent film, spirituals, TCO Profile, the archandroid, the big room, the drift, the stone, toby driver, ved buens ende, written in waters, zohra rawling