Authored by Dale Nickey:
It’s the pioneers who make life interesting for the rest of us. Back in the 60’s scientists advised us of all the practical technological goodies we would enjoy as a perk pursuant to our space program. Lazers, computers, and tele-communications innovations for the masses would make the billions spent worthwhile. Many thought it was a come-on to justify the expense of a manned moon flight; but science was right.
I remember when Synthesizers were a space age instrument for the rich, privileged, fringe music makers. It didn’t take long for disco producers to dumb it down for the mainstream. A few hardy, industrious, innovators absorbed the guffaws and blank stares so that future musicians might thrive and create….or stagnate….as they chose.
So what do we do when technology has provided for all our immediate sound chasing needs and we find ourselves looking for the next mountain to climb or the next new sound? Matmos has broken down any limits that good sense might have imposed on the normal music maker. They’re not above taking a violin bow to a rat cage…. Or sampling, looping and magnifying the snipping and sucking sounds of cosmetic surgery and liposuction as the basis for an album, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure
Who and/or what are Matmos? Well, they’re a San Francisco couple (M. C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel). Openly gay and affectionate to the world. They look like they came right out of central casting. That is….if you’re casting a movie version of “The Geek Squad” from the student body of BYU. Wearing their horn-rims and pocket protectors like badges of honor, they boldly go where other musicians can’t or won’t go; and probably shouldn’t. But, Matmos makes their weirdness work. Not content to be merely abstract, they make music that is suprisingly listenable from the most unlikely sound sources.
Matmos had been plying their outsider art in happy obscurity since 1995. In 2001 they came to the attention of the world as the backing band (or should I say…sound designers) for the Icelandic high priestess of pop, Bjork. Handed the intricate beat structures and loops that were the backbone of her repertoire, they put them up on the blocks like an old Rambler and gutted and restored the chassis. They swapped out the massive big beats with an assortment of skittering, polyrhythmic, micro beats while still maintaining the clean lines of the vehicle. On Bjork’s groundbreaking “Vespertine” tour, they could be found manning the laptops in addition to providing sonic surprises by stomping around in a box of rock salt for percussive effect, shuffling a deck of cards into a microphone, or sensuously rubbing each others bodies with a contact microphone to add the resulting static electricity to the overall mix.
When not sampling melting rivers or crayfish nervous systems, they can also make evocative, and beautiful sounds with more conventional tools like percussion instruments.
You have the vanguard, then you have the vanguard of the vanguard. That is where Matmos plants it flag. We will always need a Matmos to forge a path for the rest of us who are too blinkered by convention and conformity to forge one for ourselves.