MATMOS is an electronic outfit comprised of M. C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel that was founded in San Francisco in 1995. The duo established itself on the experimental edge of techno with its first self-titled album in 1997 (released on Schmidt and Daniel’s own Vague Terrain label), which paired synthesizers and drum machines with an oft-chaotic array of manipulated sound samples. Several releases followed over the years, including Quasi-Objects (1998), West (1999), A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (2001), and The Civil War (2003).
Since then, Matmos has toured with Lesser, Labradford, and The Rachels; shared stages with Terry Riley and Wire; and remixed The Melvins, Otomo Yoshihide, and Erase Errata. The group refuses to be boxed in by traditional distinctions between “high” and “low” art – Matmos has exhibited pieces in the Whitney Museum of American Art (Schmidt, on staff at the San Francisco Art Institute’s New Genres department, is also a visual artist whose video loops accompany Matmos’ live performances) while also scoring the soundtracks for several gay porn films (Daniel got his start as a go-go dancer in San Francisco’s gay discos). In recent years, Matmos has toured worldwide with Björk (a collaboration that stemmed from their work on her 2001 album Vespertine), and in November 2004 presented its first installation at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
In its recordings and live performances over the last decade, Matmos has used the sounds of: amplified crayfish nerve tissue, Bible pages turning, a bowed 5-string banjo, slowed down whistles and kisses, water hitting copper plates, the runout groove of a vinyl record, a $5.00 electric guitar, liposuction surgery, cameras and VCRs, chin implant surgery, contact microphones on human hair, violins, rat cages, tanks of helium, violas, human skulls, cellos, peck horns, tubas, cards shuffling, field recordings of conversations in hot tubs, frequency response tests for defective hearing aids, a steel guitar recorded in a sewer, electrical interference generated by laser eye surgery, whoopee cushions and balloons, latex fetish clothing, rhinestones on a dinner plate, Polish trains, insects, a ukulele, aspirin tablets hitting a drum kit from across the room, dogs barking, people reading aloud, life support systems and inflatable blankets, records chosen by the roll of dice, an acupuncture point detector conducting electrical current through human skin, rock salt crunching underfoot, solid gold coins spinning on bars of solid silver, the sound of a frozen stream thawing in the sun, and a five gallon bucket of oatmeal.
“For this concert Matmos will present new versions of two works that were written when we still lived in California: For Terry Riley and Supreme Balloon. These two pieces share a similar long-form narrative shape (a gradual arc from simplicity to density and back again) and they both draw inspiration from the work of Terry Riley, a composer whose work is global in its reach but whose spirit strikes us as thoroughly Californian. The references are explicit in the case of For Terry Riley, which incorporates on-site recordings of the Kronos Quartet in their rehearsal space in San Francisco practicing Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector, an early collaboration between the composer and the quartet. Fragments, partial memories, and distorted elements from this composition show up in looped, altered, and electronically adapted forms within our response, rendering it a kind of unsolicited “remix,” which is to say a love letter. This piece was commissioned in its original form by the Kronos Quartet, and we hope it functions as a exploded view of their close working relationship with Terry.
“At a further remove, Supreme Balloon is an entirely electronic work which revisits the modular synthetic palette and processed improvisation tactics of Terry Riley's pioneering work with the Time Lag Accumulator, but inflects them with the formal habits of contemporary digital-era sampling, sequencing, and processing. The rhythmic patterns are based upon classical Indian taals sourced from an Indian Taal-Mala drum machine purchased in Rome while we were rehearsing with Terry Riley for a performance of In C. Our goal is not to create a pastiche but to grow our own viable mutation from these aesthetic tissue samples.
“California is too multivalent and complex an entity to be encapsulated in any artwork. At the risk of frontier cliché, if there is anything regionally specific in these works, it's just that we have made for ourselves a space in which to roam, to stretch out and pursue a personal agenda inspired by the past, but not encumbered by it.
“Listening back to these pieces in our new home base of Baltimore, it seems to us unlikely that we would have created this music in our new environment. We are grateful to our fellow musicians and to our hosts at Walt Disney Concert Hall for inviting us to take part in this concert and to revisit a beloved, and now distant, state of mind.”