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Avante Garde Noisemakers
by Chris Ellis on Apr 14, 2006
To a casual listener San Francisco's avant garde duo Matmos might be criticized as just another "way out" band climaxing off of natural occurring sounds. There is a somewhat justified concern -- if you're making music with a deep fat fryer you might have missed the class on what makes music fun to listen to. Matmos often incorporates the popular music structures we have become accustomed to (and spend money downloading), with sounds that we experience on a day-to-day basis; a sort of conceptual juggling act that has created a fresh cannon for future musicians and artists to base their own work off of.
The duo, Martin C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, will be sampling The Kronos Quartet live on stage for two special nights at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. SF Station had a chance to chat with them about how this show finally came to be, sound memories, and video games.
SF Station (SFS): How do you think Yerba Buena initially found you?
Martin: There's been a beautiful, fortunate swell of press for us ever since we made a Chance To Cut Is A Chance to Cure. In fact we joked in the early days of that that as many articles had been written about it as copies of the CD had actually sold.
Drew Daniel: I guess I see it as a matter of, have you ever seen the documentary Hands on a Hard Body. It's about a contest where you can win a truck if you just keep touching it. There's like twenty people at the start and you just keep going. You're not allowed to sleep; you have to just keep touching the car. I think in a way sometimes the art world can be a little bit like that. If you just keep doing exactly what it is that you do long enough you're kind of manifesting a belief that it's worth while and hopefully people will notice. I mean that kind of sounds crazily idealistic but that sort of seems to be the case. We've just been pursuing conceptually oriented sound work on our own work for almost 13 years; I guess somebody at Yerba Buena noticed.
SFS: You're coming out with a new album in May, would you say this is following the same theme?
Martin: Nope, this was driven by a years old thing that we've been doing with the Kronos Quartet. Kronos commissioned us to make a piece. I think that was another fortunate thing that happened as a result of all the publicity about A Chance To Cut is a Chance To Cure is cool people like the Kronos heard our work.
Drew Daniel: So I guess the record they bought was Quasi Objects?
Martin: Oh, it was, so it was even earlier.
Drew Daniel: What happened was that David Harrington went to Amoeba, bought a copy of our record Quasi Objects which we put out ourselves on our own label. He really liked it and decided to commission a piece from us, and that was five years ago. Shortly after we had said "Ok, yeah lets write a piece for Kronos."; Bjork, also on the strength of hearing Quasi Objects decided to get in touch with us and that blossomed into a working relationship and that kind of put the breaks on our ability to collaborate with Kronos. So they've been incredibly patient and incredibly busy, they tour relentlessly. The fact that this concert is finally happening after five years of both us both going "Yeah, we should really do something" is really cool -- its finally harvest time.
SFS: What are your earliest sound memories?
Drew Daniel: It sounds painful to admit but my first memory of sound is the Disney film Snow White. Her singing voice, its so weird and squeaky, it sounds so inhuman. I have memories of the first experience of working with sound that maybe are more compelling than the first sort of sound memory. When I was a kid I had a tape recorder with a damaged microphone inside. I could record my voice and when I would play it back there was something wrong with the microphones levels where it was wildly distorted. It was this very estranging moment of realizing you could use sound to change who you were. You could be a little kid but if you distort that voice it sounds like a weird monster. You can use sound to change the size of an object or to change the kind of meaning of what you put into it.
SFS: What is the most or least you would hope someone to take from your upcoming performance?
Martin: "They didn't fuck up!"
Drew Daniel: I would hope they would be able to enjoy a certain amount of confusion as to what Kronos was doing and what we were doing. I don't want it to be too obvious, but it's hard to say…I don't know, we haven't rehearsed with them yet. Once we've rehearsed we'll probably have a clearer beat on the goal. I share Martin's desire to not fuck up.
Martin: Yeah this whole thing is incredibly nerve wrecking for us.
SFS: I could see your music being incorporated with more innovative types of video games; do you think this is something you would like to do?
Martin: I think as those tools get more and more available, and less and less foreboding to use -- a sort of 3-D environment that you can walk around in -- then the sooner that sort of thing is going to develop. It just seems sort of obvious that the next extension of video art would be in fact not a thing you stare at on a flat screen but like a video game where you go into an environment and look around and the environment itself is the artwork. And then of course you've got this audience member in this sort of ideal position -- on their back with their legs…no, ah, sitting up you know paying total attention wearing headphones. How much more of an ideal sort of listener, watcher, consumer sort of thing could you ask for? Yeah, I think video games are fucking amazing but if you go around and ask people in the art world, they really just have no idea what's going on out there. I mean it reminds me a little bit, although its nowhere as cool and anarchic or do-it-yourself, but it reminds me a little of Rock n' Roll in the early 70's; it's like the "C'mon dad, you've never heard of Rock?" sort of thing, except video games are owned by huge corporations and require millions and millions of dollars to make and are the antithesis of Rock.
Drew Daniel: I think you could also draw some parallels with the state of electronic music. Samplers, sequencers, drum machines can be used to make incredibly moronic, repetitive, obnoxious crap or they can be used to make really subtle, conceptually rich, bizarre, aggressive Avant Garde art…
If you don't have a chance to catch Matmos live this time around, they'll also be playing solo show in May at the Art Institute as well as releasing a new album The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of The Beast on Matador Records May 9th. See their website for more details.
by Chris Ellis on Apr 14, 2006