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| July 3-9, 2008 email@example.comBrain conductors
Matmos rewires pop music
By Elliott JohnstonThe weird paradox of modern indie music is that fans are rapidly expanding the number of genres to which they listen, but simultaneously, those genres are becoming so specialized that only a shrinking few actually speak each one’s ever-rarifying language.
The iPod is the culprit. It has egged on this wide yet shallow listening. These days, an unprecedented range of music is available in exchange for hardly any effort, but only serious music acolytes sit still for whole albums. Instead of knowing a lot about little, most know a little about a lot.
This is one reason why experimental electronica can seem fenced off. Just the barrage of sonic species — techno, house, jungle, trance, jamtronica, etc. — are enough to send tentative ears back into the comfy confines of their everyday albums.
Wildly creative experimental electronic duo Matmos, however, transcend all that categorical barbed wire. Though their crossover collaboration with pop giant Bjork on 2001’s Vespertine is ostensibly the reason hipsters have a few Matmos discs in their collection, in hindsight, the Bjork pairing makes more than trivial sense: Bjork and Matmos are masters of eccentricity. Both artists are so successfully weird that they’ve become like genres themselves.
For much of their 11-year career, Matmos’s leaders Drew Daniel and M.C. Schimdt have taken the avant-garde formula of musique concrete — gathering field recordings of everyday sounds and manipulating those samples into music — to deliciously strange and ambitious pop heights. On A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, they cut up the sounds of surgery — the snipping, the cracking, the sucking — and produced engaging, glitchy electro-pop. On The Civil War, they copied and pasted their way to a wild collage of dusty Americana and European folk. On The Rose has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast, they built “sound portraits” of 10 notable gay and lesbian figures (along the way they recorded and amplified the sound of semen, the reproductive tract of a cow and a cigarette being extinguished on a human arm.)
Though on paper Matmos’s M.O. can read like glorified gimmickry, through speakers their sound speaks for itself. It oscillates between dark and goofy, harsh and poppy, mindless and painstakingly intellectual. On their latest LP, Supreme Balloon, they take a vacation from outré thematic restrictions in favor of a technical one. This time, the proverbial hand tied behind the back is thus: They used no microphones recording the album; instead they chose to bask in the sounds of the synthesizer, an electro-pop staple.
The result contains a giddy nod to the cartoony space kitsch of Perry-Kingsley’s seminal electro-pop album, 1966’s The In Sound From the Way Out! Outdated electronics from the world over are employed. At times, it feels like taking a joy ride into the heart of a rudimentary video game. At others — during a synth cover of a French baroque composer, a mid-song rendition of “O Canada,” and a 24-minute, slow-building electro-opus — there is a thumb-war between high and low art. If you want a silly good time, it’s there; if you want to investigate Matmos’ appeal and connection to minimalist composers, art museum curators and academia, that’s there, too.
Daniel says that their brainy conceptual explorations are aimed at making their music more assessable, not less so.
“At the level of the individual listener left alone with your music, you won’t be there to a give a little talk about why they should care,” he says. “So things have to work sonically and musically on their own; but a good concept can get them in the door and make them listen in the first place. I would say that concepts get us started, but once we are finishing an album we get very tough on the songs as songs and try to make sure that it’s a pleasure for the ear as well as the mind.”
Matmos’ live show also accommodates the eyes. Never pleased to participate in the rather blah presentation of the electronic performer hiding behind his laptop and clickidy-clicking his mouse, Daniel and Schimdt are known to entice and completely weird-out their audiences with video screens and live samplings of outlandish objects. When translating their non-microphoned Supreme Balloon material onstage, Daniel reports that they are utilizing the flashlight, an object most of us ruled out as a special-effects tool at the age of 11. As the show goes on, the eye-candy gets more hi-tech.
“I should warn epileptics that the shows might be a bit too intense for them, as we like high-contrast flicker effects quite a bit,” Daniel says.
Matmos’s appearance in Boulder is being presented by Communikey, a Boulder-based team of promoters dedicated to exposing the Front Range to experimental electronica (the show is also a KGNU benefit and part of their 30-Year Anniversary Celebration). Communikey creative director Kate Lesta says that their programming has put Boulder on the international map for groundbreaking electronica in recent years, and snagging Matmos is their biggest catch yet.
“Part of our mission statement is to bridge emerging artists with audiences,” Lesta says. “So, a lot of what we are doing is taking acts that may be on the verge of their career in Europe, they may be well known in other parts of the world, but nobody in the States knows who they are. Matmos, on the other hand, is really a different type of act for us to work with because they are so accomplished already.”
Still, this is Colorado, and it would be rash to contend that Matmos will be received as fervently as a straightforward guitar-bass-and-drum band that sings catchy tunes about pretty mountains. Matmos is, let’s remember, known for recording semen, not hot guitar licks. However, despite their rampantly idiosyncratic aesthetic, Daniel emphasizes that they aren’t trying to be exclusive.
“I think that our music is for anyone with ears,” he says. “And I would hope that people will hear things that make them think about what is or is not music in a new way. I know that for me I think of what we do as pop music, just pop music with a different set of chromosomes.”
On the Bill
Matmos will perform at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, July 15, at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.
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