You can buy The Ganzfield EP, the latest recording by electro-weirdos Matmos, in a special edition boxset that includes over-ear headphones and “custom Ganzfield” goggles. The goggles, which resemble the little eyebuds you’d place over your retinas to keep them from harm in the tanning bed, will — ideally — blind you while the headphones pump enough white noise into your eardrums to drown away the outside world. You could also, of course, use the headphones to listen to the music, also helpfully included in the box set.
Matmos, a fantastically inventive duo, loves to work its pop experimentations into a conceptual framework. Here, it attempts to recreate the Ganzfield test — in which subjects tried to telepathically communicate geometric shapes — for musical purposes. Matmos’s Drew Daniel attempted, and stay with me here, to telepathically transmit the concept of his group’s new record into the minds of sensory-deprived test subjects, who in turn described any sensory impression they experienced at that moment. So, Daniel and his partner M.C. Schmidt used those bits of sensory input — little melodies, images, even physical actions — to create a sonic collage of sorts, a reconstruction of their subjects’ own interpretations of a work that did not exist until those very subjects interpreted it.
Sound clear enough? I hope so, because the premise turns out to be much more interesting than the results, which is unusual for a Matmos record. The group has the uncanny ability — exceedingly rare in pop music — to make a concept album actually engaging on a conceptual and emotional level. This time around, despite input from a cadre of interesting musicians including Dan Deacon, Dirty Projector’s Angel Deradoorian, and Ed Schrader, Schmidt and Daniel’s ideas rarely congeal into anything memorable. “Very Large Green Triangles (Edit)” opens with Ed Schrader’s baritone humming a snippet of melody before morphing into a twitchy, ominous club track. But the beats aren’t stimulating enough to move the hips, and the melodies aren’t intriguing enough to tickle the ear. The EP’s anchor, the twelve-minute “Just Waves”, layers five voices over and around one another, all roughly harmonizing around the same chord, an initially interesting notion that peters out into something that sounds like an a cappella group’s dinner party. Would you want to go to one of those?
The strongest track here, by far, is RRose’s remix of Matmos’s “You”, a fairly straightforward reinterpretation with emphasis on a hypnotic four-on-the-floor beat and an atmosphere of pulsing tension. This, too, is unusual — as anyone who has seen the band perform live will attest, it’s difficult to best Matmos at the rhythm game. Ganzfield, at least, is only a teaser for the group’s forthcoming full-length on the wonderful Thrill Jockey Records, so we should keep the faith. Matmos certainly won’t run out of ideas anytime soon.