Joanna Mattrey, Gabby Fluke-Mogul

Relative Pitch Records RPR1143


In their first collaboration, improvisers violist Joanna Mattrey and violinist Gabby Fluke-Mogul create music that combines drones, microtones, and extended techniques. Mattrey also plays stroh violin, which includes an attached horn that serves as a resonating chamber. Performing the aforementioned sounds on the stroh creates far out results.


Each piece on the album is titled, “The,” followed by a single evocative word. Wayward lines and multi-stop pizzicatos begin “The Vision,” which are then followed by pizzicato glissandos accompanying a bluesy riff. Improvisations vacillate between these two demeanors, with greater sustain accumulating. The piece settles, only to be followed by the eruptive “The Trinity,’ with a howl of over-bowing and various methods to elicit scratching and non-pitched noise. “The Potion” returns to pitched sounds, with a duet between repeating patterns and glissandos. 


“The Switch” explores the lower register and quasi chitara strumming. As an antidote to all the upper register violin prior, Mattrey explores scordatura low tuning on her viola and supplies cello-like sounds. The texture gradually thins out, with glissandos and pizzicati dueling for primacy. “The Switch” ends on a sustained, bass register note. “The Child” begins most quietly, with upper register over-bowing, harmonics, then continues with pizzicato multi-stops versus a delicate altissimo melody. The delicate contrast with previous selections is welcome. While there is no steady pitch center, the duo play thirds and sixths and a modal melody. This isn’t to last, as hails of pizzicatos supplement it. Things remain soft, but string noise, circular glissandos,  and wood thwacks, with the occasional harmonic, create an entirely new atmosphere. This crescendos, and the noise quotient is upped, only to suddenly shift to quiet harmonics. Like so many of the pieces on Oracle, the music may be improvised, but the players are experienced enough to shape the musical narrative seamlessly.


“The Womb” is Mattrey and Fluke-Mogul at their most scary. The use of glissandos, sotto voce noise, and a  voice-like, panting line that predominates its opener could be licensed for a horror movie: why shouldn’t free improvers get some of the dough? Parlando whimpering is accompanied by an upper register fiddle followed by squealing string noise. This moves into a drone section of repeated plucked notes and microtonal sustained double stops. The monster’s voice returns, slighter higher, making it even more frightening. Just when you think the piece has hit its zenith, Mattrey and Fluke-Mogul quickly pull back to soft harmonics, only to build to a conclusion that howls with fury.

Oracle closes with “The Blade,” in which clock-like wood blows and a viola drone that gradually moves between three pitches and then is replaced with a high register squall. A number of ostinatos are juxtaposed, some pitched, some extended techniques, with the one constant being the rapping on wood. Like a broken clock coming apart, the material dissolves, with a pizzicato heartbeat ticking and altissimo harmonics and scratches gathering toward the close, an acerbic descending flourish. 


Mattrey and Fluke-Mogul have hit things off from the beginning. One hopes their musical association will continue.


-Christian Carey