think of Terry Riley, Hendrix, Fripp, Miles, Jarre, Stravinsky, Ravel jamming in a cave w/a Zen Buddhist Monk. Add Phish meets Philip Glass when my String Quartet "Scorchio" is on the bill!
Martha Mooke, composer/electro-acoustic violist, a pioneer in the field of electric five string viola, transcends musical boundaries by synthesizing her classical music training with extended techniques, digital effects processing and improvisation, while retaining the depth and soul of the instrument.
She is a Yamaha Artist and leading clinician on electric and alternative approaches to string playing. Mooke is founder and violist of the adventurous electro-acoustic Scorchio Quartet, which has performed with David Bowie, Trey Anastasio, Philip Glass, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Lou Reed among others.
Mooke has toured internationally as a member of Barbra Streisand's acclaimed orchestra and with "Star Wars: in Concert". She has also worked with Bon Jovi, Enya, Peter Gabriel, Andrea Bocelli, Tony Bennett, David Byrne, Moby, John Cale, Ziggy Marley, Luciano Pavorotti and the Orchestra of St. Luke's.
Mooke's genre-defying recordings, Enharmonic Vision and Bowing's Café Mars (duo with electric guitarist Randolph Hudson) have attracted wide critical acclaim. Her catalog includes works for electric and acoustic instruments, film, theater, dance and multimedia productions. She has premiered many works written for her by a broad spectrum of composers.
She has received awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer and Arts International among others. She was honored with an ASCAP Concert Music Award for conceiving and producing the new music showcase THRU THE WALLS featuring ASCAP composer/performers whose work defies categorization.
Martha Mooke - electric viola/violin; composer
Trey Anastasio and the Scorchio Quintet: Live from Princeton
David Bowie: iSelect (Astralwerks)
Barbra Streisand: Live in Concert (Columbia)
Linda Thompson: Versatile Heart (Decca)
Philip Glass - Taking Lives (Warner Bros.)
Osvaldo Golijov - Klezmer Concertos and Encores (Naxos)
Ziggy Marley – Dragonfly (Private Music)
Bowing - Café Mars (2105 AD)
David Bowie: "Heathen" (ISO/Columbia)
Mercury Rev-All is Dream (V2 Records, Inc.)
Prefab Sprout-The Gunman and Other Stories (EMI Records)
Big Pun - Endangered Species (Loud Records)
Ron Sexsmith – Whereabouts (Polydor Group)
Muzzle - Actual Size (Warner Bros / Wea)
Fat Joe - Don Cartagena (Atlantic)
Philip Glass – Koyaanisqatsi (Nonesuch)
Martha Mooke: Enharmonic Vision (Maximum Music Connections) 1
Steve Reich - Works: 1965-1995 (Nonesuch)
Philip Glass – Kundun (Nonesuch)
John Cale - Eat/Kiss (Hannibal Records)
John Cale - Walking on Locusts (Hannibal Records)
Richard Barone - Clouds Over Eden (Line Records)
At This Marathon, No Running Shoes Are Required
The New York Times
"Even with so much promiscuous eclecticism on display, two segments of the concert stood out. Martha Mooke, using electric violas and effects pedals, bridged the gap between Romantic virtuoso composer-performers like Paganini and Liszt and MIDI-friendly successors like Todd Reynolds and Zoe Keating."
'X-ING' marks the spot for violinist, and former Staten Islander, Martha Mooke
Staten Island Advance
'X-ING' marks the spot for violinist, and former Staten Islander, Martha Mooke (Michael J. Fressola, Staten Island Advance)
"Violist/composer Martha Mooke is busy: The ex-Islander will be the star attraction Dec. 3 at an upmarket "Artful Dining" dinner party fund-raiser for Symphony Space..."
An Interview with Electro-Acoustic Violist Martha Mooke
The Free George
Innovative electro-acoustic violist, composer, and clinician Martha Mooke will appear at the Hand House Parlor in Elizabethtown on September 18th and 19th as part of the Rites of Strings concert series. Over the years, Mooke has developed a unique musical voice, blending classical music with modern digital effects. Her permutation in the field of five string viola/violin has led to numerous concerts, daytime and late night television talk show appearances, inclusion in the Broadway pit orchestras of Wicked and South Pacific, performing in the touring Star Wars in Concert show, and alongside such artists as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Tony Bennett, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Moby, Andrea Bocelli, and Luciano Pavarotti.
Mooke's genre-bending debut solo CD, Enharmonic Vision has garnered widespread critical acclaim. Aside from performing solo, she also plays in a guitar-viola duo titled Bowing and in The Scorchio Quartet. Martha Mooke not only spreads her love of music through performance, but also in the way of workshops. She is a clinician teaching numerous classes, such as "Violas on the Verge" and "Zen and the Art of Conceptual Improvisation." She received an ASCAP 2001 Concert Music Award for producing and creating the Thru the Walls showcase which features work, not unlike her own, that defies genres and categorization.
The Free George: I read that you synthesize your classical music training with extended techniques, digital effects, and improvisation. Could you explain a little about your classical training? When did you start playing the viola/violin?
Martha Mooke: I started playing viola when I was 10 years old, in the fifth grade. The music teacher from the Intermediate School came to my elementary school and offered classes. Everyone wanted to play the violin or cello because no one knew what a viola was – so I picked the viola! Usually students start on violin and switch, it's a bit unusual to actually begin on viola. I discovered I had an affinity for the instrument and stayed with it. At that time the public schools I attended on Staten Island had string programs and orchestras, so I received a great initial training. I have two degrees in viola performance: a B.A. from the State University of NY at Albany, and a Master of Music from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
TFG: How did your current electro-acoustic violist style evolve out of your past training?
MM: One of the points I like to make when I'm leading a workshop or demonstration is that you have to be able to speak a first language before you can speak a second. I was able to bring my skills as a traditionally trained violist to a non-traditional instrument. At first, all I had was the alphabet, and since they weren't teaching anything like this in school, I needed to develop my own vocabulary and way of communicating with this new voice.
Martha Mooke with Iggy PopTFG: You're billed as an electro-acoustic violist. Can you tell us a little about the instruments you currently have and play?
MM: When I'm playing in an orchestra, normally I play "unplugged," or acoustically. I have a pickup built into the bridge of my acoustic instrument, so that when I'm called upon to "plug in," meaning if my string quartet, Scorchio, is performing with a rock artist at a club that requires us to be amplified, I can do so easily, and I'll know it will sound good. When I play solo or with an "electric" ensemble, like my duo with electric guitar, or my new trio with bass and electric djembe, I use my electric instruments. I have an array of 4 and 5 string violins/violas. When I first began exploring the world of electric strings, there weren't as many makers of these instruments as there are now.
Jean-Luc Ponty was a major influence on me, and one of the reasons I decided to pursue this unconventional route. A friend loaned me one of his albums, and on the cover he's cradling a beautiful blue five string violin. After I listened to the album, I made my parents drive me to 48th Street in New York City, and I purchased the exact same model, an old Barcus Berry, which I still own. A few years later I heard a band called The Horseflies, they're from Ithaca, and I befriended Judy Hyman, the violinist, who was playing a very sexy electric violin. Shortly after I was the proud owner of the first 5-string electric viola model from Ithaca String Instruments.
I was also experimenting with different effects units and delays around this time, and was developing my own sound and style of playing. When I began my affiliation with Yamaha over 10 years ago, they were designing their first line of electric strings. They sent me a prototype of their Silent Violin, and the next thing I knew, I was invited to consult with the design team in Hamamatsu, Japan on some new models, including a viola and a 5-string electric hybrid, which is my primary electric instrument these days. Each instrument has somewhat different features than the other, from tone to power, playability, headphone jack (which is great for practicing) to volume controls. Along with my instrument collection, I also have a rack of digital effects processors, including several digital delay units – I use loops and layers in my music, and a battery of foot pedals, similar to what an electric guitarist may use.
TFG: In addition to performing live and recording, you also teach Workshops/Clinics. Can you tell us a little more about this?
MM: When I first began my journey as an electric violist and improviser, I was pretty much on my own. There were a few players out there and some recordings to listen to and play along with, but no one that I knew of, who could help guide me along the way. I started offering workshops when I performed at a school or university, working with the students to first introduce them to new concepts of playing and listening, and then to expand their vocabulary and sonic palettes. Over the years I've developed a number of clinics that cover the many ideas I incorporate into my music. To give you an idea: "The Power of Strings: Plugging In!"; "Zen and the Art of Conceptual Improvisation" and "Violas on the Verge" are a few of the workshops I offer.
TFG: What's the best piece of advice you were given about music as both an art form and an industry?
MM: That unfortunately they're not mutually exclusive—you can have all the talent in the world, but if you're not able to "sell" it, then it's pretty much like playing solitaire.
TFG: Do you have a particular lesson that you try to ensure everyone in your workshop takes home, something you want them to remember and keep in mind above all else?
MM: I usually start off by telling them that you don't know what you're missing until you know what you're missing. Basically, to allow new ideas and concepts to flow in, consider them, adopt and adapt and make them your own.
TFG: You compose; perform solo, in an ensemble, in a duo, and in Broadway pit orchestras; teach the workshops, and produce the music showcase Thru the Walls. You seem to wear many hats as a musician. Which of these roles do you enjoy most and why?
MM: Hmmmm, it does make time management challenging at times. The key is versatility and the ability to keep evolving, yet it always comes from the fact that I'm doing what I love to do.
Martha Mooke with David BowieTFG: Your avant-garde string quartet, the Scorchio Quartet, has performed with such big names as David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Trey Anastasio, Rufus Wainwright, Enya, Bon Jovi, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and so many others. Is there a favorite moment or collaboration you have that really stands out above the others?
MM: I'd have to say that the first time we performed with Bowie (we weren't even called Scorchio yet – David gave us the name during the Heathen recording sessions) at Carnegie Hall for the 2001 Tibet House Benefit Concert. We had rehearsed with him a few times, which was a thrill of course, but when he arrived backstage dressed for the show, in a long silver jacket with glittery black shirt, hair done and makeup, I think it really hit us that we were playing with DAVID BOWIE! Of course when we took the stage with him the crowd went crazy and the first song we played was "Heroes," with a wonderful arrangement by his longtime producer Tony Visconti. I remember Philip Glass was playing piano and Moby was playing guitar (with whom I had just played an acoustic duo version of his song "Porcelain").
TFG: Going along with the last question, do you have a favorite overall moment in your entire career?
MM: Well, it's hard to beat the performances with Bowie, but I've also been privileged to perform with Barbra Streisand during her North American Tour in 2006 and European Tour in 2007. The thrill of sitting just a few feet away from her as she made her entrance through the floor of the stage still gives me goose bumps. The roar of the crowd as the spotlight hit her was like a wave of raw energy!
TFG: You're playing at the Hand House Parlor in Elizabethtown on the 18th as part of the Rites of Strings Concert Series. Have you played this venue before, or any other in the area?
MM: This is my first time playing in Elizabethtown and I've heard wonderful things about the venue. I'm looking forward to a more intimate setting. One of things I love most about performing is establishing a relationship with the audience. It's very personal for myself and each listener.
TFG: Do you have a favorite venue to play? And why is it your favorite?
MM: Not one venue in particular, but I was just on tour for 11 weeks with "Star Wars in Concert" which is a huge multimedia production that played to thousands of people each night at arenas all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It was an 85 piece orchestra surrounded by lights, lasers, and a huge hi-def screen showing excerpts of the films while we played the corresponding music by John Williams. Each scene was set up by our narrator, Anthony Daniels who was the droid C3PO in all 6 episodes. It was a really inspiring tour, because from my chair onstage I could look out on the faces of children, their parents and grandparents and see their expressions as they took in the live music and all the theatrics. That's the consummate performing experience for me!
TFG: Lastly, do you have any advice to any young aspiring musicians?
MM: Learn your craft; keep your mind, ears and soul open; versatility and creativity are key; and believe in yourself!
–Joe Portes is an Assistant Editor of The Free George.
Martha Mooke, Reach Inside, Find your inner voice
Yamaha Signature Sounds
To ground-breaking violist Martha Mooke, musical talent without the soul is pointless. For more than 20 years, Mooke has sought to infuse the maximum amount of feeling, passion and creativity into her acclaimed performances, compositions and master classes. By breaking free from the conventions of the classical music world, Mooke has established a career that's truly unique.
As a young student in New York, Mooke shunned the mainstream. When the time came to choose between the less trendy viola vs. the more popular violin as her principal instrument, the choice was clear. "Everyone went for the violin," she recalls. "But true violists are different; I have a true viola soul."
Following her essential nature – and defying the rules – has helped Mooke go on to become one of the industry's most sought after instrumentalists. "Versatility is the key to survival," says Mooke, who is fluent in multiple genres, including classical, experimental, free jazz, crossover and Broadway. "It's incredibly important in the current music world to open up your possibilities and not just play what's on the page. There's a whole other universe of making music out there."
Beyond her catalog of works for solo and ensemble electric strings, she has also composed music for theater, ballet and films. Mooke's diverse schedule includes touring, clinics and lecture demonstrations. She has toured internationally as a member of the orchestra for Barbra Streisand's North American 2006 and European 2007 tours. She has attracted wide critical acclaim for her genre-defying recordings Enharmonic Vision and Cafe Mars, featuring guitarist Randolph Hudson, III. Her current Broadway orchestra credits include Spamalot, The Color Purple and Wicked.
By synthesizing her extensive classical music training with extended techniques, digital effects processing and improvisation, Mooke retains the depth and soul of the instrument, while bringing out innovative sounds and styles. She has performed and recorded with musicians such as David Bowie, Philip Glass, Patti Smith, Bon Jovi, David Byrne, Moby, Lou Reed, Trey Anastasio, Enya, Rufus Wainwright, and the Kronos Quartet. An important highlight for Mooke has been creating and producing ASCAP's music showcase Thru The Walls, featuring artists whose work defies categorization. The highly popular concert series has enabled her to express her artistic talent and collaborate with some of the leading independent artists of our generation.
Mooke's affiliation with Yamaha began in 1998, when she was invited to offer input into the creation of the Company's Electric Viola and Violin series. She even traveled to Japan in 2001 to sample the prototypes and to lend insight into their development. "When I first played the prototype, I saw its incredible potential. It was very gratifying to help the instruments come to fruition." One of her favorite instruments remains a custom red EV-205 created specifically for her by Yamaha.
A pioneer and leading advocate of both the electric violin and the five-string electric viola, Mooke celebrates her 10th anniversary as a Yamaha Artist in 2008. As an enormously popular clinician, Mooke has garnered many fans and admirers by focusing on alternative approaches to playing electric strings. Her clinics showcase the use of electronics, extended techniques and the importance of improvisation. The success of her interactive teaching approach is seen through the spellbound responses of the attendees who are encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in improvising and playing along with her. "Do what your gut tells you," she advises students. "Play what's in your spirit."
Her exciting artistry continues to inspire musicians and fans – but the key to creating the ultimate musical experience, according to Mooke, goes beyond technical virtuosity. "The creative soul has to always be in play."
Words Belied by Music by Kyle Gann
The Village Voice
Eleven days later, Martha Mooke and Randy Hudson, who call their duo Bowing, aimed at a smoother blend in a regrettably underattended concert at Exit Art. Mooke, who played solo for the first half, used to play a blue electric viola and now plays a red one, but the striking contrast with her white hair remains the same. By looping and pitch-bending herself via foot pedals she creates an entire string quartet without assistance. This means that all of her music turns on the device of the ostinato, the repeating loop, though when she wants to, she can so obscure that device that we don't notice it.Joining her on electric guitar, Hudson relied more on delay units, setting up textures ofquickly repeating figures that blended with Mooke's ostinatos.
Bowing's music, and Mooke's soloing as well, have plenty of what I call negative virtues: Nothing ever goes on too long, no effect is too obvious, every move is tasteful. Positive virtuesâ€"inspired images, elegant structuresâ€"are present, but less uniformly. If these works were an accurate indication, Mooke's music has gotten darker and thicker than it used to be, and has given up the Terry Riley-ish spaciness it once had. After the Fall was dense and mournful, like Harold Budd, and in Virtual Corridors she played over dissonantly intertwined ostinatos. In older works she made the viola sound like electric guitar and train whistles, while Hudson's cascading echoes reminded me of Robert Fripp's "Frippertronics" of the late '70s (which Fripp ripped off from Riley somewhat).
If the sonic images were precise, the forms were agreeably loose, making each piece feel like a sonic landscape: Sometimes desert imperceptibly morphed into forest; other times, at the push of a foot pedal, we'd turn a corner and suddenly encounter a completely different vista. And despite the jazz licks and odd meters, Mooke never had to worry about straying too far from romanticism: By nature the viola carries its romanticism along with it.
Crossroads, Guild Hall And WPPB Team Up For All-Star Concert
The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
"Electro-acoustic violist Martha Mooke doesn't visit the Hamptons much. But on Friday, November 18, she made an exception. That day, she traveled from her home in Nyack, New York to the East End for the "Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival." Her reason for travelling so far to take in the festival: to see her Manhattan-based string quartet/quintet, Scorchio Quartet, featured in the film "Inside the Perfect Circle," which was screened on Saturday night at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Later that night, after watching the film, she found herself at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett..."
NY Times, et al.
Reviews of Martha Mooke
"The Scorchio String Quartet played "Quantum" by the quartet's leader and violist, Martha Mooke, with songful melodies accompanied by tremulous chords and Asian-flavored glissandos". - Jon Pareles, The New York Times
"With her white hair and blue five-stringed viola, Mooke is a striking figure, with a Terry Riley-ish array of electronic enhancements and a wider range of styles (from Cagean to minimalist to free jazz and beyond) than many improvisers can boast." - The Village Voice
"In performance, a relatively traditional-sounding solo passage will give way to a mesmerizing mood sequence and then, seemingly, half an electronic orchestra has arrived - but it's all her." - Staten Island Advance
"Mooke shows off both an impressive dynamic range and a drop-dead-gorgeous tone on her custom five-string electric viola. In her hands, the instrument can sound like a keyboard synthesizer, a guitar, or even a saxophone. … she seems to be able to translate almost any musical impulse into sound." - Alternative Press
"The very original Martha Mooke uses space age musical colors and patterns, with her five-string electric viola leading the way, altogether exotic, hypnotic, and personal." - The Wax Works
"Mookestueck, written for the electric 5-string viola of local string whiz Martha Mooke...Mooke's performance is superb and impassioned. - WaterfrontWeek
-Martha Mooke (solo) original material
2 guitar amps
drum kit as necessary
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