Matmos


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Matmos (1997), 7/10
Quasi-Objects (1997), 6/10
Disc: 2xCD (1997), 6/10
Iao Core: Armadillidium Vulgare (1998), 5/10
Disc: Gaijin (1998), 5/10
The West (1999), 6.5/10
Disc: Transfer (2000), 5/10
A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (2001), 7/10
The Civil War (2003), 6/10
Rat Relocation Program (2004) , 4/10
The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast (2006), 5.5/10
Supreme Balloon (2008), 5/10
Treasure State (2010), 4.5/10
The Marriage Of True Minds (2013), 6/10
Ultimate Care II (2016), 7/10
Plastic Anniversary (2019), 5/10
The Consuming Flame (2020), 4.5/10
Soft Pink Truth: Do You Party (2003) , 5/10
Soft Pink Truth: Do You Want New Wave (2004), 5/10
Soft Pink Truth: Why Do the Heathen Rage? (2014), 5/10
Soft Pink Truth: Why Pay More? (2015), 5/10
Soft Pink Truth: Shall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase? (2020), 4.5/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Matmos is a San Francisco electronic duo (Drew Daniel, a veteran of the Kentucky rock scene, and Martin Schmidt, an avantgarde composer and artist) whose electronica is built around sampling non-musical objects (i.e., "field recordings"). The extended compositions of Matmos (Vague Terrain, 1997) conjure different images at different levels. At the top Matmos' music harks back to Tod Dockstader's 1960s experiments, the chaotic and amelodic bleeps and squeaks of blind electronic exploration. At the bottom one hears Can's rhythmic permutations, Can's floating harmonies, Can's dilated song format. At an intermediate level the ghost of Pierre Henry's "musique concrete" materializes.
It Seems is composed entirely of spoken word sampling, carefully dissected, assembled and sequenced, and could be termed a symphony of termites. Lunaire erects a melancholic atmosphere out of robot-like mechanical gesturing; Nugent Sand's hissing creates a metaphysical suspense; and Schluss paints an abstract cosmic landscape. Electric Things #5 and Verber are more like industrial symphonies and electronic poems of the kind Edgar Varese would have composed with modern technology.
The 18-minute And Silver Light Popped In His Eyes is their most explicit venture into the percussive realm. The beat is tribal from the beginning, and doubles in speed during a forceful crescendo, coupled with sampled vocals, that leads to a frantic reggae-samba bacchanal.

Quasi-Objects (Vague Terrain, 1997) is a more technical affair. Its pieces tend to focus on the technical (and, in their case, virtuoso) aspects of processing sounds. The emphasis is on abstract pieces such as Cloth Mother/Wire Mother. Schwitt Urs is an experiment on the human voice that extends similar ideas of Joan La Barbara and other avantgarde composers. The Purple Island is entirely composed of sounds from the human body.

Matmos has also scored soundtracks for porno films. The duo also features in Iao Core's line-up for Armadillidium Vulgare (Vinyl Communications, 1998).

The West (Deluxe, 1999) is an album of instrumental country & western as played by machines, or as played by Pierre Henry (the pioneer of musique concrete). Unlike the first album, this time Matmos "plays with" traditional instruments, but, to compensate, the processing goes even deeper.
The eight-minute Last Delicious Cigarette (David Pajo on guitar and Kris Force on violin and viola) is an industrial sonata for androids and assembly line that slowly acquires a melodic pattern only to destroy it and restart with a volley of dissonant violin drones over a Steve Reich-ian pulsation.
Steve Reich's repetitive patterns surface also in the ten-minute Sun On 5 At 152 (guitar, cello, drums, telephone, violin), although the pattern keeps shifting in an apparently random manner. Eventually, it ends up sounding like a blues number mixed with raga drones.
The centerpiece is the 21-minute title-track (guitars, drums, vocals), a multi-part composition that highlights Matmos' processing of spoken words and drum loops. The duo solicited the collaboration of a host of musicians (members of Aerial M, Tortoise, Acetone, For Carnation, Cul De Sac, etc), and, while the duo relied on its own computer-based tactics, somehow the "human" quality of those contributions transpires through the dense jelly of the digital "arrangement". The piece starts where the previous one left off: a driving blues pattern. Then it rapidly switches to a syncopated drum'n'bass beat, that is soon infiltrated by dub-like reverbs. When this fragment dies, the silence gets populated by shapeless, slow-moving guitar tones that disintegrated in sideral space. Eventually the rhythm picks up again, in a sloppy but ebullient fashion, coerced by fractured guitar riffs and harsh drones. The last segment is pure digital videogame-like noise. This continuously mutating piece lacks both a musical identity and a narrative unity. It feels more like a showcase for the group's techniques than a musical artifact. The brief Tonight The End is perhaps the most musical piece, a warped be-bop jam (trumpet, tuba, guitar, bass, drums) that spirals out of control.

Matmos also shines on two collaborative recordings: Full on Night, with Rachel's, and Transfer, with Venezuelan producer Kid-606 (born Michael Trost Depedro) and skitter-techno producer LSR (born Jay Lesser).

The EP California Rhinoplasty (Matador, 2001) contains remixes and the title-track, a teaser for the album.

Unlike previous albums that ran the gamut of sound collages, A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (Matador, 2001) is based on only one organic source: sounds taken from hospitals. Sampled sounds include the breathing of patients while the surgeons operated them, the vibrations of a human skull and the flow of blood in the jugular vein. For example, Lipostudio features a duet for human fat and clarinet. Emotions leak through the digital crackles, though. Lipostudio is, first and foremost, a fluid jam of funky-jazz syncopation, hip-hop beats and iterative keyboards, with a lounge-bluesy coda (a conversation piece, a crowing rooster, sitar drones, a slow shuffle).
The disturbing drone at the beginning of Lasik is an eye surgery laser, a tad too literal. On the other hand, Ur Tchun Tan Tse Qi is a grotesque ballet of electronic bubbles and synthetic tapping that boldly weds Pere Ubu, techno dance and jug-band.
But For Felix and Memento Mori sound like requiems to the victims of medicine: a braid of mournful, agonizing, discordant drones, like a lonely bluesman blowing his harmonica in the night; and (in the latter) a pulsing darkness, a terrifying vision of worms gnawing at the decomposing flesh, and producing, again, a quasi-blues rhythm. The infectious syncopated march of Spondee and the playful, effervescent melody of California Rhinoplasty even concoct versions for the dancefloor of this medical "musique concrete". Having mastered the technique, Matmos, the main electronic terrorists of their time, are now beginning to play romantic music.

The limited-edition Wide Open Spaces documents a live performance with luminaries of the San Francisco avantgarde.

Under the moniker Soft Pink Truth, Drew Daniel has also released solo albums that revisit and deconstruct house dance music: Do You Party (Dr Rockit, 2003) and Do You Want New Wave (Soundslike, 2004).

Matmos are also behind the project Disc, a collaboration with Kid 606 and Jay Lesser. 2xCD (Vinyl Communications, 1997), Gaijin (Vinyl Communications, 1998) and Transfer (Vinyl Communications, 2000) are radical works of (respectively) scientific cacophony, (using broken and defective compact discs as instruments), sarcastic sampling and genre revisionism.

Live (Vague Terrain, 2002) is a collaboration with J Lesser.

The Civil War (Matador, 2003) is, for the most part, a surreal journey back to the music styles of the past. Weaving sounds of Irish reels, Scottish bagpipe music, medieval fairs, children's music and military fanfares (and, in particular, of the acoustic instruments used to play them), Matmos "remixes" the history of the United States and of its progenitors. In many ways, it is the continuation of The West. Best is perhaps Reconstruction, featuring Keith Fullterton Whitman (aka Hrvatski) on vintage electronics, that unfolds over a rollicking rhythm, while Y.T.T.E is a novelty number that juxtaposes jump-blues beat and acid-rock guitar, and The Struggle Against Unreality Begins features "the sound of the blood in Schmidt's carotid artery". This kind of "digital folk-rock" is not enough to sustain an entire album. Abstract pieces such as Pelt and Holler are more typical of Matmos' rhythmic experiments and mixing techniques, but hardly revolutionary. Among the guests, the main contributions seem to come from Acetone's Mark Lightcap, who plays tuba, horn, banjo, and guitars.

Fundamentally, the mini-album Rat Relocation Program (Locust, 2004) is simply a rip-off, or, at best, a joke. But, if one really has to write a review about something that has nothing to do with art, the album contains two tracks: the recording of a rat in a trap, and then Matmos' dance-oriented manipulation of such an intriguing source.

The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast (Matador, 2006) is a tribute of sorts to homosexual icons via ten "sound portraits". Thus the album continues Matmos' tendency to "use" electronic music as a message-delivery vehicle (as opposed to sound for the sake of sound). It differs from previous releases because both instruments and voices are more prominent (as opposed to using mainly found sounds). This time around there is also a satirical element that makes some of the collages of dance music echo the Residents. Joining at the hips swinging and neoclassical motives, and concluding with a nuclear storm, Snails And Lasers For Patricia Highsmith is by far the most intriguing construction here, followed by the chaotic exploration of classical music of Banquet For King Ludwig II Of Bavaria. Mostly, Matmos proves themselves apt at remixes/collages of dance-music: Steam and Sequins for Larry Levan, Public Sex for Boyd McDonald and Germs Burn For Darby Crash. Occasionally pretentious (Solo Buttons for Joe Meek amounts to a trivial revisitation of Sixties stereotypes, a college freshman could devise the musique concrete of the 14-minute Rag For William S. Burroughs for typewriter and folk fanfare) and often pointless (Semen Song For James Bidgood meanders, Tract For Valerie Solanas is just a random parade of noises, and so forth), this is certainly not Matmos' best work. It lacks both the charm and the ingenuity of A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure.

For Alan Turing (2006) contains music commissioned by the Mathematical Sciences Research institute: Enigma Machine for Alan Turing, which features the historical Enigma machine, a Bach-ian whirlwind of digital signals that morphs into a (frantic) piano sonata; the eight-minute Messages from the Unseen World, with Keith Fullerton Whitman on synthesizer and David Tibet reciting the texts written by Alan Turing on postcards sent to a friend before his suicide, each of which was titled "Messages from the Unseen World"; and Cockles and Mussels, which sounds like a merry medieval dance (Clodagh Simonds on vocals, Mark Lightcap on acoustic guitar and Blevin Blectum on violin).

Supreme Balloon (Matador, 2008), entirely performed on synthesizers with no samples, mainly contains the 24-minute Supreme Balloon. At the beginning this suite seems like an update of Terry Riley's Rainbow in Curved Air (repetitive melodic patterns that overlap, intersect, chase each other and create a chromatic crescendo). After a two-minute pause of pointless doodling, the pulsation returns and the multi-tracked tonal tapestry resumes in an even more exuberant tone. The last nine minutes, though, are, de facto, a more abstract electronic poem that is largely unrelated to what preceded it. The other pieces are negligible. The electronic cha-cha novelty Rainbow Flag misleads into thinking that Matmos want to pay tribute to synth-pop when in fact they merely satirize it with grotesque dadaistic ballets such as Polychords and Mister Mouth. All in all, this album is neither original nor inspired. Just very cunning.

Treasure State (2010) was a mediocre collaboration with percussion ensemble So Percussion (Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, Lawson White).

Matmos also formed the Simultaneous Quodlibet (2010) with fellow computer musicians Wobbly (Jon Leidecker) and J Lesser (Jason Doerck).

Matmos also remixed two quartets by composer Jefferson Friedman on Quartets (2011).

The Marriage Of True Minds (Thrill Jockey, 2013) Matmos came up with another demented idea, implemented over a period of four years: to compose music based on what some people responded when told that the Matmos duo had sent them telepathic messages; Cage's "aleatoric" method further diluted and randomized. The result is surprisingly user-friendly in the case of You, which sounds like a Laurie Anderson-ian piano-based litany that even turns into orgiastic dance music. The eight-minute E.S.P. demonic strident voodoobilly that ends with an unlikely rock jam and a comic singalong. If the thumping Tunnel is a great example of industrial dance music and the hypnotic dance for manipulated operatic voices of Very Large Green Triangles is mildly original, the ambient house Teen Paranormal Romance is more trivial than eccentric, and it is obviously not difficult to generate a two-minute hissing drone like Ross Transcript. As a three-song EP, this would have been a delight.

The mini-album At Chalkwell Park (2019) collects the music originally composed for a 2015 smartphone app conceived to guide a walk in the namesake park via manipulated field recordings of its environment, enhanced with traditional musical instruments.

Matmos enlisted help from Dan Deacon the Horse Lords (Max Eilbacher and Sam Haberman), Jason Willett of Half Japanese and Duncan Moore of Needle Gun for the 38-minute piece of Ultimate Care II (2016), composed entirely from sounds of their washing machine, recorded in the basement of their home in Baltimore. The piece begins as a form of audio-verite', with the sound of water entering the machine and the rhythmic rotation of the machine's drum, but that motion is soon manipulated to become a sort of relentless African rhythm. This disintegrates in six minutes and then we are left with a wasteland of chaotic radio signals and scavanging radioactive creatures. A rumble silences the landscape and the African-esque rhythm of the machine returns, louder and louder. As the pitch shifts, this begins to sound like a ritual dance by a pack of wild apes. A shower of hissing electronic drones resets the rhythm to a softer pitch. Eight minutes from the end, the machine's rhythm becomes a metallic drumbeat, and then more of the machine's mechanisms are revealed in an orgy of clockwork noise that evokes the image of a sweating dj acrobatically playing with his turntable. This could be their masterpiece. Ultimate Care II reveals the soul of the machine.

Plastic Anniversary (2019) is a concept around plastic, mostly performed on common plastic materials (and with help from Deerhoof's drummer Greg Saunier). It also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the marriage of Matmos members. The album contains relatively short compositions that belong to their playful, Frank Zappa-esque side, gags like The Crying Pill (with kazoos and brass instruments), Collapse Of The Fourth Kingdom (for whistles and assorted plastic percussion), and Fanfare For Polyethylene Waste Containers (with garbage cans and horns). The most sophisticated sounds are found in the celestial sonota Interior With Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat, and the most virulent in the industrial dance of Thermoplastic Riot Shield. It all takes place in a festive carnival atmosphere.

The silly three-hour exercise of The Consuming Flame (2020) was built out of the contributions of 99 musicians, each one limited to a rhythm of 99 beats per minute. The resulting collages were split into three discs: the 57-minute A Doughnut in the Sky, the 60-minute On the Team and the 61-minute Extraterrestrial Masters. At best some of the fragments sound like the most clownish moments of the Residents, but without the conceptual and satirical elements that kept them interesting. The funk and jazz fragments in On the Team are the most musical ones, but any amateur familiar with those styles could do the same. The massive wall of noise that opens Extraterrestrial Masters is simply an old strategy to hide the dearth of ideas. Of course, out of three hours one can always find at least ten minutes that are worth listening. Any uninspired musician can randomly generate three hours of music and count on statistics to produce a few minutes of interesting sounds.

Daniel resurrected the moniker Soft Pink Truth for the black-metal parody Why Do the Heathen Rage? (2014), subtitled "electronic profanations of black metal classics". Why Pay More? (2015), originally conceived for a live performance in 2009, was assembled from random searches on the YouTube platform. Soft Pink Truth wraps minimal techno and microhouse in celestial soundscapes on Shall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase? (2020) but the result is lifeless music.

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