This collaborative project (between composers and instrumentalists Vicente Hansen Atria and Mat Muntz) was initially inspired by the distinctive sound of the double reed, an ancient family of instruments developed in different forms across the world, whose evocative sound Rumi described as “wail[ing] with the pain of separation” and generated by “fire, not wind.” In conceiving the work, each drew on personal experience with traditional double reed music.
Hansen had recently studied with New York-based Korean traditional music virtuoso Gamin, while Muntz had studied the Scottish great highland bagpipe in his youth. Despite the far-flung origins of these traditions, they saw a potential for synthesis, and enlisted expert practitioners including Gamin Kang, Jua Yoon and experimental bagpiper Matthew Welch to help realize this vision.
In addition to utilizing the unique sounds of traditional reed instruments, a central goal was to design and build new instruments that would expand on the rich legacy of the double reed. In our research we discovered that much of the sound that had been “tamed” out of the double reed by centuries of musical convention - brilliance, harshness, loudness - had resurfaced as some of the most compelling sounds in contemporary music, from distorted guitars to aggressive synthesizers. We built our instruments (both by hand and via 3D printing) with the goal of harnessing these unique and volatile properties in service of our compositional goals, including detailed microtonal tuning, modular construction, spacial arrangement, and mass audience participation. In the sense that these sounds stand in opposition to much of what is institutionally valued and expected from acoustic wind instruments in the West, we view this practice as an act of revolutionary sonic liberation.
The Vex Collection debuted at The Shed in 2019, with the premiere of When We Took The Fire.