M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, the Baltimore-based duo that comprises Matmos, are electronic music pranksters as well as deft editors. For some 25 years, their music has run parallel to Warp Records’ innovations and accolades, yet they’ve never quite received the praises of Autechre or Aphex Twin. One suspects Daniel and Schmidt don’t care. Instead, they’ve made dance floor grooves from liposuction samples and collaborated with 99 musicians for music that defies boundaries but is purposely limited to a 99 BPM pace. They’ve made entire albums from a Whirlpool Ultimate Care 2 washing machine and enlisted collaborators to record an album using only assorted discarded plastic. Writing about them is nearly as entertaining as listening to their records, all of which are rewarding, some of which could rock a club.
Their imaginations, sense of humor, and ability to hear the grandiose in trash and machinery have also allowed them a quarter-century career that arguably has never peaked. Instead, their position just outside of a definable genre has allowed their music to remain fresh, curious, adventurous, and fun. Few groups can pull this off, but they make a strong case for keeping popularity at arm’s length.
That Matmos has decided to re-imagine the work of recently late Polish composer Bogusław Schaeffer, a wunderkind who rode a thin margin between classical and avant-garde composition, makes sense. Since Daniel and Schmidt both have a mischievous pop sensibility connected to academic pursuits (Daniel is an Associate Professor of English at Johns Hopkins), they’re in an authoritative position to inject a bit of play into the often dryly academic world of electro-acoustic music.
Working from a sample pack of Schaeffer’s music accessed from the Polish Radio Experimental Studio (PRES), they’ve not only chopped up and processed sections of the composer’s work for tracks that radically re-purpose the music, they’ve also allowed for a bit of breathing room in the album’s more meditative second half. Because Schaeffer was an electronic music pioneer sometimes prone to odd sonic squiggles and jarring pulses, one hears a natural connection between him and Matmos. “Tonight There’s Something Special about the Moon” demonstrates that connection. Early on, the music is driven by pulse, yet odd vocal harmonies, dire orchestrated chords, and unsettling whirs and glitches abound. Halfway in, the rhythm is gone, as disembodied voices, creepy violin segments, and what sounds like the ultimate soundtrack to being lost in a cave takes precedent. It’s as disorienting as it is fun. There’s a blurring of lines here as Matmos and Schaeffer become a single entity.
“Few, Far Chaos Bugles” manipulates a faint chorus, a heavily processed horn line, a clave rhythm, and diced chunks of sound all but un-moored from their original purpose. Elsewhere, especially on “Cobra Wages Shuffle”, there’s a genuinely goofy groove and brief samples of what sounds like something from the Command label’s stereo action LPs from the 1960s.
By the final two tracks, the music often feels Paul-stretched as it gets darker and the sonic detritus occasionally jutting out of the murk becomes less distracting. It’s as if Daniel and Schmidt have brought you for the fun and then requested you stay for the ritual, something requiring a deeper ability to listen. Knowing about Matmos’ back catalogue or Schaeffer (or electro-acoustic music in general) isn’t a requirement for getting with Regards Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer; it’s an entertainingly strange, multi-layered immersion on its own.
Yet, Matmos’ ability to recognize limitless sonic possibilities and a natural inclination to flit between high and low culture allows them to separate sounds from their intentions – be that the natural banging and clanging a household appliance makes out of necessity or the all-too-polite reverb of a University auditorium. Matmos transform them into sound art that gives pop culture a friendly jostling.