Tuesday, March 4, 2008

MATMOS, A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure
Spin, 2001

by Simon Reynolds

Matmos's fourth album brings a whole new slant to the notion of body music. This San Francisco glitch-techno duo--Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt--have made an entire record where each track is partly based on the sounds of medical technology, with special focus on plastic surgery. Opening track "Lipostudio... and so on" isn't musique concrete so much as musique liquide, bubbling with abject squelches and slurps that make you visualize cellulite being siphoned out of sagging butt-cheeks. "L.A.S.I.K.", based around laser eye surgery, teems with unnerving hissing noises that suggest a white-hot beam burning through your cornea, plus grisly, gristle-y * whirring that evokes mechanical saws perforating bone and cartilage.

You don't need to know Matmos's modus operandi or sample-sources to enjoy the music, though (indeed the "euuuh, gross!" factor might make ignorance a blessing). Several tracks offer body music in the traditional sense--grooves to make you move. The partially erased skank of "Memento Mori" recalls Pole's dub-techno, while "Ur Tchun Tan Tse Qui" is pounding Herbert-style glitch-house riddled with itchy creaking sounds, like everyone on the dancefloor's dressed in rubber and tinfoil. Like their SF-based friend kid606, Matmos are adept at digital signal processing (DSP), the texturizing techniques that electronica producers use to make drums sound like buckling metal or fireworks exploding. DSP virtuosity, and Matmos's ability to sculpt real-world samples into compelling musical shapes, are why Bjork invited the duo to collaborate on her new album.

If there's a problem with modern left-field electronica, though, it's that all the editing and processing software allows for almost infinite degrees of tweaking and treatment. The challenge is to create a structure to guide the listener through what might otherwise be a chaos of intricacy and nuance. On "California Rhinoplasty", the disparate sonic debris from a nosejob is given coherence thanks to the hypnotic groove, whose muffled pumping bassline is like the calm anesthesized heartbeat of the human being whose face is undergoing voluntary vivisection. Influenced as much by Dadaist collage artist Kurt Schwitters (Schmidt teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute) as sampling culture, Matmos have captured with uncomfortable vividness the sheer surrealism of the modern vanity industry, the Medieval tortures people gladly submit to in pursuit of physical perfection.

MATMOS, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast
Observer Music Monthly, 2006

by Simon Reynolds

Electronic music is generally a sound-for-sound’s sake proposition, offering either functional grooves for dancing’n’drugging or abstract bleepscapes for chilling ‘n’ drifting. San Francisco duo Matmos are pioneers of a micro-trend that goes in the opposite direction. You could call it “conceptronica”: experimental techno that comes laden with content, often political. This kind of thing can get a bit ponderous (indeed Matmos’ last album The Civil War practically required footnotes for the listener to get every last allusion). But happily The Rose Has Teeth first and foremost captivates the ear sonically, with the album’s Grand Theme--each track is a “sound biography” of a dead gay icon--simply adding an enjoyable bonus layer of intrigue. Most of the inspirational figures are avant-gardists or radicals of one sort or another. Groundbreaking gay sex chronicler Boyd McDonald, for instance, is commemorated with a woozy, mellow track that resembles a jazz-rock album warped after being left in a car boot on a hot summer day, while “Semen Song for James Bidgood” is a voluptuous and fantastical as the photographer/film-maker’s cult erotic movie Pink Narcissus.

Like Herbert, another concept-heavy electronic musician, Matmos are famous for using real-world sounds as their sample-sources. “Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein” sounds like a squelchy dance track, but it’s made almost entirely from the sounds of dried roses being scrunched, the shoveling of manure, extracted wisdom teeth being ground together, and various noises derived from cows and geese. The duo, Drew Daniels and Martin Schmidt, are prepared to suffer for their art: “Germs Burns for Darby Crash” features the sound of Daniels’ flesh being burned by one of the Los Angeles punk legend’s former band-mates. But, as with the conceptual aspect, knowing the peculiar provenance of the noises on The Rose Has Teeth is actually supplemental to one’s enjoyment of this suite of homo-homages, which amply stands alone as an enthralling aural experience.

* these reissues in homage to Drew Daniels's enthralling anatomy of Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats for Continuum's 33 1/3 series.

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