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Press for 'Dirge' (Dear Life Recs, 2021)


A forgotten feature of much Renaissance music is its functionality. Joanna Mattrey’s latest album, Dirge, would’ve been performed at a funeral during an earlier era, serving a concrete, ritualistic purpose. This inherent sense of function and the sounds themselves anchor Dirge in the past. 

The sonic focus of the album is the Stroh violin (or Strohviol), which, while invented in 1899, counterintuitively summons sensations of much earlier music with its obscured and brassy timbre. The Stroh violin, a stringed instrument mechanically amplified by a metal resonator and horn attached to its body, sounds like it should have existed many centuries ago. It was originally created as a solution to an issue encountered by early recording artists: the sound of string instruments was very difficult to capture. The horn attached to the Stroh violin provided a solution. 

The Stroh violin is joined by the organ on two tracks and another uncommon instrument, the daxophone, on the track “Last Dance.” Both the Stroh violin and the daxophone were created by inventors; we can thank John Matthias Augustus Stroh and Hans Reichel respectively. Without getting too far down the rabbit hole, the daxophone is an electric wooden experimental musical instrument commonly thought of as possessing a human and animal-like vocal quality. 

Upon speaking with Mattrey, she mentioned that this sense of the historical is linked to the overtone series—the chorus of notes that naturally resonate with a specific instrument—of the Stroh violin. In combination with the informed historical perspective Mattrey brings to the album and the extraordinary additions of the organ and daxophone, the effect is mesmerizing.

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JOANNA MATTREY – VEILED (CD by Relative Pitch Records)

Joanna Mattrey is a young violist and composer active in contexts of both new music and improvised music. She started playing the violin in her youth and never stopped since. She worked with  Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians, Mary Halvorson, John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Nick Dunston, a.o. From this list, one can conclude that she has her base in New York City's Downtown scene.  More recently she works with musicians from the Neither/Nor collective: she participates in the trio Ancient Enemies, with alto saxophonist Nathaniel Morgan and Carlo Costa on drums; and since 2015 she is in Sean Ali’s trio with cellist Leila Bordreuil, that released the album  'I used to sing so lyrical' last year for Astral Spirits Records. With ‘Veiled’ she presents her first solo statement performing on viola and Stroh violin. The Stroh violin needs some explanation. This instrument was invented by John Stroh in 1899. The strings are mechanically amplified by a metal resonator and horn attached to its body, I learned from Wikipedia. In recent years this curious instrument was used by Tom Waits and Carla Kihlstedt.  No doubt Mattrey choose it for its possibilities to explore sound possibilities of the violin, as this is what her music is about. For the same reason, she uses preparations to alter the sound of the viola. In ten improvisations she sharpens her ideas. Using and playing with distortion, overtones, timbre, dynamics, she creates deep resonating textures. Often melodic elements are hidden in the noisy and rough textures like in the opening track ‘Ferver’. Also ‘For the Thrall’ has a lovely ‘tune’, delicate and unpolished. As in many improvisations, she repeats certain phrases while changing timbre, dynamics, creating a nuanced sound spectrum. Sounds are often dissonant and mutated, scratchy and penetrating. Not very comforting textures, but in her sonic explorations she surely succeeds in unveiling the beauty of this sound world.  And make it a rewarding listening experience. My response to ‘this kind’ of music often goes in two directions. First and mainly, I search to come as close as possible to the concrete sound world, with nothing in between that divides this closeness. On the other hand, this music triggers fantasy and imagination. (DM). ––– Address:   


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..."Then Mattrey played a solo set of viola where every sound, even the smallest ones, hung in the air like spider webs throughout the refurbished space. She seemed like she was in a trance and delivered music that was in that vein–at times bearing grooves, multi-phonics, and complex, unsettled layers of sounds. The use of styrofoam added a noise element that she masterfully manipulated through bowing and plucking, often at high speeds. Mattrey also unveiled her stroh violin, a thin instrument with a bell attached, such that the sound is channeled through the metal bell rather than resonating in the wood chamber to produce what sounds like a combination of a string instrument and muted trumpet. Mattrey worked the edges of the potential pitches, again with a meditative, rolling rhythm and attention to the full range of volume. Anne Waldman added, “phenomenal altered viola of genius Joanna Mattrey with the added textures of stroh violin.” -Cisco Bradley

photo by Peter Gregorio

21st Century Improvised Music on the New York Scene

Follow on Twitter: @JazzRightNowNYC

December Artist Feature: Joanna Mattrey


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.


–Cisco Bradley, December 11, 2015

New Music

Here's the Migos Performing "Hannah Montana" with a Symphony

By Slava Pastuk

















Quavo and Takeoff are two very busy Migos as they prepare for the July 31st release of their debut album Young Rich Nation, but they took some time out of their schedules to appear alongside a nine piece symphony to perform "Hannah Montana" over top of a classical arrangement, composed by New York's own John Cleary. 

Watch as the two musicians rap in their signature triplet bursts over top of bells, whistles, strings, and drums. Everyone comes off looking like a classic man, but the real star of this video is Joanna Mattrey, on viola. Not only did she give a spirited performance, but she's the one that responded with a resounding "oh yeah!" when asked if she'd ever heard of the Migos. We are all Joanna Mattrey.

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