Cybertrad: Blurring the Lines of Traditional Music6 min read

CyberTrad: Traditional and original music, composed and arranged by Matthew Olwell

Matthew Olwell (wooden and bamboo transverse flutes, vocals, bodhrán, cornamuse)

Aimee Curl (vocals, acoustic bass)
Dominic “Shodekeh” Talifero (Beatbox, Vocal Percussion)
Simon Lepage (electric bass)
Jaige Trudel (cello)
Joey Abarta (uilleann pipes)

The Whole (S)tory (TWS): What made you come up with the combination of Quebecois, funk, and Hip Hop music? How does your background musically relate to each of these styles?

Matthew Olwell (MO):
I guess it would be fair to say that the album is more a combination of Irish music, funk and hip-hop. We talk about Quebecois music some in this project because Simon (who plays bass on the album) is from Quebec, and has played traditional French-Canadian music for many years. My own background however is mostly Irish music. The tunes on the album are a mixture of traditional and original Irish and Breton tunes.

Simon’s playing as an interesting mix of styles. He plays trad music, jazz and a bunch of other stuff, so I don’t know if he’d call himself a funk musician, but I listened to a lot of Bob Marley and James Brown at various points in my early musical life, and I hear threads of that stuff in Simon’s playing.

Shodekeh too is quite a musical traveler. He is steeped in hip hop, but has also collaborated with classical musicians, groups from Tuva, Lithuanian Folk Music, and experimental, Funk, Jazz, & Rock.

For myself, I love Irish, old time, Quebecois, and Breton music, those are the forms I gravitated towards for this project, focusing on the Irish and Breton stuff. About half the music on the CD is traditional, the rest was composed for this album.

TWS: When it came to picking musicians to collaborate with you on the project, what qualities did the people you chose bring to the table that made you want to work with them? Are they people you’d worked with in the past and already had an established connection with?

MO: Aimee and Jaige I had worked with quite a bit. Simon and I had done a few gigs together years ago, and Joey and I knew each other from sessions and festivals. Joseph Dejarnette (who is the engineer and producer for the project) is someone who I have worked with a lot, and I knew from the start that he was the one I wanted to do the actual recording and audio production of the album. Shodekeh and I met through a mutual friend shortly before I began working on the project. I wanted to work with a beat boxer and had a few people in mind as possibilities, but he and I hit it off right away and I knew that he would be great. Aimee and Simon in particular were also integral to the idea from the very start, and I was pretty excited when they said yes as well.

Mostly, I looked for people I knew would be fun and easy to work with. I knew that the sound would center around flute, beat box, and bass, but beyond that, it was just a process of experimenting. Since Irish and other trad music often has a chordal instrument there’s not really a template for how the combination we had should sound or be recorded, which was intimidating, but also pretty exciting.

TWS: How do the songs chosen for the album relate to the style you were going towards?

MO: The material on the album is a mix of traditional and original stuff, mostly pulling from Irish and Breton sources and inspirations. I’ve been listening to a lot of Jean Michel Veillon, and a band called Are Re Yaouank, so I think Breton musical modes have definitely been infusing my original tunes, even though Irish trad is really my main background. Also, I am a big nerd, a fair bit of academic research went into the project. It was exciting to be digging through archives looking for early sources of tunes, and getting to correspond with some heroes like Jean Michel and Andy Irvine.

TWS: With completing this project, what do you hope it brings to the world of traditional and modern music?

MO: I guess one hope I would have (and not only when someone listens to my music) is that people don’t cling too tightly to ideas they might have about the boundaries of traditions. Those borders need to be porous if the music is really going to be alive. There’s a temptation to think of traditional music in a very black and white way: either it’s traditional or it’s not, but I think a better way to evaluate is to recognize that it’s a spectrum, and any given artist might be making music that’s closer to or further from the real epicenter of the tradition. As this album features flute, cornamuse, beat box, and electric bass, it’s definitely not on the super trad end of that spectrum, but I have a deep love of the really trad-centric stuff too, and I hope that connection comes across.

TWS: Do you have a hope to continue this music onto other projects in the future? If so will it be the same type of musical genre combination or do you have other ideas in mind?

MO: I haven’t really thought that far ahead, honestly. I’d love to keep performing with this group of musicians if opportunities present themselves. And I could definitely see using the work we have done as a beginning for more projects. I’m also hoping to collaborate with someone who makes electronic music on some remixes of the stuff off the album at some point.

TWS: Some of the songs remind me of different cultures of music, when you listen to the outcomes of the different arrangements what are you reminded of?

MO: I don’t know, really. I like the way it all turned out, and I am proud of the work we have done. Lovers of trad music will hear plenty of familiar stuff I think, but it also feels like we are crafting sounds that haven’t been heard much together. I don’t know of any examples of this particular instrumentation, so it does feel a bit like exploring an audio space that there is not a clear template for.

TWS: Where is the upcoming tour taking you and will all the musicians on the album be with you?

MO: We don’t have any more gigs lined up for this cast at present. This started out as a side project from the band I play with most often- a trio with Adam Broome and Jaige Trudel called Maivish (Jaige also plays cello on a couple of tracks of CyberTrad). I am just going to see where it goes. If we get some offers, I’d be excited to play this music again live. Lots of other gigs coming up this season though, both with Maivish and solo and with Good Foot Dance Company. We’ll be in California next month, then Hawaii, and a round of camps this summer where I’ll be teaching a lot.

Cybertrad: Blurring the Lines of Traditional Music
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Cybertrad: Blurring the Lines of Traditional Music
CyberTrad: Traditional and original music, composed and arranged by Matthew Olwell
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The Whole (S)tory
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