Ten years ago Matmos worked with Bjork on her Vespertine album and applied their unique approach to production with organic mutations and swirling microbeats. Verspertine subsequently marked a change in Bjork’s musical trajectory. That same year the pair, Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, recorded and released A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure – an LP based on sample sounds of human surgery: limb cracking, skin tearing and the snips, clicks & squelches of operational procedures – all put to 4/4 techno beats; an interesting listen. As part of 2008’s Future Days festival, and in support of Supreme Balloon, Matmos melted the audience at Andrew’s Lane Theatre with just four songs, a tripped out assault of synthesizers and suggestive imagery.
Matmos are working and affecting artists. Their recordings are snapshots, by-products of their creativity, while their shows are installations of functioning art. Each performance seems wholly idiosyncratic to their environment: the ergonomics of the venue, the participation of the audience and even the objects lying around the stage.
In Dublin’s Button Factory there’s an assembly of ten local singers, the group is split up and arranged either side of the overhanging balcony. Cued by the ringing of a triangle, footsteps sound and on a screen above the duo we are brought down a series of disorientating hallways before entering a room where we find our protagonists at play, Matmos. And thusly, we are in a loop. On stage Daniel is slowly circling with his hands aloft, he is making a triangle shape using his thumbs and index fingers. Up above, the volunteers recite and “sing” at staggered intervals, repeated lines of unconscious commentary, cries and breathing sounds. Schmidt is busy creating low murmuring sounds from his desk, and the screen is now showing a blindfolded girl counting backwards. This cycle continues for 15 minutes or so before concluding with a final chime of the triangle. Was the intention some kind of sensory challenge? Perhaps. It was certainly engaging.
If you think this all sounds a bit high brow, or something that should be confined to the Guggenheim then think again. Fair enough, if you walked in at certain points – the chanting, bird whistling, kazoo moments, or indeed the entire opening track – it would all seem a bit avant garde, but for the most part these sonic explorations cumulated in accessible and fun music. To scenes of a vintage Cleopatra film, a random jam quickly built up to a flat funk with hand-clap rhythms, light-blues guitar and lilting keys that created a psychedelic wave. The aforementioned bird whistling resulted in a song about Montana, piano-led with a chunky bass line and tropical-holiday guitar, while the house lights were dimmed further for ‘Supreme Balloon’ to maximise on the brain-frying hypnagogic effect.
There was explicit improv action with a single high-hat and what looked like the world’s oldest synthesizer. And though unrecognisable, one song was in fact a Buzzcocks cover (‘ESA’?). It comprised of droning vocals, techno beats, new wave singing and crunching keys with a krautrock sheen. Yes it did.
The encore centred on the natural rhythms of pouring water and involved drinking noises, vessel banging and a scrunched up beer can, but lower those cynical brows. Though unorthodox, Matmos’ transparent use of organic and digital “instruments” flattens the perception of music creation, exposing the most basic and simplest elements. Their shows are experimental art that are immersive and inclusive for their audience. And for that reason, they do deserve to be in the Guggenheim.
Photos: Alan Moore