The accordion is an analog machine, an assemblage of manuals, buttons, bellows and reeds, manipulated by arms and fingers, usually heard in traditional and folk-music settings.
Adam Matlock's "Lungfiddle," an album of seven single-take improvisations (four songs and three "sketches"), sounds at times like an accordion gone mad. Sounds turn on and off, suddenly, like ones and zeros. Buttons and keys clack audibly. Dissonant clusters swell and falter, animated by unseen spirits. Minimalism, free jazz and snippets of folk melodies collide into narrative structures, which somehow end up being surprisingly cohesive.
Matlock, 30, lives in New Haven and has three part-time jobs teaching music. He grew up singing African-American spirituals in a choir started by his mother and also took piano lessons. At Hampshire College, he played the melodica in a klezmer band, where he stumbled onto an accordion in a teacher's trunk.
Matlock was attracted to the accordion's portability.
"I've never been the biggest guy in the world, so lugging a decent digital piano around was always a struggle for me," he says. "That set me on my current path in improvising folk music as well as composing and songwriting."
Around the state, Matlock sings and plays the accordion under the name An Historic. He'll perform at Never Ending Books in New Haven on Saturday, May 14, at 8 p.m., as part of the always-provocative Uncertainty Music Series.
Matlock composes using both traditional and graphic notation. He's prolific; the An Historic Bandcamp page currently lists 19 collections, a hodgepodge of live sets, improvisations, covers and conceptual recordings.
"I thought I would be composing more than performing," he says. "Because of certain circumstances, like musicians quitting on me at the last moment, I ended up having to do a lot of performing myself."
In 2009, Matlock co-founded Broadcloth, an improvisational chamber trio with cellist Nathan Bontrager and vocalist Anne Rhodes. Gold Bolus Records released "In Stitches," its debut album, in September. (The group is currently on hiatus.)
"It was also a really good outlet as a composer and performer," Matlock says, "figuring out how to communicate with other performers and how to make things sound and how to write things in a way that can be easily interpreted. They're definitely sympathetic angles."
Matlock is also involved with Dr. Caterwaul's Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps, a quintet he co-founded with Bontrager and violinist Brian Slattery that deconstructs folk and popular music (with "wrong instruments," he says). "It's always been about playing music with a little bit of irreverence. We all have different backgrounds, some of which includes improvisation. We do have that in common, so things can stretch out a bit."
On "Map Dilations," the opening track on "Lungfiddle," Matlock improvises three-note patterns, which float on top of chords before dissolving into static clicks and pops, like a malfunctioning computer. He alternates dissonant chords and melodic figures on "Lungfiddle Sketch 1," with no clear tonal center, before holding a single, long note. He slides parts underneath, to interact in playful, unpredictable ways.
A long tone at the start of "Bantonne," a drone-heavy track lasting over nine minutes, twists into an exotic melody and eventually a swinging, jaunty tune, before collapsing into fast chromatic runs.
In Matlock's hands, the accordion shape-shifts from sputtering brass sounds into fast, violin-like runs, then back again. All tracks were recorded live, with minimal editing; "Many Worlds," which lasts more than 14 minutes, is the only piece with any sort of audible comping between sections.
"Lungfiddle" was released last month by Off Records. "Something We Could Never Live Without," a forthcoming five-song EP by An Historic, shows another side — song-based indie-rock chamber musician — of Matlock's output. Recently, though, in performance situations, he's been breaking down the barriers between the two.
"I've been using songs as the basis for improvisation or singing more in solo performances, so that it doesn't just sound like solo accordion music," Matlock says, "but it was important to define them each a bit before I could start to do that."
Adam Matlock performs on a bill with the Anne Rhodes/Chris Cretella Duo at Never Ending Books in New Haven on Saturday, May 14, at 8 p.m., as part of the Uncertainty Music Series. Stream and purchase Adam Matlock's music at anhistoricmusic.bandcamp.com.
This story has been updated to correct the bill at the Never Ending Books performance.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play is a column exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.