THE END OF IT ALL – NEW BEGINNINGS Composer. The word conjures a host of images – baton-wielding madman casting grimaces at a cowering orchestra, reclusive brainiac hunched over a piano keyboard laboring over his masterwork, near-suicidal perfectionist who can’t seem to find the right chord, bloodshot computer geek hyper-keystroking 32nd notes into a glaring computer monitor at 4 a.m. Austin-based musician Matt Butler has been all and none of these things. Butler, an autodidact by nature, cut his teeth learning ‘80s guitar rock in the Northeast Florida backwater burg of Jacksonville.
Not to be ignored, the ‘70s R&B and country (and, yes, the dread classical masters) that his parents listened to seeped in, too, and the wheels were set in motion. A steadily expanding diet of both mainstream and experimental music would continue to shape Butler’s approach to composition – from Bjork to Eminem, Rush to Weather Report, Bartok to Rachmaninoff, Coltrane to Zorn.
It all fell into the roiling brew of Butler’s musical and emotional subconscious. By 17, he was composing for other musicians and performing his work live. He wrote for jazz-influenced quartets, piano quintets, sax quintets, string quintets, solo piano, and small and large ensembles. But his most devastating work would manifest itself in the End of the World Orchestra, which first took shape in 2007.
Ever-evolving both physically and musically, the EOTWO could at any time include four, 10 or a village full of players. But at its core, it was about attitude, mood and sound. It’s not clear whether Butler’s relocation to Austin, TX in the spring of 2011 had a tangible impact on his approach to composition – there was, let’s say an adjustment period -- but one thing was certain: The End of the World Orchestra would find a new life there. Butler, taking a new, minimalist approach to composition, found himself gifted with a massive pool of capable and willing musicians with whom he could create. And create he did.
With the latest and most important installment of EOTWO compositions, working from his original quartet framework, Butler wanted the new EOTWO to be interactive and improvisation-driven within the context of his composed pieces. Originally intended to be a big band, the group has settled into a “large ensemble” format: guitar, bass, drums, 5 (or more) saxophones, 3 (or more) trumpets, 2 (or more) trombones. Butler gives that big, beautiful, brassy ensemble plenty of room to do its collective thing. Rather than working from full compositions, Butler presented his work in pieces in small group rehearsals. Rather than expect everyone to play his lengthy pieces alpha/omega, Butler broke it all down, allowing the improvisational skills of the players to hold it all together. The result is unlike anything Butler has done before. More groove, more soul, more depth – and no less devastating.
The End of the World Orchestra is a rare beast, a group that can execute complex rhythmic passages, create dense harmonic atmospheres and pull together oddly orchestrated ideas into heady sonic landscapes. They can also get loose and groove. And they are masters of improvisation all. To describe the music further would fail to do it justice. The music of the EOTWO – like all music – must be heard to be appreciated, to be understood, to be felt. But it does no harm to say that if Butler’s approach destroys his former notions about what the End of the World would look like, it also opens the door to a new and brilliant future of composition and performance.