What’ll It Be? MATA Composers Give Us a Festival Preview

On April 19, MATA kicks off its 12th annual festival in New York City. Under the banner of “Young Composers—Now!” this four-night event at Le Poisson Rouge includes 14 world premieres—three of them MATA commissions. With such a range of composers on tap, we caught up with a few of them pre-festival to sample their sounds, find out a little more about them, and make sure we knew what their drink was before this thing was out of the gate.

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Lisa Coons



Lisa Coons: “Cutter” from Cythère

With so many options in front of you, how do you approach creating new music?

I think of music as a way of engaging with lived experience, so my work is often grounded in memory or even physical sensation much more than abstract aesthetics. This allows me to compose music without getting crushed under the weight of “what has come before.”

What compels you to do such a crazy thing?

The other careers I was considering during undergrad required better standardized test-taking skills than I posses…

If the funding was flowing and time was no object, what project would you like to complete? Where would you like to live while doing it?

I would love to do an evening-length experimental “opera” where the movement/dance, sound and dialogue are completely integrated—where amplified rhythmic movements on stage contribute as much to the music as traditional instruments. It’s one of my favorite projects to sketch. Ideally I would still live in New York while writing it, just maybe someplace with an actual kitchen.

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Christopher McIntyre



Christopher McIntyre: Soundtrack from Quartet Music, mvt.2

If the funding was flowing and time was no object, what music project would you like to complete? Where would you like to live while doing it?

A project that my MATA piece is the first baby step toward: an evening length multi-media event inspired by the concepts and work of visual artist Robert Smithson. The current plan is to involve Ne(x)tworks’ full compliment plus two additional actor/vocalists, two computer specialists for real-time sound/score creation activities, a sound engineer, a video artist, and a stage designer. I can’t imagine working on it anywhere else but in NYC!

There are 77,200,000 search results returned when you Google “What is a composer?” and the “end of genre” stylistic descriptor is so commonly inserted it’s groan inducing. Still, with so many options in front of you, how do you approach creating new music?

It does seem that genre has sort of become an antiquated way of thinking (or so we’re being led to assume—not so sure it’s true myself). Despite that, I approach creating new music from both a purely personal context and from within a certain aesthetic ancestry that I feel connected to. Living in New York really highlights the fact that we’re all part of a continuum regardless of differences between language and presentation, and a key component of that continuum is staunch individuality. When I start to create a new piece, I try really hard to focus on the material at hand and just trust the filter that is my personality and knowledge base.

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Missy Mazzoli



Missy Mazzoli: Orizzonte

What compels you to do such a crazy thing as compose music?

Composing music is the best way I’ve found of making sense of the world. It gives me an opportunity to put things in order, create structure, and process ideas. It may be a crazy career choice, but without music I would be a lot crazier.

What people/things/ideas have had the biggest impact on the music you create?

Meredith Monk has been a huge influence on me. My music is very different from hers, but we have a similar approach to the creative process and I have learned a great deal from watching her work. She’s not afraid to start from nothing, to create a new work that is completely different from all of her previous works, and she never seems to be confined by the limits of notation or the weight of tradition.

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Alex Theodore Sigman



Alex Sigman: mi(e)S(e)-En-abîMe II

What people/things/ideas have had the biggest impact on the music you create?

The external environment, wherever I happen to be located, has often influenced my creative process. Urban, industrial, and natural sounds heard while walking or on bicycle, a neighbor’s blaring stereo, and the interruptions of the background music in an airport lounge by an intercom system, among other stimuli, have all been integrated into the musical fabric, albeit having first passed through a series of filters.

What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you/your music in performance?

Now for a bit of dark humor: In an earlier version of the piece to be performed on the MATA festival, a rather extreme scordatura in the cello is required. When collaborating with one particular ensemble on the piece, the cellist objected strenuously to the re-tuning of his instrument. As such, a rental cello was obtained, the exact physical properties and condition being unfamiliar to the performer and composer. During one the rehearsals, the A-string (tuned a major second higher) snapped and lacerated the cellist just below the eye. As a preventative measure, he decided to wear goggles in performance!

Since that incident, I have modified the scordatura.

What would make a good drink pairing with this piece for the people in the audience?

Well, my piece has a deceptively “light” and unassuming beginning, a strong aftertaste, a French title, is small but quite concentrated, and is best performed in a cool, dry place, presented with ice water. Perhaps a glass of pastis?

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Daniel Wohl



Daniel Wohl: Glitch, mvt. 1 – “Skip”

If the funding was flowing and time was no object, what project would you like to complete?

I think I’m doing the kind of projects at the moment that I would be working on if time and money were no object. The ideal situation for many musicians is to have as few restrictions as possible as to the content of their music; whether you’re writing an album, an orchestra piece, or a piece for one of your friends, it’s important to be able to have the creative freedom to explore your ideas. So in that sense more time or money wouldn’t help. Of course it would be nice to be able to hire a world-class orchestra every time I have an idea or just want to try something out. But then again, it’s definitely 100% better to be asked by a world-class orchestra to write a piece rather then to hire them!

Concerts can be stressful for composers. What will you be drinking during the performance of your piece at LPR?

I often feel like I need a drink before and/or after a performance—but at LPR you can actually have one while listening to your music. This time though I’ll be handling the electronics for my piece, so I’d better hold off until after the show. I really enjoy being involved in some way or another in the performance of my music, because it replaces the stress of passively hearing your music performed as an audience member, with the positive stress of actually helping it be performed well!

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Tristan Perich



Tristan Perich: qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq

What people/things/ideas have had the biggest impact on the music you create?

Mathematicians. I’ve spent the last six years slowly unraveling the layers of meaning behind working with basic electronic audio and each step of the way it’s an idea from information theory, or the foundations of mathematics, or computer science that unlocks a deeper consequence of what I’m exploring. Kurt Gödel, Alan Turing, and Gregory Chaitin in particular have influenced my thinking.

What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you/your music in performance?

When we performed Between the Silences at Issue Project Room I had the visual click track projected large at the back of the room (usually the musicians just see it on a small video screen to stay in sync with the electronics), so throughout the piece the players were looking off into the high distance, as if towards some celestial deity, guiding them through the waters of the music. It was rather strange.

What would make a good drink pairing for the people in the audience?

I’d say drinking a glass of fine red wine while listening to waves of toy pianos and synchronized electronics is a rather perfect pairing.

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Nathan Davis



Nathan Davis: The Bright and Hollow Sky

With so many options in front of you, how do you approach creating new music?

I try to get my hands on whatever instruments I’m writing for, whether I can play them or not, so that I can approach them directly, physically, and see what sounds they want to make for me. In this way, I can forget some of the weight of history and style.

What compels you to do such a crazy thing?

I enjoy it. Writing is an opportunity to tell stories, however opaque.

Concerts can be stressful for composers. What will you be drinking during the performance of your piece at LPR?

I often occupy myself by mixing or running live electronics during my performances, so I don’t go to the bar ’til afterward. Since this performance is in the very capable hands of others, I will probably sit in the audience during my piece and just listen—but leave my beer on the table so that I can be free to turn all the knobs on some little mixer that’s not connected to anything.

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