Shortly after their relocation from San Francisco to Baltimore, Matmos (a.k.a. M. C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel) played a show at The Red Room, a small performance space where Charm City’s fiercest experimental improvisers regularly present concerts. Fifty-some people packed themselves in, and the duo took their places behind computer monitors and tables piled with audio circuitry.
But it began with roses. Two co-conspirators picked up bouquets and, with microphones near, beat them against a tabletop. The red petals flew out in rhythmic protest. For those who had previously only heard “Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein” on CD, suddenly the curtain was pulled back. Though perhaps the evening’s most colorful moment, it proved only the beginning of the sonic fun.
Matmos sits at an interesting intersection where musique concrète, experimental improv, electronic, and pop sensibilities freely rub elbows. Schmidt and Daniel are masters of building music out of seemingly non-musical elements and ideas—a rat in a cage, rhinoplasty, the life of Patricia Highsmith—and the theory behind their work often reads like a twisted science fair project. But while the curious are free to dig through the ample supplementary materials Matmos shares with its fan base as to the how and why of what’s been done to create each track, the rest are welcome to simply hit play on the stereo. The music may be built on a library of intent, but you don’t need to know anything about that.
In their hands, experimental music also often grooves. It’s a dangerous proposition: for some, the work is uncomfortably weird; for others, it’s never quite weird enough. It’s also proved to be a somewhat dizzying career path: In the midst of playing shows for hundreds, they caught Björk’s ear and spent a year as part of her touring entourage, suddenly playing for crowds of thousands.
We caught up with Schmidt and Daniel shortly after they finished a summer tour in support of their latest disc, Supreme Balloon. Venturing down into the basement studio where they were already at work on their next project, we arrived wanting to know their recipe for making music.
We left wishing we could be in their band.