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.
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[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

Neys

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

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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

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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.

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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!

Matt