Techno-duo Matmos (Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel) talk about their music, touring with Bjork, and sleeping under a piano
By Japiya Burns
Coming across a Georgia OKeeffe painting recently, from The Poetry of Things, I am strangely reminded of Matmos music. The painting is of a stark green apple sitting plainly on a circular black plate, set against a white background. The black plate is so fluid, an oval of reflected light against its bottom lip, that it carries the qualities of not only the juicy apple, but of human lips, of something sensuous and bigger than itself. In this way Matmos sample the sounds of everyday objects, the human body even, and find beauty and music in them.
Like most Americans, I first heard of Matmos because of their work on Bjorks new album, Vespertine. I fell in love with the sheer idea of their newest album, A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, which uses samples from the body, particularly from surgeries like rhinoplasty and liposuction, before I had even heard it. But unlike some avant-garde projects, Matmos music actually sounds goodfrom the house beats of Lipostudio... and so on to the aching sadness of For Felix, an elegy for their deceased pet rat, created by bowing his rat cage, sounding at times like a tender violin piece, Thai temple music, and finally an explosion of anger at their loss.
Their back catalog proves to be equally interesting, as they keep changing their sound and moving forward, believing in the motto Always disappoint. In addition to their work as Matmos, theyve done soundtracks to adult films such as Hot to Trot and Splashdown to make some reliable cash, while Drew recently released a more house-influenced and vocal sampling solo album under the moniker The Soft Pink Truth. Having reliable day jobs lets them now make their music without relying on it financially, giving them artistic freedom without the need to compromise.
Currently being covered in electronic magazines and SPIN as not only a techno duo, but as boyfriends, puts them in the forefront of popular culture as gay musicians, and being on tour opening for Bjork and as part of her band is now giving them international exposure. In real life theyre personable, intelligent, and very, very funny. I talked to them after their first two shows in Paris and a national press conference, while they were relaxing in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth.
Congratulations on your shows, I heard they went well!
Thank you, they did go well. Im in Disneyland right now!
What are the French interested in, what do they ask you about?
Is that getting boring?
No, we love Bjork!
With your tour, how do you take your sound and make it visual? I know you were going to play some video of surgeries...
We pretty much do what we did to make the songs in the first place. For example, with the acupuncture-point-detector song, which on the album is ur tchun tan tse qi (which is Chinese for acupuncture point detector) I start by detecting some acupuncture points on my skin. And it makes the sounds it makes when I hit the acupuncture point, and Drew samples that. And I cheat a little bit in that the sequence has been written beforehand but its empty of sounds. So we sample new sounds and sort of plug them into the skeleton thats there.
How does the audience respond? Ive heard that Bjorks last tour opener, mu-siq, was booed!
Certainly at the two shows so far, theyve been beyond polite. Weve played two shows so far, and at the first show we played they were extremely appreciative and perfect actually. They laughed in all the right places and clapped in all the right places and seemed to enjoy it overall. We had people come up to us afterward and say (in French accent) Ooooh! That wus really goooood!(laughter)
How much do you see humor in your own work?
Well, hopefully its good 3-D music in that its good to listen to without knowing anything about it, and maybe you can tap your toes to it and then when you find out more about it, it sort of adds more levels of depth.
Im interested in the relationship with the body in this album, particularly do you think gay men have a certain sensibility of how they relate to their bodies? Im thinking of gay men in LA who might be getting the rhinoplasty your refer to in California Rhinoplasty
Definitely. I mean, were making a joke with house music there. And because in San Fran theres all these comps of house music that are like The White Party 97, 99, 2000, and theres always some flawless hot guy on the cover, and it gets a little like, fuck you! after a while. It gets nauseating how utterly obsessed people are.
Its like the clone culture of the 70s, where everyone looks the same, only its a different thing. You work out too much, youve got this t-shirt, this haircut and you walk around the Castro and its like a bunch of sheep and its sad.
I mean, from my personal sexual taste, Im certainly glad everyone has stopped having mustaches! (both laugh!)
On a more serious note, with a song like Momento Mori (composed partly from samples of human skull) are you making a commentary about mortality, and is that influenced by losing friends to AIDS?
Well, we have lost friends to AIDS, and that might inform us as artists, but really, I cant say yes to that question. We really were more interested in the sounds, and that led us on.
I find it interesting that with your album you were concerned with the human body, and lyrically, Bjorks album Vespertine, is very much about the body. And yet you sampled sounds from the home for her album. Whats the connection there?
(Drew) Well, the album was originally going to be called Domestika, and it was Bjorks idea to have us sample sounds from the home. Really the only sample from the body is the hi-hats on Aurora, which are made from the sound of her spittle going in and out of her mouth.
Are you tempted to use vocals now with your own work as Matmos?
Not really. With my real job I study writing from the sixteenth century, so Im really picky about lyrics. And while we enjoy sounds that come from the mouth, its usually not singing!
What do you have planned for your next album?
The next record is gonna have a focus on pianos. Were gonna buy some really fucked-up upright pianos and have a drag race out in the California desert where we attach them to our friends hot rods and race them against each other and drag them until they fall apart.
What sounds are you going to take from that?
Well be damping, taping down the dampers on the pianos, so as they get dragged theyll resonate more and more, so we should produce a really luscious drone. Thats what were hoping.
And then were going to get rid of our bed and buy a grand piano and sleep under it in our house. And well record it every which way you can. And get some of our friends to play that can play piano really well, like Rachel from the Rachels, and maybe Herb from this duo Kiki and Herb.
So were gonna record this piano lots of different ways and then take it apart with chainsaws and tools so its just a bunch of wood and metal and record it at every stage of the process, so itll be kind of an exploded view of the piano. Once we have just the harp inside were hoping to get Zeena Parkins to play it like a harp.
Is some of that inspired by working with the instruments and orchestra on the tour, and Zeena particularly?
No, no. I just think everything is a pendulum swing for us. After we did Quasi-Objects we were really sick of being constrained by the particular object method. So we did The West as kind of a break from that, and I felt that The West kind of got maybe recuperated into an indie-rock milieu, so I wanted to go for something totally the opposite of that, so thats sort of why I picked house [for A Chance To Cut..]. So I think now... were trying to kind of wipe the slate thing and rethink it.
Finally, if youre not tired of telling the story, how did you two meet?
(Martin) When I first met Drew, he was dancing on a bar in his underwear. And I was standing in the bar saying, Damn, hes hot! I was with a friend of mine who knew him, and he was like, yeah, he is, but hell never have sex with you! Not really! He said, Yeah, he also makes music, electronic music. You should meet him. And I was like, Youre damned right I should!
For more information on Matmos, check out www.brainwashed.com/matmos
Click the pictures of the CDs to buy them at Amazon.com, or visit your local independent record store, if you can.
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