Interviews with Interesting People: Matt Turner discusses his latest album of solo cello improvisations, Virion Impasto

Listen to Matt Turner 

(master improvisational cellist and pianist,
professor of jazz and improv at Lawrence University's Conservatory of Music)

discuss the methods, titles, and techniques of his newest release

Virion Impasto

acoustic solo cello as never heard before


experimental anti-music avant-garde outsider fringe improvisations)

the knotty pine
photo: Daria Van De Loo


Report from Crystal Lake

listen to sounds from the shores of crystal lake, wisconsin

This morning as soon as I woke, I put on my swimsuit, still damp from yesterday, and went to the beach, Andrew following me to get the canoe.  The water was cold and I was the only one in the lake, another far off on the beach.

Sarah appeared, sitting in meditation.

Twice I scared up a flock of seagulls.

In the mornings, under the long shadow of trees, the water is cloudier than in the afternoons when the sun rays split into flavors of turquoise, crisp divisions between the layers, the surface, a mirror of sky and water, the bottom sands crackling with tortoise shelled light.

We had breakfast and I washed the dishes and played a word game with Eleanora.  The little girls went canoeing with the dads and I lay in the hammock and read Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary.   Now, she is wondering if the masterpiece she has just written is mere self indulgent nonsense.

What if Leonard hadn't fallen in love with her, encouraged her, cared for her, published her books? Would there have been another to take his place or would some other writer have received the attention instead, Virginia Woolf meaning nothing more than a state and a wild dog?


Houdini: Exhibit A

matt turner, electric cello
tad neuhaus, guitar
joanna dane, vocals

Most watched his hands
but I watched his eyes
so many secrets he hoards

So much fame
we all the thousands roar
we surge closer


We pay you to renew our belief
that there is indeed a way
always a way out

No matter how dire
no matter how bound we are

We cheer to see you
free your bonds


Your eyes shining


we cheer
escape we all desire

still struggling

not knowing

the way


Houdini - How Will You Escape Death?

matt turner, electric cello
tad neuhaus, turntables
joanna dane, vocals

The world will never know
what I have lost
I lay awake dreaming of his escape

And how much I am still bound by his love
Oh, Houdini!

How my heart is still bound
No more chains nor locks to escape from
Oh my dear

just death
just death

the final locks are closed

a grip so tight it's permanent
that my last hope is all but gone

how will you escape Houdini,
how will you escape?

how will you escape death Houdini?
how will you escape death?


Report from an Honor Flight and Secrets to a Long Happy Life

I had the privilege recently of sitting down with my Great Uncle Bennett at his 90th birthday celebration to hear about the Honor Flight he took to Washington D.C.  We hadn't seen each other for many years and though my parents reported how well he is doing, I was amazed by his infectious vitality.  As my 14 year old son said, "He's livelier than most of my friends."

Listen to Bennett Fishbain 
tell the story of his Honor Flight
and his secrets to living a long, happy, healthy life:

featuring Bennett's great great nephew Isadore Dane playing taps and Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll"

My Great Uncle Bennett at his 90th Birthday Celebration


Coffee Notes

The coffee,
even though it is left over from this morning,
tastes good.

kid's ink drawing found in basement


Composition for Improvisation with C's for Piano

Start on middle C

Improvise on only C's 

Use all C's at least once

Create patterns

Vary the patterns

Swell and descend


With the first note that strays from C, make new patterns





Houdini: Dearest Love

Listen to this Houdini love ballade:

joanna dane, vocals
tad neuhaus, guitar, bass drum, toy organ, chains

I can't fight anymore
Halloween is here

Make a pillow of my mother's letters
for my head to rest for all eternity

Sweetheart, when you read this, I will be dead
Do not grieve
I have loved only two women in my life
My dear mother
And my wife

Yours in life, death, and the ever after,



who was once Ehrich Weiss


Houdini: Letter to the Dead

Matt Turner, electric cello
Tad Neuhaus, electric bass prepared with chains
Joanna Dane, vocals

Who do you see when you see me?

How will you know when I'm gone?

Where do you go when I can not see you?
How do you disappear?

Where do you go when you leave me?
What do you conceal?

What binds will you put me in?

How many more days do I have left to live?


Lost Idea

On the bike ride
I had an idea
that was so obvious
there was no chance I'd forget,
so I didn't bother to write it down,
a life changing idea
which I've now forgotten.


A Writer's Diary

A Painting I Painted when Pregnant with my First Child

On our way out of River Falls we stopped at the Fox Den Book Store because Roseanna had seen a book she wanted, a book of gross jokes, so I also bought Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary in which on Monday, January 26th, 1920, she writes that she is very happy, "having this afternoon arrived at some idea of a new form for a new novel. . . . Indeed, I think from the ease with which I'm developing the unwritten novel there must be a path for me there."

In the introduction, her husband and publisher Leonard Woolf explains how she wrote her diary on blank paper that was then bound, 26 volumes in all.  How tidy!  Meanwhile, I am writing on this and that, half finished journals thrown into forgotten boxes, slips of paper, rolls of receipt tape, almost nothing dated.

This morning, I am torn between writing and planting the basil.  I was going to clean out the porch gutter, but the neighbors said they know a guy who will do the whole thing for under a $100 and that, yes, I should definitely call because, no, Andrew should definitely not do the second story.  They have four friends who have fallen from ladders and injured themselves, all academics, yes, but all in very good shape at the time.

It's taken me over two decades to convince myself not to feel guilty about spending so much time writing, and still I am not always convinced.

I like when Virginia Woolf says (p.46), "There!  I've written out half my irritation."

I suppose I am something of a monk, or a housewife, depending on others' generosity so that I may continue with this habit that brings me around to the same conclusions that humans have been coming to for millennium.

And now the kids are home.  Maybe this summer I will write only on this onion paper that I bought at a garage sale and then bind the pages into a book.

Often a new paper will invigorate me to declare a grand project, usually inspired by some book I start and never finish (To the Lighthouse comes to mind), and usually for some distinct length of time - a year, a summer, a week - grand projects which I nearly always abandon not long after getting started.

I could see this as a sign that I never finish what I start and get down on myself for it.  Or I could see it for what it is, an end in and of itself, a way of practicing.


Work in Progress, Again

Excuse the mess while I am:


Your patience is greatly appreciated.


The Elusive Henry Darger

After Elyse told me about Henry Darger, 
I sought out his photograph, of which there are only two
and I drew him,

puzzled that each rendering was so different.

 Later I watched the documentary In the Realms of the Unreal,
and found out that the few people who knew him

all differed on the facts of his disposition, his habits, 
his history, the pronunciation of his name.


Mostly I Am A Circle

mostly I am a circle
though sometimes I am lopsided

and sometimes I am flat

there are moments when I'm bold
and moments when I'm faint

I can be very scattered

and edgy 

sometimes I'm a square

though I prefer a spiral

mostly I am a circle


Little Free Library Find: The Essential Chuang Tzu

Chuang Chou wrote philosophical poems

anecdotes and conundrums on strips of bamboo

that were stitched together into scrolls, 

each scroll a chapter, 

master of the non sequitur, 

these third century BCE sensibilities,

the fascination with oneness, 

this ancient way to communicate 

not so vastly different than our own,

blog posts as bamboo strips,

blog as scroll.


Familiar Patterns

I used to be so much more bold in the ways I used words, able to write for hours at a time.  There was a reckless way about it.

Now I write in small bits and then sit and think and notice all the birds that are singing and how warm the sun feels on my body.

I like to think about patterns; visual, musical, behavioral.  I like to ponder how recognizing and creating patterns is at the root of all thinking.

Yesterday, I dreamed up a squirrel with a mutation that makes him attracted to empty nut shells, so he only gnaws at the shells other squirrels have discarded.  He dies before he has offspring.

I like to notice how logical thought dissolves as I fall asleep.  I like to get as close to that moment as possible.  I like to have "I am falling asleep" as my last conscience thought of the day.

I like finding things I've lost.

It strikes me for the very first time that to decorate means to add patterns, whether patterns of lines made by streamers or of shapes by balloons or colors made by flowers.  


Are you Ready for the Improv 2020's? Guideline #12 : Aim to be Underrated

Getting attention for making something stimulates the human being in a way that causes us to want to do more making.  The problem with craving attention is that it eats up a lot of our energy.  We get some attention and that feels good, so we immediately want more.  Where does it end?  If we are disappointed that only 12 people came to our show, then it doesn't matter how many come, we will be disappointed because that is how we have trained ourselves to think.

Someone once told me that some famous musician advices that there is always one person in the audience who needs to be there.  Play for her.

Isn't it possible to make the choice to thrive off the pleasure of making rather than the attention for making?

Isn't it a skill we can develop, like being able to walk a tight rope?

If we practice focusing on the making, and practice recognizing opinions as being light and ephemeral as smoke*, we can begin to diminish the power of emotions that drain our energy and breed our contempt: jealousy, greed, self-loathing.  We all have these emotions.  But by practicing allowing them to pass through us without becoming attached to them, we free up energy for our making.

Underrated artists have more time for making.  Underrated artists are more free.  Underrated artists don't have to please.  Consider becoming an underrated artist today.

* Just think of how easily our opinions change depending on the time of day, the weather, our mood, who we are with, our health, our expectations, our beliefs, our influences, our status, our clothes, our income, our sleep, our nutrition, our cravings, our addictions, our thirst, our comfort, etcetera.

all drawings selected from the tiny collaborative book "devices" 
Imagine City Park collection