Track Premiere: “Prairiefire” by Matt Magerkurth

Composer and experimental cellist Matt Magerkurth stokes musical flames on inventively fierce new recording.

In 2017, Soundcloud rapper Lil’ Yachty infamously mistook a cello for a woodwind instrument, using it as a rhyme in his song, “Peek A Boo”. While fans were quick to correct his lapse in orchestral knowledge, noting that one does not blow into a cello, it’s a bit close-minded to suggest that experimental musicians wouldn’t find a way to do it. One need only listen to the works of Matt Magerkurth to imagine the possibilities.

As one of the go-to cellists of Tulsa’s music scene, Magerkurth bridges the gap between the classical and the contemporary with his breadth of style and technique. Learned in everything from chamber music to folk music to jazz, he is a voracious participant in the staggering spectrum of sound. If there’s a genre he hasn’t touched yet, it’s probably on his to-do list. 

He’s far more than just a collaborator and player for hire, however. He also spans the middle ground within composition and improvisation as a musical director and composer. While his work has been accepted and celebrated within academia, he has charted a new path in recent years as a solo artist.

Though cello remains his primary instrument, the DNA of Matt Magerkurth’s style seems to be as borne of experimental electronic subgenres as of the classical avant-garde. For example, 2020’s Yet stitches together found sounds and original samples, digitally recontextualizing them to create haunting lo-fi soundscapes. His taste for innovation can similarly be applied to more familiar musical structures as well.

Released today on Bandcamp and streaming platforms, Magerkurth’s new single, “Prairiefire”, is perhaps his most accessible and impeccable effort yet, and you can stream it now via the player below in this Make Oklahoma Weirder premiere.

Within its opening seconds, the palpably intense “Prairiefire” establishes a repeating framework that reveals it will be a departure from much of Magerkurth’s studio releases to date, which have been typically freer of form. Instead, the composition draws more from another expertise, his affinity for rhythmic live-looping. If there’s any piece of his that enables and beckons live solo performance, it’s this one.

“Prairiefire” flares and douses within each of three miniature acts that make up its six-minute runtime. Its unspoken emotions hurtle into fiery anguish and tearful geysers, pining skyward while tugging at a hypnotic guitar loop that tethers it to a somber plane below. While the centerpiece cello parts offer the most melodic moments, it’s the guitar that always wins out in the struggle, a bittersweet conclusion evidenced by the fadeout at the end of the piece.

This may all seem pretty heady, but that shouldn’t be a complete deterrent for newcomers, as Magerkurth offers footholds for listeners to climb into his spectacular turns of expression. In addition to his guitar work and the stability of his time signature, he also works in a pseudo swing rhythm that offsets the potential stoicism of “Prairiefire”. He also creates a sort of cello beatbox by drumming on key places of the instrument like a cajón.

At the end of the first act, there are even some soft hisses that indeed sound like someone blowing through a cello as in the Lil’ Yachty verse (it’s a brushing technique). By the time thunderous effects and shrieking sirens fill the second act, Magerkurth has earned comparisons to the likes of experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson for the way he mines otherworldly sounds out of his cello.

Matt Magerkurth has been steadily working on a debut full-length solo album, and if “Prairiefire” is any indication, it will be just as electrifying. With equal parts vigor and reflection, his solo work speaks both of the intensity of modern times and the perpetual weight of human history, and, like the cover art for “Prairiefire”, he need not utter a word to convey its profundity.

To learn more about Matt Magerkurth and his array of work, catch up with him online at www.mattmagerkurth.com or follow him on social media via Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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