Mathew Muntz

"When We Took the Fire"
Artistic Discipline: Music
Category: Brooklyn Arts Fund
Grant Year: 2020
Location: Prospect Lefferts Gardens

In synthesizing traditional music from distant cultures with experimental composition and instrument building, Vicente Hansen Atria and Mat Muntz’ goal is to bring underrepresented musical traditions to new audiences, while presenting them in an unprecedented context that will prompt new examinations of what traditional forms have to offer an increasingly modern and interconnected world. They hope that the act of building their own instruments - a practice typically considered to be the sole domain of specialists and more recently, mass production - can inspire people to reconsider their capability to directly engage in aspects of life previously thought to be beyond their influence.

“When We Took The Fire” was initially inspired by the distinctive sound of the double reed, an ancient family of instruments developed in different forms across the world, whose evocative sound Rumi described as “wail[ing] with the pain of separation” and generated by “fire, not wind.” In conceiving the work, Hansen and Muntz drew on personal experience with traditional double reed music. Hansen had recently studied with New York-based Korean traditional music virtuoso Gamin, while Muntz had studied the Scottish great highland bagpipe in his youth. Despite the far-flung origins of these traditions, they saw a potential for synthesis, and enlisted expert practitioners including Gamin Kang, Jua Yoon and experimental bagpiper Matthew Welch to help realize this vision.

In addition to utilizing the unique sounds of traditional reed instruments, a central goal was to design and build new instruments that would expand on the rich legacy of the double reed. In their research they discovered that much of the sound that had been ‘tamed’ out of the double reed by centuries of musical convention - brilliance, harshness, loudness - had resurfaced as some of the most compelling sounds in contemporary music, from distorted guitars to aggressive synthesizers. They built their instruments (both by hand and via 3D printing) with the goal of harnessing these unique and volatile properties in service of their compositional goals, including detailed micr”otonal tuning, modular construction, spatial arrangement, and mass audience participation. In the sense that these sounds stand in opposition to much of what is institutionally valued and expected from acoustic wind instruments in the West, they view this practice as an act of revolutionary sonic liberation.