San Francisco experimental electronic duo Matmos, composed of Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt, have recently released two innovative albums, Full on Night and Transfer, which reveal their love of collaboration and innovation.
Full on Night, recorded with Louisville, Ky., neo-classical outfit Rachel's, came out in May, while Disc, Matmos' project with bizarro Venezuelan producer Kid-606 (born Michael Trost Depedro) and fellow skitter-techno producer LSR (born Jay Lesser), recently released Transfer, an album of 10 songs interspersed with 100 lock grooves. (A lock groove is an automatically repeating track on a vinyl record.)
The methods used to make Transfer were typical of Matmos' unique creative process.
"I took this CD called 'The TDK Guide to Making Perfect Recordings of Your Compact Disks' and cut it up and put paint on it and let that skip," Daniel said of the album. "We'll often take stuff like that and process it heavily, and compose it a bit."
Matmos' collaborative tendencies do not strike them as strange or unusual. As Schmidt pointed out, the notion of the traditional solo artist may be a bit distorted. "If you look at someone like Michael Jackson, it looks as if there's one person, but in fact it's this collective of hundreds of people all working together to produce an effect. That's really a collective model, not an individual model."
Matmos' diverse output combines musique concrète, field recordings, live instrumentation and their own electronic manipulation, which incorporates phrases and cut-ups of both their own and others' source material.
Daniel, a Louisville native, finds mixing the organic with the technological to be a natural instinct. "I think [combining electronic and real sounds] grew out of a love for concrete music, where the source is something that's real, that's an object out in the world that has associations and reference points."
Chicago producer Slicker (born John Hughes), who tapped Matmos to rework a track for his recent Slicker Remixes collection, is a fan of the duo's abstract approach to production.
"They take it to a further extreme than I would. I think they're pretty bold," Hughes said. "A lot of the climate with electronic music is to keep it pretty dark and serious and futuristic, but they're really organic and humorous and do some strange sounds."
Matmos used that sense of humor on their innovative Slicker remix, "Confidence in Silver" (RealAudio excerpt).
"The mix they did on the Slicker record is pretty funny," Hughes said, "because I sent them a demo probably four years ago and they ended up taking those tracks and using them in their remix. I was like, 'Oh no.' "
Objects As Instruments
Matmos' history is dotted with unexpected combinations, starting with their 1997 self-titled debut, which was so diverse and seemingly random it received comparisons to UK electro-deconstructionists Autechre.
Their second full-length, 1998's Quasi-Objects (recently reissued by Matador), which included "Stupid Fambaloo" (RealAudio excerpt), still found Daniel and Schmidt exploring ambient and electronic programming, but it was augmented by such unassuming sound sources as latex, walkie-talkies and a banjo.
Guests including Dave Pajo (of Aerial M) thread steel-stringed ragas through the kinetic bleeps and motorik rhythms that make up the third Matmos full-length, 1999's The West. Like an audio companion to the long horizontal stretches of highway that extend through the North American desert landscape, songs such as "Sun on 5 at 152" (RealAudio excerpt) juxtaposed elements of John Fahey's rustic Americana with Hawaiian slack-key guitar and organic electronic sounds.
"When we started to use real instruments, we treated them as if they were just another object," Daniel said. "In the way you might pick up a balloon and play it as an object and treat it in that way where you don't have a preconceived idea of how you're supposed to make sound from it. That's why when we use those instruments, we try not to be too bound by the standards of musicianship that other people have."
Matmos' ongoing desire to fuse their own talents with those of other artists has landed them in the enviable position of always having projects in the works. In addition to an album of their own (due next spring), current collaborations include a joint album with UK experimentalist µ-Ziq, a remix of Björk playing a celeste organ and a project with Scott Herron, who records as Prefuse 73 and Savath + Savalas.
Schmidt, a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, said this tactic may be based in the duo's visual-art background.
"I made a lot of visual collage, and making audio collages just emerged very fluidly out of thinking visually," Schmidt said. "In that context, it was really people like [Dadaist] Kurt Schwitters that were a model. When you look at his collages, they change over time, but at the same time they're made out of train tickets and his doctor's bill and pieces of the newspaper and part of his cigarette package. It's sort of the stuff lying around which becomes the material to work with."