Career Narrative

Gustavo Matamoros — a career narrative

Gustavo Matamoros is an American experimentalist, composer, sound artist and the founding Artistic Director of the Subtropics Festival. He has composed for and collaborated with some of the most preeminent experimental artists of our time. Born in 1957 in Caracas, Venezuela, he has lived and worked in Miami since 1979. He has experimented creatively in the fields of music and sound art, and has been a leader in developing interest in these art forms from general audiences through the various collectives, public art projects and festivals he has founded.

Matamoros is known for incorporating the use of gated recorded sound as interactive element in live, electro-acoustic performance; created electronic sound portraits generated exclusively from deconstructed recorded speech; and developed the audibles (the noise equivalent of “words” as units of meaning but in non-verbal recorded sound). Intricate Noise Melodies composed of hundreds of randomly sequenced audibles in place of musical notes comprise the content of numerous acousmatic pieces, installations and the accompanying fixed media to many gated compositions. His collection of recorded audibles now spans over 30 years and contains hundreds of hours of digital audio.

Re David (1995) [ 2:21 excerpt ]
a composition for trombone and gated fix media written for and performed by virtuoso trombonist David Manson included in his album Beast released in 2003

Inspired by his mentor Russell Frehling’s notion that sound is “a massless object that occupies space and functions in three dimensions,” Matamoros creates both multichannel sound installations for exhibitions and acousmatic music compositions for performance. The works are often site-specific and emerge from the “tuning” of three main elements: the content (the sounds we hear), the instrument (the audible qualities of the sound source and playback technology), and the acoustic effect of the architecture. Applied to any piece, this strategy produces audible experiences that elicit the kind of intriguing delight Matamoros himself experienced as a child when experiencing a new sound.

Breezeway (2004) [ 2:19 excerpt ]
permanent public sound art installation in collaboration with Shahreyar Ataie at FIU School of Architecture | architect: Bernard Tschumi

In addition, Matamoros has written pieces for himself and others, and has performed solo and in collaboration with artists such as Alison Knowles, Armando Rodriguez, Chris Mann, Christian Wolff, David Behrman, David Dunn, Fast Forward, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jan Williams, Jill Burton, Joan LaBarbara, Joseph Celli, Paula Matthusen and Thomas Buckner, among others.

Performing with Alvin Lucier ( back ) and Douglas Repetto ( right ), Music for Solo Performer, Subtropics 5, 1995

Performances of Matamoros’s work have been presented in New York at Merkin Hall, Roulette, Deep Listening Space, the Swiss Institute, Bang On a Can Festival, and Interpretations Series. They have also been performed at Hallwalls in Buffalo, The Music Gallery in Toronto, the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, NM, the Museo Nacional Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Teresa Carreño Performing Arts Center in Caracas, on NPR’s New American Radio nationwide, and at most major venues in South Florida, including at Adrienne Arsht Center, The Perez Art Museum, The Bass Museum, The Lowe Art Museum, The Frost Museum, Soundscape Park, and the Lincoln and Colony theaters.

A portrait of John Cage, featuring his voice from an interview Matamoros recorded in 1991 was commissioned by Orquesta Solistas de Venezuela, and premiered during the VI Festival Latinoamericano de Música, in Caracas in 1992. And in 2001, Miami’s New Theater commissioned Matamoros to create an original gated score, which assigned a sound signature to each character in the play for their production of “Electra.”

Matamoros has participated in numerous artist residencies including early ones at Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL, where he worked with composers Earle Brown, George E. Lewis and Robert Ashley. In 2006, he was the first artist selected for a 9-month-long residency at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami as part of its Contemporary Artists Project. Furthermore, he received two artist fellowships from the State of Florida (1995 and 2000) and was awarded the 2000 Florida Consortium Fellowship.

Matamoros won several public art commissions for projects such as Breezeway (School of Architecture, Florida International University) and the Listening Gallery (ArtCenter, Lincoln Road, Miami Beach) for which he received a Knight Foundation grant. And in 2005, his large-scale multimedia sound art spectacle Cars & Fish, in collaboration with experimental filmmaker Charles Recher and commissioned by Miami Performing Arts Center to inaugurate its Plaza of the Arts in Miami with an immersive block-long double surround soundscape combined with seven-stories-high revolving video projections the size of two football fields across Biscayne Boulevard, received front page coverage in the Miami Herald as featured opening event of Art Basel 2005.

Matamoros has a long history of introducing holistic experimental sound art experiences to a broader audience. In 1989, he founded the Subtropics Music Festival (currently awaiting the chance to implement its 25th edition on the other side of the COVID lockdown), which over two-and-a-half decades has invited adventurous composers and sound artists from across the globe for two-to-three-week-long music engagements open to the public, at various venues throughout Miami-Dade County. As a leader in experimental sound over the years, he has brought over 200 important artists to engage the Southeast Florida public, including: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, David Tudor, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jackson MacLow, John Giorno, Carles Santos, Derek Bailey, Alvin Lucier, George E. Lewis, Trimpin, Robert Ashley, Chris Mann, Dennis Kam, David Dunn and Tania León. His ability to plan and deliver important community engagement projects has allowed Matamoros to be an important trailblazer in promoting experimental music as art and helping grow public interest in these emerging art forms.

brochure for Subtropics 3 featuring guest artist John Cage in performance during a three-day-long residency

In addition to the Subtropics Music Festival, Matamoros founded Frozen Music in 2009, a sound art collective with composers David Dunn and Rene Barge, which emerged from the notion that audiences for sound art and experimental music are typically small and that in order to maximize accessibility, sound art and acoustically interactive compositions should be brought to where people already gather, such as Canal, a 13-hour-long piece that was well received by over 50,000 attendees to Miami Beach’s Sleepless Night event of 2009.

FM: Canal (2009) | photo: Luis Olazabal. © 2009, Subtropics Editions
This rare photo was taken at a time when performances were happening at the two Sleepless Night activity zones ( Miami Beach Botanical Garden and The Bass Museum ) connected by the walkway. Over 50,000 attendees experienced Canal when walking from zone to zone.

Canal (2009) [ 5:02 excerpt ]
13-hour-long debut sound performance by Frozen Music featuring David Dunn, Rene Barge and Gustavo Matamoros commissioned by City of Miami Beach. Sounds reflected on the surface of the water perpendicularly from the street side to 50,000+ pedestrians who transited the full 1000ft stretch of the walkway bordering the Collins/Dade Canal moving between event zones over the 13-hour-long evening that was Sleepless Night 2009.

An 8-year-long residency at Artcenter South Florida culminated with his latest community design project, Audiotheque 2.0, a 30-channel immersive sound art project.