Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Three Nights at MATA Keeps Your Ear on its Toes

Opening with a self-contained work by Irish composer Jonathan Nangle, which involved a sizzling, pre-programmed electronic score that cued an exciting light show (via a set piece Nangle carried all the way from Ireland for this purpose), the majority of Friday, April 17 belonged to Brooklyn-based trio Bearthoven, which consists of pianist Karl Larson, percussionist Matt Evans, and bassist Pat Swoboda. Featuring works largely composed for Bearthoven by Fjóla Evans, Amanda Schoofs, David Alan Broome, Adam de la Cour and MATA Artistic Director Du Yun, the evening’s standout works for the ensemble were those of Schoofs and Broome.  Schoofs’s work, entitled Intimate Addictions, was essentially an extended improvisation, featuring the composer vocalizing wild, breathy grunts and primal noises and communicating with the ensemble through occasional intimate glances and bodily cues. According to the composer, the material of the work is intended to be gleaned from a series of abstract paintings and poetic fragments, provided to the performers on a series of 7.5″ x 5″ cards. As in any work of this variety, any discernible correlation between these images and the resulting performance seems largely arbitrary. Nonetheless, the opportunity to witness such a creative process in real time, coupled with Schoofs’s courageous performance, elevated the evening to an entirely different level of sophistication.

In contrast to the near ritualistic, primal quality of Schoofs’s work, the material of David Alan Broome’s Ominousty was drawn from Billy Joel’s popular hit Honesty. A phrase from the song was programmed into an electronic piano keyboard, cued to play back at various speeds as the keys were depressed by Bearthoven’s pianist, Karl Larson. Starting out as a haze of chipmunk-like shrieks, the underlying song gradually came into focus as the piece progressed, eliciting a raucous, jovial reaction from the audience and succeeding in Broome’s mission to “make the familiar unfamiliar.”

Much of the second half was eclipsed by a moderate shadow, cast by the questionable taste and judgement exhibited by Artistic Director Du Yun in programming her own work, a move that deviates from the presumable responsibilities of the position, though Yun does meet the criteria, being a composer under the age of 40. Appearing on an elevated platform, and channeling the aesthetic of Cruella De Vil from beneath a punky, black and white wig, Yun participated in the performance, shouting and wailing over improvised material performed by Bearthoven. The overblown theatricality of the piece and its confusing elements (such as a slow-motion film of people mourning over a corpse at a funeral, the inclusion of which was never adequately explained) seemed to compete directly with the others, right down to Yun’s melodramatic and nonsensical vocalizations, which mirrored those of Schoofs to a cartoonish degree, channeling shades of Bjork.



With so much emphasis being placed upon the exclusive, competitive nature of being chosen by MATA, and the career building potential that follows, the question that comes most prominently to mind is what virtuous work was precluded from this coveted opportunity to make room for this forum?

The final work of the evening (commissioned by MATA) was another exercise in multimedia, Adam de la Cour‘s Corporate Talent Factor’s Next Top Idol!, which consisted of a short film showcasing the composer in various vaudevillian antics and a live score performed by Bearthoven in sync with the film. While the film was entertaining, its farcical critique of global corporate culture and greed was rather unoriginal and came across as little more than preachy.