Audeze chats with violist and composer Martha Mooke

March 02, 2021

Martha Mooke is a pioneering electric violist/composer, acclaimed for her electrifying performances and compositions. Highly regarded for her artistry, music advocacy, and innovative educational programs, she has performed with a variety of artists including David Bowie, Barbra Streisand, Beatboxing legend Rahzel, and Philip Glass.


Here's our chat with Martha:

Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

So many… well, Beats Per Revolution (collaboration with Rahzel), and Invisible Hands for electric viola and orchestra. Also, the past 20 years as Music Director of the Scorchio String Quartet, collaborating with artists such as David Bowie, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Angelique Kidjo, Debbie Harry and many others at the Tibet House Benefit Concerts held at Carnegie Hall.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?

Creative Instigator!

How did you get started in music?

When I was in 5th grade, the Middle School teacher started a string program at my school. Nobody else wanted to play the viola (much less knew what it was), so I did!

What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed? Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life?

My father loved Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. My mom loved Peter, Paul and Mary (I wore out my 45rpm of Puff the Magic Dragon). Then I got seriously into Elton John (my first rock concert was seeing him and Ray Cooper in 1979 at the Palladium in NYC - I cut school to go to Grand Central Station to wait in line for a lottery to buy tickets). Then I turned on to classical music as I studied viola. My musical epiphany came during High School when a friend gave me an album by Jean Luc Ponty (A Taste for Passion). Discovering Ponty changed the course of my career/life! Other early influences include Laurie Anderson, Kronos Quartet, Turtle Island String Quartet, and an open mind…

Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Heroes, literally. Rehearsing and performing it with David Bowie at Carnegie Hall in 2001. I will forever be grateful to Tony Visconti for inviting David to a showcase I produced for ASCAP, called Thru the Walls, at The Cutting Room NYC. The lights went down, and David was ushered over to my table where I was sitting with Tony, whom I’d asked to host the event. The next day I got a call to put a string quartet together to play with David at the 2001 Tibet House Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Philip Glass, who has also become a friend and mentor.

Do you have any stories or points to share about your work with David Bowie? What was that experience like?

I’d met David and we rehearsed a few times, and of course he was amazing, but on the evening of February 26, 2001, when he entered the Green Room, backstage at Carnegie Hall, all dressed up for the Tibet House Benefit Concert, I suddenly realized I was about to perform with DAVID BOWIE. No words. just goosebumps! still....

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

There’s usually a point in the creative process where I hit a wall. I’ve learned to stop, walk away, maybe take a shower or go for a walk. I can say that 100% of the time, the issue (most of the time, the ending) gets resolved, sometimes with moments to spare, but I always believe!

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

My Yamaha customized electric viola (YEV) and Eventide H9 pedals! I record in Logic Pro and use Sibelius for music notation.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Make your own career path. Mine is about 25 different paths plus a bunch I made up, some by mistake!
Do things that scare you. See how it feels when you overcome the fear.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

Forever. I mostly wear headphones at odd hours when I’m playing electric viola and/or composing.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them so far?

I’ve been enjoying using the LCD-1s. The sound is warm, yet very clean, a most necessary balance for composing, editing and mixing, especially with electric viola!
Some of my recent editing & mixing projects include BUZZ (under the name Superfam Membracoidea Collective) which features music created with insect sounds!
I’m also preparing for an upcoming AES Latin American Virtual Tour (co-sponsored by Eventide), and creating a new sample collection for Splice.