Tapestry of sound

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By KATHLEEN DEELY
Sun Staff

LOWELL -- To Justin Matley, there's no sound that isn't worth a listen. He hears beauty at the Home Depot in the beeping of cash registers, the whine of a shopping cart, the clatter of shoppers.

"There are lots of interesting sounds all around us. You just have to tune in to them," said the UMass Lowell senior.

Noise that most of us try to block out with Walkmans, white noise machines, or any means possible, Matley strains to hone in. "Sound," the 21 year-old says without irony, "is my life."

So when the music and sound recording technology major heard the click-clack of the looms in the weave shed at the American Textile History Museum, he didn't hear industry. He heard rhythm. Rhythms he's turned into a melodious musical score.

Storing a recording of the cast iron contraptions on a mini disc two years ago, Matley hoped to interpret the sound into an ensemble one day. That day arrives tomorrow, when he performs "Loom Textures for Percussion, Piano, and Voice (MacDougal Street Blues)," at a university concert.

In six minutes the din of these 1940 machines will become an unconventional song. Using a metal barrel turned upside down, a trash can filled with newspapers and a plastic container of popcorn kernels, students will emulate the sound that defined the Industrial Revolution. Two-liter soda bottles filled with water, a bass drum and the piano, played by Matley, will help mimic the music of these looms in motion.

To stimulate the roar the behemoths make when switched on, Matley will slap a wooden board on the floor and 11 other musicians will make the machine hum. After a second loom pipes up, a student will take the stage to read "MacDougal Street Blues" by Jack Kerouac.

Adding a bit of the Beat poet from Lowell into the piece was important to Matley because, like textiles, Kerouac is part of the city's cultural fabric. That brainwave came to the New York native when he was walking through Greenwich Village one day last summer.

"A street fair was going on. They were selling all kinds of fabric and tapestries and I thought Kerouac must have come across a similar scene when he lived here," he said.

Kerouac's stream-of-conscious poem celebrates the spectacle of outdoor fairs and street theater the hip New York enclave is known for. The poem opens:

"The goofy foolish human parade Passing on Sunday art streets Of Greenwich Village. Pitiful drawings of images on an iron fence ranged there by self believing artists with no hair and black berets showing green seas eating at rock and Pleiades of Time."

"It will feel like you are in the back room of a club in Greenwich Village in the late '50s in the height of The Beat era," said Matley, who will add jazzy piano licks to the segment.

Conducted by Jeff Fischer, a percussionist with the Boston Ballet orchestra, "Loom Textures" bridges the gulf between sound and music, Matley says.

"There is a difference between sound and music. You have to have sound to have music, but not vice versa. This crosses both and paves the way to new possibilities."

"Loom Textures" will be performed tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. at Durgin Hall, UMass Lowell South Campus, 35 Wilder St., Lowell. Admission is free. Matley is also giving a lecture on making music with unconventional items at The American Textile History Museum's International Arts Day on April 25.

Kathleen Deely's e-mail address is kdeely@lowellsun.com .