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April 25th, 2006
Tue, Apr. 25th, 2006 04:06 am

San Francisco art noise duo Matmos sound a bit like Momus. Their name, for a start, begins with an M, has another M in the middle, has two vowels, one of which is an O, and ends with an S.

Some of their ideas sound a bit like mine too. Their 2003 album The Civil War, for instance, used medieval instruments like crumhorns and sackbuts, just like the records of my "Analog Baroque" period. ("The sheer audacity of taking computers to Camelot!" marvelled Blender.) And talking of Analog Baroque, Matmos also have a penchant for the Momusesque hobby of genre-splicing. I have "folktronica", "cabaret concrete" and "absurdist torch", they have "conceptual musique concrete", "Arabic ragtime psychedelia", "porn funk" and "Wagnerian slapstick". My 1999 release "Stars Forever" was an album of portraits. And the new album from Matmos (The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast, due May 9th) is... an album of portraits.

The new Matmos is "a series of sound portraits of a pantheon of people that they admire," the Matador press release tells us. "Matmos read their biographies and re-enacted events from their lives, making songs out of the sounds of the re-enactments. They gathered objects that were important to these people, made noises with them, and built melodies out of the noises."

You can hear an mp3 of Track 1 off the album, Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein, on the Matador Records site.

If Matmos' conceptual framework smacks of Momus' ideas done four or five years late, their noises sound like the Momus records of the future. Because it's in the realm of sound design that Matmos outstrip me. Here are some descriptions, from various sources, of a few of their sounds:

* "We went to a working farm in Sebastopol, California and recorded the sound of cows eating, and of cow manure being shovelled onto roses. Back at the studio, we recorded the sound of fresh roses swinging through the air, and built rhythms out of the sound of dried roses being scraped, shaken, and crushed. In order to create the crispier percussive noises, Erika Clowes loaned us her wisdom teeth (extracted and dried) and we clicked and grinded them against each other. We also sampled noises made by the teeth of cows, goats, sharks, and beavers." (Matmos, in their Press Release.)

* The sound of semen, burning flesh, and the embalmed reproductive tract of a cow are all featured. (Matador Press Release)

* They also took items important to the songs' subjects and built melodies out of the noises these items made. Such objects include snails, semen, burning flesh, and "bovine reproductive track" (we're not making this up, we swear!). (Pitchfork.)

* The Darby Crash song is dark electronics made out of the sound of Drew Daniel crying out in pain getting burned by the Germs’ Don Bolles, combined with the noise of M.C. Schmidt shaving his head. (Matador Press Release)

* The Patricia Highsmith song was made as a collaboration with her favorite animal, the snail (they aimed a laser at a light sensitive theremin, and then got snails to crawl across the path of the laser, triggering changes in the theremin's pitch). (Matador Press Release)

* "We have made music out of the preserved uterus of a cow." (Martin Schmidt, interviewed in The Guardian, explaining why Drew Daniel was throwing up.)

* Also featured: the sounds of liposuction, a five-gallon bucket of oatmeal and the pages of a Bible turning. (Pascal Wyse in The Guardian.)

* Martin begins by creating a Tibetan temple sound with his teaset, ticking it with percussion brushes or rubbing edges together. Later there are bubbling fluids, cattle, dancefloor grooves, aircraft and some spoken-word recordings. (The Guardian)

* It seems just as appropriate to shout down the trombone or impersonate a helicopter as it does to play a pure note. (The Guardian)

* "All your records sound like insects eating stuff". (Martin's brother, who lives deep in the woods.)

A couple more examples of Matmos catching up with Momus: I've been contributing to music board I Love Music since 2001, and for the last year or two Drew Daniel has been there too. I'm performing at the Whitney Museum in New York, and on May 5th, 2006 at 7pm Matmos perform at the museum too.

They're no stranger to art museums, of course. In 2003 they did a 17-day live performance at the Yerba Buena Museum of Contemporary Art in San Francisco. "In the mornings Drew will be interviewing museum goers and making songs about them, and in the afternoon Martin will host guest performers and improvisers," their blog reported.

Curator Betty Nguyen takes up the story: "They moved their entire living room studio there, equipped with bear skin rug, human skeleton, grand piano, laptop and some synths. They made audio portraits for a few weeks for the first person that walked thru the gallery doors... I remember watching Martin rubbing a brown paper bag with a microphone while making an "audio portrait" for this old man... One night they performed with video and I remember it was footage of a grand piano being dragged and mic-ed from the back of a pick up truck. And there was this cool imagery like the Adams Family, Thing, of Martin's hand plucking the inside of the piano's strings while he was playing it live at the same time, and not really knowing if this was live video feed or not... They did this at the Compound, Martin slapping Drew's bare ass and a video of the same action in some library set up. Drinking from a pop can and then crunching it and sampling it live into a looped beat at the Exploratorium. Good stuff."

Oh, and one last example of Matmos' egregious copycatism: the duo even had the nerve to tour with Bjork after I did.

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