Everything You Are About To Hear Is Absolutely Real

Everything You Are About To Hear Is Absolutely Real

March 4, 2021

Written by:

Miron Ghiu

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Matmos is an experimental duo consisting of M. C. (Martin) Schmidt and Drew Daniel. Starting their career in San Francisco at the end of the ‘90s and now active in Baltimore, the two notoriously feature many other musicians on their releases, either on their own label, "Vague Terrain", or on "Matador" or "Thrill Jockey".

For their recent album, "The Consuming Flame: Open Exercises in Group Form", Matmos worked with no less than 99 artists, receiving critical acclaim. Apart from their activity as a duo they also have their own solo projects, as you may find below.

I find Matmos as being very good at describing their own music and concepts; they are also very warm in their answers. They are currently working on remodelling samples of recordings by electroacoustic avantgarde music composer Bogusław Schaeffer.
The practical, but brutal lessons of the marketplace are useful to stop one from getting “too comfortable”, but the long form exploration and research without any thought of whether “the masses” want to hear it is invaluable, too!
Matmos, self-portrait by the band
Matmos, self-portrait by the band
Your debut as Matmos (and I'm referring mostly to "Side A"), seems to me sometimes cartoonish but deeply subliminal, and with lots of "warnings" about the (sometimes lo-) fidelity and hidden messages. Isn't that very abrupt and unexpectable for a debut?

Drew Daniel: That warning voice on “In Lo Fidelity” is kind of a creepy in-joke. Our music on that tape is often pretty ridiculous, but the warning voice is taken from a bootleg cassette I bought at a flea market of jail interviews with the convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. The promise that “everything you are about to hear is absolutely real” just seemed so funny to me in the context of a heavily cut-up sound that could not possibly be “real” in an acoustic sense. I mean sound is really sound, so none of it is “un-real”, but the disparity between the source of the sample and what it was introducing in our case just seemed very funny to me.

M. C. (Martin) Schmidt: “In Lo Fidelity” is a record (it’s from the early 90s-Drew is 20 and I’m 27 or so) of our early relationship and learning to work with each other. A lot of it is us trying to make the other one laugh with what we could find, and what we could do with what we found… but Drew (I learned) also wanted/wants to pursue a SERIOUSNESS which I had always found difficult. I am (was?) very bitter and pessimistic and I never believed than anyone would ever want to listen to the music I made, except maybe my friends, one time. But Drew really drove things forward and taught me the truth that SELF BELIEF (egotism?) is a very important part of making art. One of our favorite quotes is (if I remember correctly) Kim Gordon saying “people pay to see people stand on stage and believe in themselves”.

How was working with Miguel Depedro (Kid606) and your almost brutal techniques of mashing up breakcore/experimental with samples taken from theoretical or philosophical texts?

Drew Daniel: Miguel was a wild kid from San Diego who was very driven to push his music making as far as he could. We were stunned when we realized after some emails and phone calls from him to us that he was only 16. Truly, the “kid” nickname was appropriate then. I will say that I am more driven to select a concept and then execute an album from that concept down to the sounds that exemplify it, and I think Martin is more likely to start from a sound and work intuitively. Maybe that’s why the Matmos albums that he is more “in charge of” are the ones that people like a bit more! Mine are perhaps easier to write about but risk the appearance of having been rigged.

MCS: I’m not sure Miguel ever had the patience to do anything meaningful with us, or the other way around! He is very impulsive, or was? And, as Drew says, we are more… plotting. If we were talking about murder, instead of music, Miguel would get a shorter prison sentence.

Drew Daniel: Miguel organized the “Disc” records and edited and compiled them and we contributed elements and tracks to those- but we never directly collaborated in the sense of making records together in a studio. It was more like what they call “parallel play” when kids are sitting close to each other and each is playing but they’re not playing “together.”
Matmos. Photo via Shape platform
Matmos. Photo via Shape platform
Your latest releases include a lot of collaborations with other musicians, apart from your famous work with Bjork or "The Consuming Flame: Open Exercises In Group Form". Who would you like to record/play with in the future?

MCS: Contrary to what I just said in the previous question (do artists have to be consistent?) the way we choose our collaborators is perhaps driven more by chance and convenience than purpose. We generally work with whoever is around or who we are talking to at the time (whether this is online or in person)… it’s lucky we keep running into and hanging around with such clever people!

I feel that you find some comfort in "changing the subject" and atmosphere in each of your releases. What inspired you lately?

Drew Daniel: Lately, our inspiration is the electroacoustic music of Boguslaw Schaeffer, because we’re working on a record that chops up his music and creates new music from the fragments. He’s a Polish composer with a wildly diverse catalogue of choral music and electronic music and musical dramas and puppet theater. He did everything, and that’s a great model for how to make art if you want to do it for your entire life.

MCS: I’m realizing, related to the two previous answers, that we use a technique of “following our nose” or “the watercourse way” to find something, but then we stick to that “something” very doggedly. In the longer run, we are aware of what we’ve done before and try to do something somehow different to keep from getting bored, or boring the listener. We have always admired people who keep making things rather than aiming for the “big hit” model. The two (imaginary) worlds of electronic music, academic and popular are appealing to us… the practical, but brutal lessons of the marketplace are useful to stop one from getting “too comfortable”, but the long form exploration and research without any thought of whether “the masses” want to hear it is invaluable, too! Both worlds bring joy and awe to everyone who cares to listen… and both worlds need to listen to each other!

Any plans with the "Vague Terrain" imprint? It's been quiet for some years now.

Drew Daniel: Bully Fae was the first time that we released music by someone other than ourselves on that label. I think it’s a fantastic record, and Bully is a great artist who is mostly writing plays these days. I would never say never, but I’m mindful of where I put my energy. In order to be a professor and make Matmos music and Soft Pink Truth music is already a three ring circus for me, so I’m not sure that “label boss” is in the cards for me.
How are you guys responding to this global pandemic?

Drew Daniel: It impacts me personally because many members of my family and some of my friends have had COVID. It’s frightening and draining and that wears down your energy. It’s not true that trauma is inspiring, it’s mostly just exhausting. I have found it much easier to write literary criticism than to make music during the pandemic. That’s simply a report about how my mind works. I have had fun making the manipulations of Boguslaw Schaeffer’s music with Martin at home, but I find that quarantine makes me need to simulate solitude more as a kind of psychological defense system. That’s not conducive to musical partnership. Martin has been an amazing person to share this horrible pandemic with: kind, funny, creative, patient. He’s kept me sane. I’m not sure I have done the same for him.

MCS: Unlike many Americans, we have taken this thing seriously since the beginning. I have been looking at it like a very long space voyage, or something, living the idea that we just have to stay in our ship for a year (or, you know, a VERY long time). When looking at it THAT way, the opportunities for “cheating” (actually going outside, talking to our friends in our front yard) are especially pleasurable. But musically, yes, it has been an opportunity to do some things I felt “too busy” to do before. We have transitioned to using Logic Pro for Matmos, I have been doing stuff in quadraphonic, I’ve been trying to practice the piano everyday, I have become better at editing video, etc, like an enforced residency. The results that YOU can see are mostly the many videos we have made for "The Consuming Flame".

Drew, what's your interest in nowadays punk (hardcore, crust etc)? How did it evolve through its long history?

Drew Daniel: I’m 49 years old now, so, if I’m honest, I’m not following contemporary punk and hardcore bands much. I think I have also drifted more towards the fringes of metal and away from “hardcore.” There are new bands that play what would loosely be described as “heavy music” that I am absolutely into: Cloud Rat, Terminal Nation, Pig Destroyer. Even some of the classic bands are making new records—for example, Drop Dead. But I just do tend to listen to a lot more black metal and death metal than hardcore. I think the way my tastes shifted overtime from when I was an adolescent was really just starting from the basics and gradually going deeper and wider internationally. There are so many great Japanese and Swedish bands that I just didn’t know much about when I was a teenager in the 80s because of the way that distribution worked with independent records then. It’s much easier to find a crust band from New Zealand like Spiteful Urinator via Bandcamp now. I think the thing that was very prescient that impacted my listening to hardcore the most was probably Pushead’s “Cleanse the Bacteria” compilation – it had bands from all over the world, and many different styles.

So what’s the next step for your solo project, apart from the recent “Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase”?

Drew Daniel: That record was part of a “one two punch” with “Am I Free to Go?” and I honestly don’t know. I want to learn from “Shall We . . .” without clinging to it. I was very moved and very surprised that so many people supported an album where I broke away from my own style, and now the question is: where to next? You’re asking me but I have to honestly say I don’t know. I think some kind of rethinking of what “deep house” might mean to me could be the starting point. But I don’t have in mind something fussy and nostalgic that feels like a style exercise. I don’t think that’s called for. I am struggling to answer this question!

How do you choose your track titles?

Drew Daniel: I like it when a title has at least two layers. It has to work immediately as language. It doesn’t have to be a lit up neon sign that points to a meaning. A title can be a mist, or a red herring. But it has to prompt some desire. The other layer happens when it’s a reference to something. The SPT titles are often quotations or citations with a little spin on them, hopefully, that comes from how they are being re-used. Queer people do this with mass cultural forms all the time: you make the popular personal through your attachment to the right fragment of it. That can be the Bible, or Shakespeare, or something raunchy that your friend said in a bar. It doesn’t have to be “high culture” to be “culture.”

Martin, would you ever get involved in another "Instant Coffee!" album?

MCS: Yes, of course! The problem with Instant Coffee is that Lyle moved away, into a happy picture and I never see him anymore!! There was/is? a second “band” called Ear, Nose and Throat that is Jason Willett and myself but instead of Lyle Ellis there’s Max Eilbacher! I believe a cassette is being (very slowly) put together by Jason and will be released on Megaphone… one day soon!

"Batu Malablab" and "Aqua Sauvage / Stuffed Concrete" are highly experimental and difficult to describe in words, because they imply so many diverse sounds as well as new instruments and avantgarde techniques that are sometimes unsettling.

MCS: Do you find them unsettling? Gosh! That was not my intent. Well, maybe a little.

Besides that, how would you describe your solo work to an unprepared listener?

MCS: I’m not Drew, I’m not the describer in the band… his descriptions are there in the Bandcamp page for both of those releases! I have JUST NOW (I’m not even kidding, I clicked the button just before sitting down to answer these questions!) re-released Batu Malablab on Bandcamp!
About the Author

Miron Ghiu

Bucharest DJ, sound designer, musician, journalist and a vivid passionate of technology and music.

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