mat martin | Blog
Sketches, ideas, field recordings, demos and other such nonsenses are collected here, and can be filtered or searched below. Field recordings are often made while someone else takes a picture, and in those cases end with the shutter click.
Readers are reminded that this is an intermittent service and despite all good intentions is often neglected in favour of proper work.
Verdette, July 26 2016
Sound in a flower meadow at the base of la Verdette, Notre Dame de Bellecombe, Savoie, France.
I’ve come up against the idea that Jazz is a thing not to like more often that I would have guessed I would.
It had never really occurred to me as an option to rule it out before people started telling me “yeah, I really have a problem with Jazz”. I grew up listening to a few bits in my folks’ record collection, which wasn’t extensive given how much my dad loved music. There was some early Jazz in there though: Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, a few choice cuts from an early New Orleans form. There was a Billie Holiday record too. I guess I didn’t think of them as a certain type of record. Significantly, I definitely didn’t think of them as the same type of record.
I’ve always listened to music people would call Jazz, which includes a great deal of different music to my ear. My tastes have evolved (a bit, but probably not as much as they might have) over the years, but never to the point at which something I’m spinning wouldn’t fall into that bracket according to a decent number of people, which I guess is the point: Saying I didn’t like Jazz would feel to me as meaningless and self-defeating as saying I didn’t like food. To dismiss it would wipe out the possibility of engaging with a huge swathe of something, so as an entrenched position it seems to represent a significant impoverishment for little gain in return. And I’d be hungry.
I don’t think I have fully understood what that gain is yet. Trying to talk about the idea with people once they have expressed a dislike is hard to do without appearing to challenge the opinion they are entitled to, and that can understandably make folk defensive. I guess if I’m honest though, I do want to challenge it a little bit. I’m worried they are throwing a lot out at once. Perhaps one of the pay-offs is precisely that ability to make such a bold statement. To stand in a clearly defined camp and say “that’s not for me” can feel good, especially when it feels like a decent, tried and tested fallback position, like sneering at Bono or eschewing a high street coffee chain (both of which I have been guilty of). It helps us feel like we know something.
So here’s my bold statement: I like Jazz. Apparently it’s not hip (not unlike using the word hip) and people seem to be challenged by it, but I do.
Jazz runs deep through almost all the Western music we now know and which continues to shape our lives and ideas on a daily basis. Evolving alongside Blues music from the African culture which became increasingly present in the USA as a result of trading in slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries – and being suppressed as a result – it could be argued to be a genre more political than stylistic in origin. Certainly its angular rhythms and unfamiliar cultural roots made it a dangerous and challenging form even in its rawest state, and it’s possible that as a form it will always be regarded with suspicion by its adoptive cultures. But the musical culture of Jazz has always seemed to me one of vernacular learning and instinctive performance driven by a conscience which extends beyond music: it has at its core a spontaneity which is rarely matched in other forms of Western music, and it could be argued that this defines it more than instrumentation or style.
Its political culture is strong in voice, too. Long the music of the oppressed, the various forms which fall into the category of the genre have been often been about breaking things, be they new ground or old rules. Much of the significant evolution of Western music as a whole in the 20th century can be traced to Jazz over classical forms, a significant change from previous centuries of music history. Composers and performers of contemporary classical music (which blurs lines so much with the free improvisational forms so present in modern Jazz) lean towards the unknown through formal procedures such as aleatoric generation of values or open scoring to create a music which has some of the vitality of the late Jazz forms pioneered by the likes of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane or Eric Dolphy. The voice and energy of the underdog and of the searcher are strong in so many of the great Jazz musicians that the political and social element of the form remains so deeply embedded in the music as to be inextricable from it, a phenomenon which has perhaps only been recently equalled in Hip Hop culture.
But this is where it is possible to imagine a fork in the road, not so much in the evolution of a musical culture but in the perception of what that culture represents. My sense of the political, vernacular and instinctive core of Jazz is far from universal: For me, if your noises dig deep from a rich and varied cultural history and you push them out with a consciousness of their significance for people like you, you’re probably playing music which could be described as Jazz. It’s dangerous to speak for others but I suspect that for some you’re only really jazzing if you’re playing long solos in complex time signatures to people who for some reason can’t leave their chins alone. In the latter case, you’ve most likely undergone intense musical training and are theoretically and technically so accomplished that to play less, or less challenging, material is simply boring to you. Of course, if that’s the Jazz people don’t like, then they can usually colour me on board.
The difference I see in the ways in which Jazz can be defined or understood lie somewhere in this complex notion of whether it is a question of what something is or rather a question surrounding why it is. I have certainly had similar conversations about musical genres which are far less broad – Punk being an excellent example of that. Put another way, it may be possible to define Jazz in terms of either attitude or style and come up with some quite different results.
Even when dismissing Jazz only in terms of style we are dealing with a very broad spectrum, although I suspect many people when thinking of Jazz as an enjoyable thing to dislike are imagining a saxophone- or trumpet-led frenetic and intellectual type of impenetrable chamber music. To pretend that the stereotype doesn’t exist would be naive. This music is certainly extant, and I probably like some of it, although I would be the first to admit that the more music relies on technique and intellect at its core the more intimidating it can be to the untrained ear, and a certain amount of defensiveness must arise from any resultant feeling that one is supposed to understand something about it and has somehow failed if not. But who gets to confirm whether any reading of a piece of music is ‘correct’ or not, and does it make sense to consider that the purpose of music is to be ‘understood’ anyway? To me it mostly doesn’t, unless we assume artists are interested in creating an exclusive club which inflates its tiny memberships’ sense of superiority by giving it a sense of intellect which can at best only be based on subjective measures. That seems like an arduous and thankless task given how hard it is for artists to reach an audience in any case.
My own feeling on this – that great art works on several levels most of the time – is hardly groundbreaking. It may be possible to analyse and understand what is being done in a piece of music, and of course there is an enormous amount to be gained from doing so when one chooses to, but fundamentally if the music in question relies on this then it usually isn’t for me: Surely, the subjectivity of any art form is vital to its artistry. I also have very little time for music which exists to please or validate its executor rather than its listener, although I should add that I make no case for the dumbing down of technique or intellect in art on principle. The sheer abstract qualities of any piece of art must surely at the very least be satisfying or intriguing enough to invite further investigation from a third party regardless of the intellectual arguments which can or cannot be made for its existence. One must want to move towards something even if one doesn’t already understand its vocabulary. Look at our perpetual fascination with birdsong.
That said, when the spectrum also comfortably encompasses Armstrong and Fitzgerald or Django Reinhardt it’s hard to argue that the style is by definition either difficult and alienating or homogenous enough to make a single judgement about. This without considering the blurred lines between Jazz and almost all modern forms of music including Hip Hop, Reggae, Soul, R&B, Rock n Roll, Swing and a multitude of other elements which form the DNA of a very modern listening experience. To dismiss Jazz as a whole must be to draw a line in the sand beyond which taste will not venture, and to condemn Joni Mitchell to spend eternity tightrope-walking its length like an introspective Canadian Sisyphus (a fate from which the breadth and artistry of her output should surely save her).
But this is the point – the sheer variety of artistic visions, sounds and approaches, and the number of “non-Jazz” artists who have taken the form on in their work – be they classical musicians like Stravinsky or Gershwin, songwriters like Mitchell or Pop behemoths like Bowie or Radiohead – surely preclude us from forming a single reactive opinion which dismisses well over a century of music history in a single blow, and holding it so widely. I don’t doubt that whatever someone is thinking of when they say they don’t like Jazz is something they genuinely don’t like and that that is a considered opinion – I also wonder what it is they are thinking about, and how precisely it would line up with what the person next to them calls Jazz and doesn’t like.
I was in a rehearsal recently during which a friend was trying to play a line in exactly the way I was playing it. His playing was great, but we didn’t sound like one another. His natural inclination was to articulate the phrases and transitions differently, and to place the stress in different spots. His final comment came: “I just don’t have any of the same instincts as you”.
In these moments in which I’m invited to wonder why I make the noises I do and no others I tend to think of the players I’ve listened to most and make an effort to blame them for my choices, so I casually suggested he perhaps hadn’t spent as much time as me listening to Mark Knopfler during his formative years.
His proud reaction was to assure me that his youth had been far too mis-spent to listen to uncool music. I quietly wondered whether mine hadn’t, by his own definition, been more mis-spent than his by my doing just that.
Lou Rhodes’ new album “theyesandeye” is BBC 6 Music’s Album Of The Day on July 26th, as well as getting excellent reviews all over the place right now. Very happy to see the music gathering such great attention and to continue my ongoing relationship with Lou’s solo work as well as with Lamb, especially since this album was co-produced by an old college friend.
Pre-orders of special editions are still currently available from Pledge Music.
“I believe the dreaming and imagining faculties are closely related, such that wreathed in night-time visions I find it possible to suspend disbelief in the very act of making stuff up, which, in the cold light of day would seem utterly preposterous.”
A lovely article from Will Self in the Guardian which I read as being about routine, and the responsibility we have to ourselves to set up the conditions in which we can have a decent crack at the things we’re hoping to get done.
This is from the sessions recording original music by Chris Cundy which explores the overlaps of composed and improvised sound. It was a pleasure to record at Wincraft Studios in Bourton on the Water, Glos., and an honour to play with an illustrious ensemble:
Chris Cundy: Bass Clarinet
Mat Martin: Guitar
Fyfe Dangerfield: Piano
Hannah Marshall: Cello
Dominic Lash: Double Bass
Mark Sanders: Drums
Kirsty McGee - A Plague (Demo)
Been playing with new electric sounds for the material Kirsty McGee has been writing lately. This played on a Daddy Mojo Cigar box through a Fender Champ 600 – I hope it’s the kernel of a great sound…
I found this (from March 2011, along with another, similar demo) whilst clearing out my old tumblr blog and was pleasantly surprised by the sounds and the playing on it, so I’m re-posting it now. This is how I usually think I’d like to be able to play – I must have found it that day.
Bayernstraße Nürnberg, 30th May 2015
Sound at the main road through Luitpoldhain, between the Erhenhalle Monument and the Innenhof Kongresshalle. Recorded just after spotting a hare.
Nürnberg Erhenhalle, 30th May 2015
Sound at the Erhenhalle Monument in Nürnberg, near the Nazi party rally ground, on a late afternoon in May 2015.
Nürnberg Innenhof Kongresshalle, 30th May 2015
Sound at the empty unfinished Congress Hall at a Nazi party rally ground, now part of the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände in Nürnberg, on a late afternoon in May 2015.
New single from James Brute, featuring me on clapping and packing crate and lungs etc. Directed by David Fishel and filmed shortly after James broke his collar bone.
Released September 23rd, 2014
Performed by James Steel & Mat Martin
Recorded by Nick Foots
“To London, Love Me”, a piece on which I worked with Lowri Jenkins and Jennifer Fletcher back in 2013 is returning as “Invisible City”, following a period of R&D in various locations including Wales and Spain. Early next year the piece will enter its final stage of development at Chapter Arts in Cardiff and I’m looking forward to getting back together with Lowri and Jenni to find out more about what has happened since I was last involved.
Invisible City was written by Lowri Jenkins and brought to life as a collaboration with Director/Choreographer Jennifer Fletcher. It tells the story of Marie, a naïve newcomer to the big city. Struggling to adjust, she becomes a woman on the edge of an everyday trauma. Surreal and tender, To London, Love Me is an ode to longing, hope and the loneliness we often try to escape. The work is highly physical and works closely with a unique score composed by Mat Martin to produce a multi-disciplinary performance.
Originally commissioned by Rich Mix (London) in 2013 the work has since been presented at SCHIUME (Venice, 2013), St. Donats Arts Centre (Wales, 2013), ACT Festival (Bilbao, 2014) and Nunart Guinardó (Barcelona, 2014).
“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unmapped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.” (Darl)
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, 1930