Ultimate Concept: Deconstructing Matmos

Pleasure and Pain

Molly Sheridan: Listening to your album A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure without knowing how the sounds were made, and then listening again but with that knowledge—it becomes exceptionally graphic music. The same thing happens with “Germs Burn for Darby Crash.” Once you know how the sounds were made—people having surgery, Drew getting burned with a cigarette long enough for a sound sample to be recorded—it can be really hard to take. The physical pain aspect of what’s going on changes the artistic product.

Drew Daniel: Some people told us that they enjoyed A Chance to Cut… until they learned what it was, and then once they knew, they couldn’t listen to it; it was threatening and disturbing.

M. C. Schmidt: They were disgusted by it.

DD: You know, I love that. I love that there can be this range of ways to experience the same information. It’s an old trick that industrial groups like Throbbing Gristle and Coil used on recordings that I really loved when I was in high school, and so I think I just imprinted on that idea that you can see or hear something for the first time twice. Once you know some extra information, it transforms how you’re experiencing the work.

We are trying to think now about what it means to call your work conceptual, because I think this phrase “concept album” gets thrown around a lot, but I don’t think anybody’s quite sure what it means. Maybe it’s one of these terms that the more attention you pay to it, the more it kind of dissolves in your hands. In our version of a concept album, there isn’t a kind of party line that we’re expressing. We’re interested in medical technology as the source of sound-making, but we don’t have anything we’re trying to lobby for that is correct.

MCS: We met a mathematician at Oxford. We were trying to describe what we did and we told him about A Chance to Cut…, and he was like, “Well, are you pro or con?” And we were like, “Are we pro or con what?” And he was like, “Well, plastic surgery.” We’re like, “Um, neither.”

DD: And our opinions aren’t what the art does. People are encouraged to write the ticket of what the art does, but if the art’s interesting, it certainly goes beyond what is conscious to its creator.

MS: It seems to me that you guys like to set up a game to play. The concept may or may not be important to the listener, but it’s essential to how you make what’s on the record.

DD: I think in part, yeah, you’re right. Because of the way the software works and because of the whole rhetoric around digital tools, if you can set up some restraints that can keep you focused, it avoids that kind of clutter problem that I think a lot of new digital work in sound or film or design has. Once everything is potentially an element, it’s harder to know why you’re going to pick one thing over another. Working with a concept that borders and holds you in place is helpful for us.

MS: That said, do you ever break a rule that you set for yourself?

DD: If the music really needs it. For the sake of the music, we will sacrifice a concept.

I mean it’s really just because we love Pierre Henry. Variations for a Door and a Sigh is such a home run of a musique concrète piece. It sets the bar for what you can achieve by putting a certain kind of restriction to your source material. And there are such incredible pieces from that era that do that. But it’s not the only game in town, and when you’ve made a few albums that are hovering in that style, you start to become a delivery system for that, where, “Oh, yeah, they’re the guys that make wacky beats out of weird, gross stuff.” After a certain point we needed to kick the tires of that aesthetic. That’s why we made the Supreme Balloon record.

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