Speaking With Matthew Mullane

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On solo acoustic guitar comps with Thurston Moore, synths, and eating human flesh.

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William Cody Watson | April 4, 2011

Matthew Mullane

Matthew Mullane

Matthew Mullane is an up and coming solo artist beginning to make his nice ripples in the experimental waters. He's a mighty solo guitar player, having just released a solo acoustic record on Vin Du Select Qualitite, as part of the label's Solo Acoustic series, also featuring the likes of Thurston Moore, Mark McGuire, Allen Karpinski, Chris Brokaw, and more.

You may have also heard his more synth-based solo project Fabric. As Fabric, Matthew creates sheets of warm textures and arppegiated tones and filtered tones. A Sort Of Radiance was recently released via Spectrum Spools, an offshoot of Editions Mego. If you haven't heard Mullane's work yet, trust me, you will soon.

I sent Matthew a few questions via email to get some insight into his musical background and how he finds his own voice, creating music.

I'm not going to even pretend like
I'm very well-versed in the solo-acoustic-guitar scene, so let me just ask you outright: Who inspired or influenced you, in regards to your guitar playing?

I think like a lot of steel-string players today, my origin point is Fahey. However, as a player/composer, one reaches a mental Oedipal point where you have to destroy your father and move on. Prior to Fahey, my concept of the guitar was not as a solo instrument, but rather as an accompanied one. Yet, players along the improvised continuum, Derek Bailey for example, had an equal influence on my concept of what can be achieved through solo play.

Today, I try and synthesize a number
of sources of influence: from transcribed classical guitar pieces and Bach to electronic music that is wholly separated form the guitar. Synthesis and anthropophagia!

Also, in that particular realm, who do you look to as peers?

Being isolated in rural Ohio for much of my life (I now live in Chicago), I didn’t interact too much with other solo guitarists. But I’m thrilled to be a part of the VDSQ collective, a loose grouping of people representing a broad spectrum of what is possible with the guitar as a solo instrument.


Matthew Mullane Live.

You recorded your VSDQ release, live and in one take, yet it sounds very fluid and thought-out… Can you describe your thought process going into that project and the recording process?

The process was driven by anxiety and frustration with recording my guitar compositions. While writing these pieces, particularly the long-form works, it becomes clear that the composition has the potential to manifest itself in an infinite number of ways. For instance, one phrasing or one melody can be played with an infinite number of dynamic movements. Recording any one of these options essentially freezes it in one position, and this determinism and finality became very stressful. In order to overcome this, I decided I would play the piece live (in front of an audience in Hiram, Ohio), record it and simply live with the results.

The solo acoustic record, to me, seemed to possess this kind of nostalgic energy, wherein things sounded familiar, but were entirely new. I love when music can do that… What inspires the way you play?

“Once Was, Is Once Again,” the piece that occupies the majority of the VDSQ LP, was born primarily out of
anxiety about the future, about leaving and returning (maybe this can be felt by the poems on the reverse of the album cover). Perhaps one could say that such anxiety is nostalgia from a future perspective. Juxtaposing my guitar work with Fabric, when I play guitar, I am permitted only to work with notes and the spaces between them. No
samples or indication of the outside world. So I’m glad that this emotion you mention is sensed.

Fabric is an entirely different creature from your guitar works… How does Fabric come about? How is preparing for a Fabric work different that the guitar-themed recordings?

Fabric was born out of a frustration with my fingers, particularly when my fingers failed to synchronize with my brain and pull out the right notes on the guitar. Using a synthesizer, although certainly a tactile
process, is a less visceral one for me and allows for more slow-formed conceptual processes. For instance, I can record a melodic phrase or texture and warp it to my liking. But on the guitar, such an action is relatively impossible — you’re left to your wits.

Preparing for a Fabric composition, which I have just started to do once again, includes rounding up a series of textures and melodies that I feel will exist semi-harmoniously and then bending those elements into a dynamic form. I’m swaying towards a new direction with the new album, so we’ll see where that takes me.

Do you seen any real disconnect between what you do with an acoustic guitar, compared to what you do with synth in Fabric, or are the two, in some way,
interwoven?

There is certainly a conceptual disconnect, this is why I chose to release the Fabric material under another name. However, the two projects also intersect. Both are essentially projects of solo instrumentation. Despite being layered and processed, A Sort of Radiance was recorded with a singular synthesizer as an exploration of that instrument. Compositionally, I think there is a shared focus on melodic arrangement, although this idea manifests itself differently in both projects. The synthesizer allows for a wider range of texture and color, however, I feel the guitar allows for a more expressive range of phrasing.

What is some of your favorite music to listen to, from the present and past? What are some things you grew up listening to, that have in some way affected the way you play music? What, outside the realm of music, is a big influence on your life and work?

I listen to far too much music so making a list like this is excruciating, but I’ll consolidate. What I’ve been listening to around the house lately:

Distant past: Bach cantatas, Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Japanese gagaku.

Past: Brazilian pop (Tropicalia and MPB), 70s Japanese folk/rock, electronic music in all of its forms.

Present: Music of friends and friends of friends.

Outside of music, I study art history, so I’m a funnel for any sort of creative activity. Being in this mode of collection and processing is perhaps the greatest influence.

What's on the horizon for you? Upcoming releases? Shows?

The VDSQ LP was recorded more than three years ago — during the interim I have recorded a sizable amount of solo guitar material, both acoustic and electric. I hope to condense these recordings into a followup album. Over these three years, my playing style and approach has changed, hopefully for the better.

Concerning Fabric, I’m going to begin recording a followup full-length
album this Summer and perhaps a few side tape releases depending on time.

In early May, VDSQ Records has a very special West Coast tour planned. From Seattle to San Diego and back featuring myself, Mark McGuire, Chris Brokaw, Joshua Blatchley, and Allen Karpinski. We’ll be publishing the official sequence of dates very soon.

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