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Meg Mulhearn Takes Unconventional Route, And Sounds, With Violin

Erika Taylor

There are violinists who make music, and then there are artists such as Meg Mulhearn, who use the violin as sort of a paintbrush

“A lot of times when people find out I’m a violinist or a fiddler, they’ll ask if I play bluegrass or old-time or something like that and I have in the past,” Mulhearn said. “I think I wanted to do something more experimental or unexpected with the violin.”

From early in her musicianship, Mulhearn diverged from a traditional path for violinists. She was drawn to metal and hardcore music, and when she plugged into effects pedals and amplifiers, she was able to express the elusive sounds she heard in her mind.

She recorded and toured for five years in the Asheville indie noise-rock band Descolada. Today, she composes music for solo performance, collaborates in a duo with her longtime partner David Lynch and in another duo with the experimental vocalist Elisa Faires.

Mulhearn is also part of an ensemble devoted to drone music and she has recently composed music for film. Through it all, she tours, performing all over the country and in Europe for audiences who somehow find her genre-defying music.

Mulhearn’s duo with Faires, Spectral Habitat, is part of “Revolve Now: An Evening of Performance,” Dec. 12 at the Asheville Art Museum.

“One of the things people have said about my music is that it’s cinematic, and I can’t tell you what I’ve been scoring so far,” Mulhearn said. “It doesn’t have a film associated with it, but I’ve been scoring life, I guess.”

Mulhearn was 14 when her family moved from Rockville, Md., to the outer banks of North Carolina. Throughout her youth, she jumped from art to music to theater.

“When I was a kid, I had what I called my briefcase,” she recalled. “It was full of art supplies. I had everything from markers to staplers and I had these weird cookie-cutter things I cut out shapes with.”

Mulhearn has carried the notion of that briefcase into her music. By day, she works in shipping for the Asheville synthesizer manufacturer Make Noise, and Mulhearn runs her violin through Make Noise modules.

“I decided to plug my violin into an amplifier, and that changed some things,” she said. “I’ve also been setting a modular synthesizer and I’m hearing sounds that I’ve never heard before.”

While much of her music defies tempo or time-signature, Mulhearn insists there’s structure to her compositions—often inspired by a mood or theme. Still, she and her collaborators thrive in improvisation.

“You have to trust when a song is done and you also have to trust when a song may evolve live further,” Mulhearn said. “So maybe they’re never done, and I’m actually OK with that.”

Mulhearn is composing music for a documentary, titled “Kinetosaur,” about the early River Arts District sculptor John Payne.

“I was really inspired by the sculptures and the sounds of those things, too, the metals and pulleys and just the physicality of it,” she said. “I see music as being kinda timeless. I would like to kinda acknowledge the timelessness, not necessarily trying to reflect a current mood. I don’t want to put it in one genre or one time.”

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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