Joanna Mattrey “Dirge”

There’s a passage in “Tryst,” the opening piece on Dirge, where Joanna Mattrey breaks free of a hypnotic loop by stretching her Stroh violin’s notes into the night sky. Drifting lazily, holding the grit of the strings in awe, looping aimlessly in the air like a samara seed caught in a wind guest, Mattrey eventually comes back to Earth. “Tryst,” as memorable and satisfying as it is, offers just a taste of what’s to come.

Mattrey’s solo debut for viola, Veiled, showed a focus and intensity that was tactile. She extracts sounds from the air as if they were pulled from another time. This spectacle is even riper on Dirge. Pieces like “Kamiza” and “En Caul” flow with classical energy, like Mattrey communed with the disintegrated scrolls to carry an ancient message forward in time. The latter combines quiet tracts of space methodically bowed with bursts of light, a catharsis built up in the lulls to shoot outward without warning. “Kamiza” is spacious, her energy permeating its slow, pensive sonic curls. Like the track that follows, “Heart Murmur,” an urgency descends in the cracks, holding together painful connections and keeping this music from tearing us apart.

There’s a harsh potency to the way Mattrey plays and that approach lends itself to the metallic tinge of the Stroh violin. Screeches bellow like a storm as “Heart Murmur” continues expanding, spiraling ahead without stopping. It’s an aural freight train. Frenetic howls pierce any remaining comfort zones that Dirge hasn’t already shredded, Mattrey going supernova spewing emotional cascades across everything. It’s an oddly beautiful purification ritual. 

Dirge hums with life and the Stroh violin is a sublime conduit for Mattrey and her arsenal of techniques to sculpt a series of interconnected lustral verses. Plucks on “Last Dance” act as claws digging out from beneath the ground, scraped dissonance not ready for its last breath. This is music that wants to exist in the permanence of the world’s essence. Tiny details etch each of these pieces with personal stories and intricacies that have always been and will always be. Joanna Mattrey is becoming a force of nature.

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