Magic Mountain is a suite of nine pieces. We started with a simple set-up: two violas, two chairs, and a few microphones. And what unfolded from that was everything.
We borrowed our album’s name from Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain), the 1924 book by Thomas Mann. On the surface, Mann's story is about a young man whose three-week visit to a Swiss sanitarium mysteriously turns into seven years. Dig deeper, though, and the story is an exploration of the nature of time: its illusions and distortions, and the ambiguous quality of memory.
Some people say The Magic Mountain is a challenging read. Maybe it’s because Mann doesn’t serve up narrative in a straightforward fashion. He narrates time the way his hero experiences it: unraveling, expanding, and merging into the present.
Some people say that our music is a challenging listen. If it's so, then perhaps it's because we don’t serve up our musical stories in a straightforward fashion, either. Are we improvising, or composing on the spot? Are we playing chamber music or jazz?
As string players, we came of age in a time that asked us to choose between the musical languages we loved. Today, we play music the way we experience, and not how it's categorized. To us, Milton Babbitt is as essential as the Blues, and a Johnny Hodges tone can be played with a Morton Feldman touch.
Much of what we do blurs the lines around musical things. Tonality? From one note to the next, we might find six microtones to play. Self and other? It can be hard at times—even for us—to tell our voices apart. Time? At any moment, we might feel three meters at play. Sound and silence? To us, the music lives in both. With each performance, we create new chamber music that will never be heard before and will never be heard again.
We play what we love
Magic Mountain is full of our personal and musical histories. The track titles form a second narrative, rich with clues to who we are and where we've been. Some of the track titles are borrowed from Der Zauberberg
, and others allude to figures whose voices speak to us: pianist Paul Bley
, actor Paul Muni
, the fictional composer Adrian Leverkühn
, and Mat's father, Joe Maneri
The Dance of Death, the album's third track, shows the connection we feel between Bach's solo instrumental works and Eliot Carter's first String Quartet. We hear an off-kilter swing in both composers' works. Their downbeats aren't landings, but lifts. Their sense of metric weight is dynamic and kinetic. Our opening notes are a gesture that reveals music already in motion.
Foreword, the album's opening track, is a concise summary of our approach to music-making. Earlier this year, Mat transcribed this piece. (A concert score is one of our perks - see the sidebar.) It was a labour of love that allowed him to examine a compositional process that unfolds outside of the sphere of thoughts and words.
The album's opening track is a concise illustration of a compositional process that unfolds outside the sphere of thought or words. In music theory terms, it's a three-part sonata form based on a six-note motif carried through extended harmonic and rhythmic development. In human terms, this track reveals a seamless exchange of roles. Tensions and resolutions shift rapidly between us. Long notes become short ones; loud notes become soft ones; one voice's harmony becomes the other's melody.
The title of the album's last track, Paul Muni's Boat refers to a favorite saying of Mat’s father, the saxophonist/composer Joe Maneri. When Joe wanted to evoke the fine line between stillness and motion, he’d say, “You know, like Paul Muni’s boat.”
We never found the Paul Muni movie he was referring to, but for us it became shorthand for an improvisation stretching thematic and harmonic development at a glacial pace. The long pauses at 3:06 and 3:17 are silences rich with music. Our coda at 9:10 uses microtonality to breathe subtle expression into Mahleresque harmonies.
How your support will help
We've been fortunate throughout our careers to release recordings on a variety of labels. But this music is so close to us that we wanted to be able to retain its personality by releasing it ourselves.
We intend Magic Mountain to serve a key role in establishing our presence as a new kind of chamber music ensemble. It will help us to tour more, to record more, and to catalyze new partnerships with presenters, educators, and audiences in every direction.
Our album is mixed and ready to go. Your pledges will help pay for photography, mastering, graphic design, manufacturing CDs and limited-edition double LPs, and the setup costs to distribute the album through our website.
Releasing this record helps us to tell our story, and to invite everyone into our conversation. We hope you'll join us.