north shore – week one

We’re nearing the end of week one of the North Shore Project. For those of you new to the game here, that’s week one of seven.

There are two aspects of this project that could reasonably cause some anxiety. The first is the “camping for seven weeks” thing, and the other is the “write and record an album in seven weeks” thing. Most people to whom I’ve given the project run-down this week (apparently, running around with a field recorder is liable to pique some people’s curiosity) have been most concerned about the first bit.

But yeah, see, that’s the easy part. Camping fills the same function for me as comfort food. It’s the second part I was more nervous about. I write slowly, methodically, agonizing over details. The last time I tried the “write a song in a weekend” thing, it worked, and that was what spurred this project into existence. But, I’ve had a year to second-guess whether I’d be able to replicate that shortened process eight more times.

Well, uh, turns out I can. It’s turning into a sort of dialogue with the environment. I’m committing to ideas faster, without second-guessing or searching for the perfect detail for every moment. When I have all the time in the world, the compositions start to look like a spreadsheet of options and probabilities I only half-commit to, like some big quantum music disaster. But here, decisions are immediate. The music is probably a little different, stylistically, and that’s exactly what I want. Don’t get me wrong, I love my usual format of endless alternatives and stacks of paper, but it’s so refreshing to try another approach.

There’s also the part where the thought process or the flow or whatever never really gets switched off out here. In everyday life we have different tracks that demand our attention, but out here, as long as you can cook and maintain camping equipment on autopilot, there’s never a switch-off and start-up period on the creative mindset.

Except for sleeping, I guess, but, that’s what coffee’s for. And oh, man, I made a point to stock up on St Paul Roastery beans before I left. I have priorities, you know.

You will never realize how really omnipresent “people noise” is until you wait for it to go away so you can record nature ambience. I mean, you can go someplace that isn’t a campground, sure, but, like … midnight rolls around, and I’m trying catch a loon call. But the quieter nature gets, the more it just unmasks how noisy people are. During the day you kind of tune it out, but at night when the air is still, if you’re waiting for dead silence, it’s not going to happen. Still air means you can hear someone clear their throat a kilometer away. And just when you think everyone’s asleep, an airplane flies over. If that sounds like complaining, it’s only to make an interesting point: people are noisy, and when everything else goes still, it just makes the people stand out even more. Little bit unsettling, eh?

Minor frustrations aside, things are going better than I could have ever expected so far. I like what I’m writing and it’s happening at a surprising pace, and those are two things I never thought would happen together.

On Saturday I move to the next spot, and I’ll try to update again next week.

Until then …

Oh, and my internet is so sketchy that this is the only photo I could upload to my site. There are a few more over on my Instagram if you feel so inclined.

north shore project

Hello, blog readers! I want to introduce you to my summer project, or as you will come to know it, “Matt’s third record”. That’s right, album three is on the way! But there’s a bit more to it than that.

A year and a half ago, I was out at Neys Provincial Park on a weekend family camping trip. Camping has been our default summertime family activity for as long as I can remember. I had my guitar and portable recording gear with me, so I tried writing a short song and recording it, almost on the spot. It actually worked. Turns out you can get a pretty good sound just about anywhere these days, despite what the audiophiles tell you. On the way home, I casually mentioned that, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to actually do a whole album like that? Write and record an album along the northern shoreline of Lake Superior, being inspired by the region I grew up in? And I sort of filed the thought away in the back of my head.

The family and I were down in Grand Marais a few days later. We’re at the Angry Trout for lunch and someone (my sister, probably) says something to the effect of, “So, that album, eh? You going to do it, or what?” and I thought … yes, of course I’m going to do it. I have to do it. It’s probably the first time I’ve had a perfectly clear artistic vision for something and I can’t pass that up.

That is precisely what’s going to happen this summer. With financial support from the Ontario Arts Council and the cooperation of Ontario Parks, I’ll be in various spots along the north shore of Lake Superior this summer, composing and recording. Ambient sounds – nature sounds – are going to play an important role here, and I’m hoping to manipulate them as part of the arrangement, or for unusual effects. The pitch line was “to create an audiovisual exhibition of original music and photography, showcasing the wild natural beauty and soundscapes of Lake Superior’s north shore” and while in retrospect that phrasing reads a bit “dramatic” to me, it tells you exactly what I’m going for. I want to show you how amazing this place is, and I want you to love it as much as I do.

When I ask myself whether this is going to be a “flamenco” album, I answer myself this: what’s important is that I capture the dialogue between myself and the environment I find myself in. This is a beautiful region. The parks in Northern Ontario are also, to me, symbolic of my past, and some of my fondest and most vivid memories were made in these places. I want to take the time to contemplate these things, and give myself a chance to respond by composing whatever suits the mood of the time and place. Perhaps it will be something a little weird. Perhaps it will be an homage to my childhood. Perhaps it will be ambient and moody, or perhaps I’ll surprise myself and write something overall uncharacteristically exuberant*.

(*fun fact: less than a quarter of all songs I’ve ever written are in major modes.)

You can expect the finished product to drop around the end of the year. There will be an audiovisual version, too, in addition to the standard album format (don’t forget that “exhibition of photography” thing from the pitch line). This audiovisual version will be hosted for a presentation by Definitely Superior Art Gallery in Thunder Bay, and I’m really looking forward to working with them on that side of things. It’ll be a new experience for me.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to update the blog during the project this summer. Internet connection permitting, I’m thinking of doing weekly updates through July and August. We’ll see how it goes. If you’d be interested in reading about how the project unfolds, feel free to drop me a message somewhere – it might motivate me to keep the updates consistent.

Until then!

introducing: seven pieces for flamenco guitar and orchestra

Well, this is exciting. I hold in my hands a complete archival print copy of “Seven Pieces for Solo Flamenco Guitar and Orchestra”.

Nobody’s going to play directly out of this book – it’s just for my own personal archives – but it feels so good to have months and months of work compiled in physical format. It’s one of the reasons I still insist on printing my albums as physical CDs (besides the fact that, regardless of what they say, people do still buy them).



I get to the end of this project and I think to myself, I now have a concert-sized repertoire of music I can play with an orchestra. You could say that was the “point” of the project, and that’s really cool. I’m incredibly happy with how it’s turned out. But I think the best part is that I finished the scores and immediately found myself with more “flamenco for orchestra” ideas. I wrote seven scores, tried to cap it at that, but there’s a little voice in my head saying “don’t stop, why are you stopping!?” It suddenly occurred to me that, wait a minute, the project’s over – but I’m going to keep doing this, because I love it.

Once again, thank you, to the Canada Council for the Arts for funding the project. I’m very proud of what I have to show for it, and I hope someday soon you all can hear what I came up with.

While we’re at it, in “celebration” (or whatever), I went ahead and recorded another new little YouTube video. It’s a Moraíto Chico favourite of mine that I’ve worked into my setlist recently. I’ve also been playing around with Final Cut in the past couple weeks, trying to get the hang of it, so there’s a little more going on visually than there has been in the past with my videos. Please enjoy!

duelling guitars

In a couple weeks, I’m doing two concerts with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. This is exciting for a few reasons! First, playing with the TBSO is a lot of fun. I’ve done a number of concerts with them, and they’re always a great time.

Second, this will be the first performance of anything I’ve ever orchestrated. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been arranging stuff for orchestra since I was a teenager, but I never thought that someday, something of mine would get played. I’m aware that this is not really a big deal in itself. There are lots of people who orchestrate day-in, day-out, and for a living if they’re lucky and really good at it. But a lot of my life right now is a series of “wow, I can’t believe I’m actually getting to do this” moments, and this is one of those things that seven-year-old Matt, picking up a guitar for the first time, would be awfully happy about.

And third, in addition to my own arrangements, we’re playing a few movements from Vicente Amigo’s Poeta. Yeah, I know, right? I couldn’t believe it either, and I’m not quite sure how it happened (for those who haven’t heard it, Poeta is a suite for solo flamenco guitar with orchestra). Vicente Amigo has been one of my favourite artists for many years, and his work has had a huge influence on my own. I know that a lot of flamenco guitarists today feel the same way. Getting to play Poeta is literally a dream come true and no, that is not a misuse of the word “literally”, because one time I literally had a dream about getting to play it with a real orchestra.

Joseph Roy, who taught me classical guitar at Lakehead University, is playing in one half of the show, and I’m playing in the other half. Hence the concert being called “Duelling Guitars” … though I doubt you’ll see any real duelling. Now there’s an idea for a show.

So, if you’re in Thunder Bay on February 9th or 11th, come to the Italian Cultural Centre for 8PM! Hope to see you there. I’ll try to remember my silver Sharpie so I can sign your CDs.

Here’s some more info on the shows, and the Facebook events so you can invite all your friends if you’re feeling inclined to do so:

TBSO website for Thursday the 9th and for Saturday the 11th

Facebook event for Thursday the 9th and for Saturday the 11th


my guitar

Over the summer, I posted a few videos and people were asking, “Hey Matt, did you get a new guitar?” and, well, here’s the story!

I went to Spain for the first time in 2010. Hours after landing in Madrid, painfully jet lagged, I went to look for a flamenco guitar. I bought a Conde, and it has been my constant companion ever since. That was also the day I began to develop a caffeine addiction.

That’s me with Felipe Conde, the day I bought my guitar. I was eighteen! Time flies. In retrospect, I’m glad I’ve grown my hair out. That wasn’t a very “flamenco” look I had going on at the time.

I don’t want to take the Conde on an overseas flight every time I go back to Spain. So whenever I go, I fly over, buy an inexpensive guitar, play it for a few months, fly it home, and sell it. Not a bad scheme, eh? After one of the trips, I kept the cheap guitar I bought, installed pickups, and adopted it as my “this is a bad gig for microphones” guitar. That guitar doesn’t play very well, and I’m pretty sure it’s made of reconstituted wood pulp or plywood. But it does the trick when I need it. I’ve joked that I’d burn it for a hundred dollars, but it’s been through enough great gigs with me that I’ve learned to care for it.

Back to the Conde. No matter how hard I tried, Northern Ontario’s climate started to wreak a little havoc on it, and I sent it away to be examined (turns out it’s fine, just normally aging). I was without my Conde for the first time in six years. It was awful to be away from it for so long. That said, the Conde shop does a wonderful job of caring for its instruments and the musicians who play them. My guitar got the vacation that I wanted for myself!

So, that guitar in my videos this summer? That’s the backup guitar with the pickups. Through the wonders of modern technology and countless hours of tinkering, I actually learned to make it sound pretty good on recordings.

Musicians form incredibly strong bonds with their instruments. I think it’s to do with what they represent to us. My guitar is my voice. I’ve spent so many hours using it to communicate my emotions and ideas. Many people who watch my videos or see my shows have never heard me speak except through my instrument. Besides that, I probably spend more time with my Conde than I do with actual people, and when I’m awake it’s usually within a few feet of me if I’m not in fact holding it. It’s no stretch to say that my guitar feels like an extension of my body. When I thought it was damaged, if felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was injured. It was physically distressing, as though I had injured one of my hands.

Now to be fair, I am the kind of person who bonds easily with inanimate objects (I was visibly upset when I sold my old iPod), but guitars are far from “inanimate” – they transform, amplify, and express the energy you put into them. My guitar helps me connect with people, and you could probably make a compelling argument that it’s in fact more animate than I am. It’s so nice to have it back home with me.

Also, back in October, my friend Dennis Duffin came to Thunder Bay to record his new album in my studio, so I got to play recording engineer/producer for someone else! Dennis even brought in a U67 that I got to play around with. It was a lot of fun. Can’t wait for his project to get out there for you all to hear!


montréal, kraków, and toronto adventures

The past month has been a musical adventure. My coat pockets are crammed with airplane boarding passes. My head is full of good memories and new ideas.fullsizerender

First, there was the Festival Flamenco de Montréal. I’ve spent only ten days of my life, total, in Montréal. Yet when I visit, I feel like I already live there. The festival is like a family reunion, where you meet family you didn’t know you had. We flamencos are very lucky that the event exists. I was planning on going just to see the shows and visit with friends, but somehow I ended up with my own show – and on stage during two others. Here’s your proof:

credit - Niane Naïane 2016

credit - Hervé Leblay 2016

credit - Hervé Leblay 2016

Photo credit goes to Niane Naïane for the first one, and Hervé Leblay for the last two.

I also got to hang out with my friend Dennis Duffin, who I hadn’t seen in a year. We couldn’t pass up the chance to record a little video:

After Montréal, off to Poland. “Poland, you say?”

Yeah, Poland! I played a private function in Krakow with Jesse Cook. When I was a kid, Jesse’s music was one of the reasons I wanted to learn to play guitar, and so playing a show with him was one of those really cool “full-circle” moments. It’s pretty neat to have your childhood guitar hero phone you up for a gig.

[left to right: Drew, me, Jesse, Yoser, Juan, and our guide Krzysztof]

A few days ago I did a CD launch show for Nocturne at Lula Lounge in Toronto. It was a lot of fun. I’ve been hearing about that venue for years and I’m very happy I finally got to play it.

In October, I get to play recording engineer for someone else’s recording project! Perhaps more on that later …

neys day


This is Neys Provincial Park. It’s a campground in Northern Ontario, three hours by car from where I live. When I was a kid, I spent my summers here with my family, and made many of my fondest childhood memories.

Neys is tied with Granada at the top of my list of favourite places. It’s forest, beach, rock, driftwood, and lake … kind of in the middle of nowhere. You have to believe me when I say that despite the cold water, black flies, and unpredictable weather, it’s one of the most special places in which you could ever find yourself. There’s a rock formation at one end of the beach called “Prisoner’s Cove” – Neys was once a prisoner of war camp – where I would sit and stare at Lake Superior for what seemed like eternity. It’s a place where I was happy just to be part of the world.

I’m sure that Neys is responsible for my love of what most people would call “miserable” weather. A typical “Neys Day” is overcast with occasional soft rain, and just windy or chilly enough to make you put on a sweater. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of day I had when my family and I went out to record this video:

In recent years, I’ve spent less time at Neys (I’ve had summer jobs, or I’ve travelled to Spain), and I’ve missed it. Sometimes I’ve thought maybe I’ve outgrown camping, but then I remember how it feels to sit on the rocks or walk the trails, and the simple joy of staring at the open water. I suppose I’m easily entertained, but pure contentedness – and great inspiration for art – can come from what seem like simple experiences. I’d like to point out that Pic Island, which is depicted in the famous Lawren Harris painting of the same name, is within plain view of the Neys campground.

I hope this recording captures my love of Neys and conveys to you what a special place it is. On such a “Neys Day”, the park has an almost eery sense of tranquility. I wish I could experience this kind of tranquility more often; it’s the kind of peacefulness off of which “artistic Matt” feeds. It’s like the park itself invites me to write. I think I knew this even as a child. It’s waiting for you to create something new, patiently and in relative silence, until you’re ready to share.

orchestration and writing by hand

score bw

I’ve loved orchestrating music for a very long time. As a teenager, I would transcribe and arrange the music from The Legend of Zelda series, and I would beg my high school strings teacher to make the class play my scores. Good times … for me anyway, maybe not so much for them. Ever since, orchestration has been one of my favourite musical activities.

I’m in the process of arranging my own music, for orchestra with guitar solo, and I’ll be playing some of these arrangements with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra next February. Rearranging old work for a new ensemble is challenging but very rewarding. In porting these pieces to orchestra, I’m giving some works a new chance. Take Allons-y! from my first record as an example. I never play it live, because to do it properly I’d need at least five guitarists, ideally seven. Talk about impractical. The original ideas were in a sense “orchestral”, and now the piece has a chance at being performed live through the orchestral medium.

arrangementI used to compose and arrange in Finale. Finale is a pretty neat scoring program, but when I realized it had been negatively affecting my process, I started writing by hand.

I’ve found that scoring programs cause problems because they tempt me to play back incomplete musical thoughts before I’ve had a chance to iron out the feel, the expression, the interaction between layers, the context. The program tells me my ideas are “wrong” before I have a chance to tell it what the whole idea actually is. You could say “but Matt, you know better, just ignore what the program is saying”, but it doesn’t matter what I “know” – nothing kills my creativity faster than being constantly interrupted by little shreds of doubt.

There is something almost magical in writing by hand. There is more investment, more effort, and more joy in every single note, rest, and hairpin when you put ideas to paper in Sharpie pen. I know a lot of writers who feel the same way; these are people who carry around Moleskine journals instead of laptops. Writing by hand makes you pay more attention to the little details in your work, and I think it’s the little details that are the most important.

thoughts on convocation


I performed one of my pieces at Lakehead University’s convocation ceremony this afternoon. It may have been the largest crowd I’ve ever had – fifteen hundred or so, plus however many students and faculty were on stage behind me. But it wasn’t the size of the audience or the great acoustics that made it stand out to me. Rather, it’s what was being celebrated.



I remember how it felt to acknowledge the end of a phase of my life when I graduated from Lakehead a few years ago. I am humbled and very grateful that today, my music was a part of this important occasion in other people’s lives. I’ve given some performances on the TBCA stage that have had great significance to me, and today’s was yet another one that I will never forget.

Congratulations to all the graduates, and thank you for having me be a part of commemorating this chapter in your lives.

website, videos, and current playlist

I’ve wanted to get around to building a website for a couple years now. I’m sad to realize that my once-legendary coding skills have gone out the window since high school. I used to code as a hobby! Ah, well. After some research and a lot of tinkering, I have the site looking the way I want it.

Next on the to-do list is recording new videos. I posted one for In the Rain a few weeks ago, but I want to do a couple for my more “flamenco” works. Maybe a bulería and the minera from Nocturne? The tricky part is recording the palmas first, on my own, and then overdubbing the guitar. It takes some trial and error to get the palmas right when the guitar hasn’t been recorded yet.

Right now, my favourite guitarists to listen to are Manuel Parrilla and Jose Quevedo “El Bolita”. I came across this video of Manuel Parrilla earlier today:

Just a guitar and two palmeros, but what a groove! That’s flamenco for you. I’ve also been listening to more cante lately. Argentina is my favourite right now:

I’ll be announcing some more shows before too long. I’m just waiting to hear back about a few details. Until then!