Feathers and energy with Matana Roberts

In this interview Matana Roberts and host Josh Thorpe, we discuss and listen to some excerpts of Roberts’ new release on Constellation Records… it’s Coin Coin Chapter 5 (as well as Chapter 4). Topics include: the body in relation to the instrument, graphic notation, the process and spaces of composing, balancing feathers, magic, dogs, and hearing energy. It’s lovely!

Matana Roberts interview and listening (note we fade out on Filth is Eternal at end as we do not have permission to stream)
Matana Roberts balances a peacock feather on their hand

Matana Roberts is an internationally celebrated composer, performer, band leader, saxophonist, sound experimentalist, and mixed-media practitioner. Roberts is perhaps best known for their acclaimed Coin Coin project – a multi-chapter work of ‘panoramic sound quilting’ mixed media performance work, that aims to expose the mystical roots and intuitive traditions of American creative expression, while maintaining a deep and substantive engagement with narrative, history, community and political expression within sonic structures.

Matana’s music has been performed all over the world, they have a new album released in autumn 2023 on Constellation, and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing them perform recently in Glasgow. We recorded this interview remotely and asynchronously, as Matana travels a lot. In this episode we’ll probably have time to listen to Matana’s music and their words, and perhaps in a future episode we’ll listen to some other musicians Matana has mentioned. I think you’ll find Matana speaks thoughtfully and brilliantly about life and work. 

Each part of Coin Coin explores radically different musical settings, from the free jazz and post-rock eruptions of Chapter One to the solo noise collage of Chapter Three. Featuring a new ensemble steeped in jazz, improvisation, new music and avant-rock, helping to expand the project’s existing sonic palette, Chapter Five is no exception. Roberts is joined by fellow alto saxophonist Darius Jones, violinist Mazz Swift (Silkroad Ensemble, D’Angelo), bass clarinettist Stuart Bogie (TV On The Radio, Antibalas), alto clarinettist Matt Lavelle (Eye Contact, Sumari), pianist Cory Smythe (Ingrid Laubrock, Anthony Braxton), vocalist/actor Gitanjali Jain and percussionists Ryan Sawyer (Thurston Moore, Nate Wooley) and Mike Pride (Pulverize The Sound, MDC). The late, great trumpeter jaimie branch, who was due to play on the album, receives a credit for “courage”. The album is produced by TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone, who also contributes synths.

Album cover for Coin Coin chapter 5

With a reputation forged over the last two decades for visceral and galvanising live performance, November 2022 saw Roberts tour Europe presenting Coin Coin Chapter IV: Memphis with a 5-piece group at several prestigious venues including Berliner Festspiele, Banlieu Bleues in Paris, and Milton Court in London. Previous live performances, both ensemble and solo, across the global contemporary music spectrum, have been rapturously received. These include Big Ears in Tennessee, USA, Unsound in Krakow, PL, Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, USA, Donaufestival in Donau, Austria, and Le Guess Who? in Utrecht, NL, where Matana was a guest in 2021.

In recent times they have served as distinguished guest composer at the University Of Chicago, chair of the Music Sound department at Bard MFA, music & sound fellow of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin programme. New performance works and scores have been commissioned by Donaueschinger Musiktage (DE), Miller Theater’s Composer Portrait series (US), The Crossing (US), Walthamstow Borough Of Culture (UK), Brooklyn Rider (US) and by the composers, Claire Chase, Elaine Mitchener and Johnny Gandelsman, while their mixed-media artworks have been shown across a variety of solo and group contexts including a major residency and solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum, and works shown at Akademie der Künste, daadgalerie and Savvy Contemporary (Berlin), Bergen Kunsthall and New York’s Fridman Gallery.