Posted on Aug 20th 2008 12:05 am

Filed in Interviews | Tags: , ,
Comments (1)


PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

DD: You said you were going to get really geeky, but then you never did.

MS: Yeah, bring on the geek!  I see the word ‘IRCAM’ written in your notes.

Oh, we’ll get to that, but first, some other words.  You took this vow of synthesizer-chastity for Supreme Balloon – not even vocoders.  I came up with a bunch of cool ways to cheat – what about FFT? [FFT, a Fast Fourier Transform, is a synthesis which can deconstruct any sampled sound into a complex series of sine waves]

MS: Honestly, it wasn’t a synthesizer thing, really, the only rule was ‘no microphones’.  We were allowed to use any kind of signal generation, as long as it didn’t involve microphones.  Of course, the trick is the slip between what is a microphone, any kind of transducer?  Is a guitar pickup a microphone or not?

Did you use any guitars on the album?

MS: We decided that a pickup was a transducer.  But we did use optical tracks from film sound, and it’s a kind of transducer.  But where do you draw the line?  We drew it where we wished, [laughs] as we often do!  It’s not science, you know, it’s art.

DD: Yeah, that’s the thing.  People give us credit for, ‘oh my god, they tie themselves in ridiculous knots with these concepts’.  But, really, the concept is so freeing.  Once you know the area in which to work, it just keeps expanding, and we didn’t reach a lot of points of, ‘oh it’s so frustrating, if only we could just haul off and use a mic’.  Once we committed to it, we never looked back.

MS: In fact, it was more generative than inhibiting.

You’re using old gear that has a tendency to fall apart.  There’s a story in the liner notes for Supreme Balloon about Martin ripping the knob off of a Korg MS20.  I saw that, and I thought of the Nam Jun Paik piece, the dog made out of TVs, that started to fall apart, and he said ‘well, now it’s part of the piece’.  Would you ever think of exploiting that?

DD: Yeah, we did, on Memento Mori [off A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure], because I had an effects unit that was dying, and it had, I guess, the effects pedal equivalent of Alzheimer’s.  It seemed appropriate to run the sounds of a skull through a dying effects unit, and it was creating all these artefacts that I can’t reproduce now, that it’s fully dead, it’s totally over.  The kind of last legs thing can produce some interesting artefacts, sometimes.  But I will say that the death of my Roland W-30 [a keyboard sampler and sequencer] has meant that as we reconstruct songs from The West, I have to load all these samples that can only be loaded off of one hard drive.  The floppy drive has a strange tweak on it, so there’s only one machine that can read my old floppy disks.  And it writes glitches into several samples, every time it loads them.  So there’s no way now, to reconstruct the past of Matmos, that doesn’t involve a lot of fucking annoying shit work, trying to pull spikes out of old sounds of, like, a crystalline acoustic guitar that now has this hideous glitch in it.  So it’s sort of like the glitch movement’s biting me on my ass, after supposedly loving all the grit of material specificity.

Somewhere, Steve Albini is laughing.  I’m curious about your live performance.  It seems like you have different roles in the concerts: Martin, you’re working with more of the sound objects, while Drew, you’re working more with processing and computers.  Do you feel comfortable in those positions?  Do you ever feel the want to switch that up?  Is there this conscious want, to avoid presenting yourselves as ‘two guys sitting behind gear’?

Both: Yeah, there’s definitely that.

DD: It seems like on stage, what we have is the division of labor in the studio, repeated.  I’m more the loopy, sequencey guy, and Martin’s more the one who plays the objects.  That’s true when we make the records, but it’s also true when we’re on stage.  And I always feel like being on stage is a chance to invite people into our process, and let them see how the music is made.  So that seems like the most honest way to do it.

Like spanking an audience member? [Matmos have performed a piece involving this]

MS:  Very much like that.  Josh [Josh Hunt, from Autofact Records, which has just re-released The West, is also in the vicinity] at our last Portland show.

Yeah, that’s what I heard.  Was that piece ever released?

MS: No.  It’s flawed, as far as I’m concerned, it’s too long.  I feel that it’s too long every time we perform it [everyone else laughs].  Though I do enjoy spanking cute boys.

DD: So the longer the better!

MS: Yes, in that respect, it’s fine.

It just lasts until you grow tired of it, basically?

MS: No, unfortunately, with that one, we’re married to the DVD [Matmos use a DVD for visual projections during their live performances], and the DVD is eleven minutes, and it should be seven minutes.

DD: We do go on.

MS: Yeah, we do go on.

Much to my benefit!  Going on to the question that did involve IRCAM, you had access to the synthesizers there for the recording of Supreme Balloon

MS: No, I’m sorry, but it’s an important correction to make, that it wasn’t IRCAM.  It’s GRM.

DD: The INA/GRM is a different research institute.


MS: They’re rival electro-acoustic foundations in France.  From an American perspective, it’s hard to even imagine that there should be such a thing.

Wobbly: GRM is the winner.

DD: IRCAM is associated with Pierre Boulez, it’s very well funded, it’s right next to the Centre George Pompidou.  It’s this kind of, ultimate ivory tower – you have to be a member.  It’s been the source of some incredible software, so, we’re not knocking IRCAM, but our work was with INA/GRM, the Institut National de L’Audiovisuel, and within that, it’s the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, which was founded by Pierre Schaeffer.  So it is associated very specifically with the history of musique concrète.  IRCAM is more, sort of, electronic music, whereas INA/GRM is specifically the spiritually home of concrète – Schaeffer, Henry, Luc Ferrari, all the greats of tape music were from INA/GRM.  That’s where we worked.

Yes, you used synthesizers there.  There’s a picture of you [Martin] with a special synth.  Can you talk about it?

MS: Yeah, it was called the Coupigny.  It was built for the GRM by their resident engineer, Francis Coupigny.

DD: In ’61.

MS: Yeah, a synthesizer from 1961.  No keyboard, nine oscillators, no attack-decay-sustain-release module.

It’s like an additive nightmare!

MS: Yeah, well that was clearly the goal.

DD: And it uses a matrix for routing relationships.  It’s not something that you patch with patch cords, you use these different colored pins.  And you can have signal modulate signal, synchro modulate signal, or synchro modulate synchro.  So there are these three different links of pins that you physically stick into a matrix.

MS: Like an EMS Synthi [a synthesizer legendary for its complexity and range of options], but more complicated, because there were these different types of pins that patched things in even more varied ways.

DD: We used it on the album, and we’re using it more now.  We’ve actually done a limited edition 7′ that is our tribute to Francis Coupigny, for a French label called Scum Yr Earth.  We’ve done this blue 7′, there’s only 200 of them, and that has two tracks that are both made entirely with Coupigny.  So it’s our kind of homage to this synthesizer.  For true collector scum to fight to track down this 7′ – it also has a full-frontal nude cartoon drawing by this French artist, Frederic Poncelet.

Well, you’re doing a good job selling it to the ‘collector scum’ right now.  Further about synthesizers, when you taught the seminar course at Harvard, it sounded like your initial interest there was to work with their library of old library of modular synthesizers, these things that would take up half a room.

MS: It was a side benefit.

Did you revisit those for Supreme Balloon?

MS: We didn’t try.

DD: The take that we got of the Serge [a modular synthesizer], there were a few cool sounds, but I don’t think we really understood that instrument.  Hrvatski – Keith Whitman – was there to kind of help us with the Serge a little bit.  What he got out of that synthesizer, for his album…

MS: He has gone back and used it a lot.

DD: He’s used it really well, he really knows what he’s doing.  We were fucking around.

MS: Yeah, he’s a genius, we’re dilettantes [everyone laughs].

You’ve mentioned in the past, one of the more frustrating things that happens on tour, is that you’re performing using computers, and they crash.  Now that this album is made mostly with analogue synthesizers – obviously, there’s some Max/MSP patches in there – but have you been able to limit the computer usage?

MS: Well, everything we assemble is assembled with computers.  We’re absolutely dependent on computers.

DD: I will say, the night before we left for this American tour, my hard drive overheated and melted on my laptop.  So I’ve had to reconstruct everything on my second laptop while on this tour.  I don’t have anything that we were using for the European tour, aside from the Digital Performer sequences.  I lost about 50% of the content, so we’re in a sort of crisis turn around mode, but we’re trying to find inspiration in that, rather than just despair, because we have no choice.  So I’ve been programming like a motherfucker whenever I have a free moment, because, well, the show must go on!

So you have to rebuild all the patches there?

DD: Yeah, I lost all the Max patches on that computer, and I lost all the Ableton Live stuff that I use for the transitions in our set.  I didn’t lose the core, but I lost everything that Supreme Balloon was originally written with – it’s all gone.  That’s the thing that people forget.  They start to think that ‘digital’ and ‘immaterial’ are synonymous.  And services like web mail encourage you to feel like there isn’t any place where your content lives, but, in my case, I learned the hard way that there sure is.

MS: I hope all those people who buy all their music on iTunes understand that they won’t be listening to their music in ten years.

That it’s not going to move with them?

DD: That things die.

MS: Really, do people really back up their whole music libraries assiduously?  Do they really think they’re going to have the laptop in ten years?  And they’re really going to move all their music files over, and none of their hard drives are ever going to crash before they do that?

See, here comes Albini again.

MS: Yeah, it’s just true!  I still have records that I had when I was eighteen, you know – I’m forty three now.  Do you really believe that that file on your computer, when you’re eighteen, that you’re still going to have when you’re forty three?  It’s not going to happen people – buy CDs!

Wobbly: Yeah, those last twenty years!

DD: There is disc-rot from the first generations of CDs.

Perfect Sound Forever, right? One last question – you recently moved to Baltimore from San Francisco.  What are you observations there?  Do you think you ever really became attached to the music scene in San Francisco?  Do you think there are things that are better or worse about what’s going on in Baltimore right now?

MS: We had a bunch of friends in San Francisco, but aside from the people seated at these tables – Wobbly and Jay Lesser – I don’t know if we really were part of a musical community so much.

DD: I think journalism tends to exacerbate or exaggerate loose clumps of names as if everyone is getting together at this banquet table on a weekly basis.

MS: Which isn’t to say that those people were not our friends, but I don’t know if we influenced each other very much.  We’re buddies with Kid 606, but, did what we do make any difference to him, or vice versa?  Not much, honestly, though I like his work and I like him.  Baltimore is a much tougher kid; I feel more threatened by Baltimore than I ever did by San Francisco.

So, is it anything like The Wire?

DD: We wouldn’t know, we haven’t been in those environments to say.

MS: Well I’m not a cop, a judge, a dock worker, or a junkie [laughs], so I don’t come close to much of the stuff that goes on in The Wire.  But I know about the improvised music scene in Baltimore, which they don’t cover in The Wire.  It’s unfortunate, because it would be fucking hilarious!

DD: It’s hard to do a move and not get into a game of comparison, and, really, it’s not a competition.  It’s not like one has to be the winner, between San Francisco and Baltimore.  There’s such complete different contexts, especially economically, that it would be silly to hold one up against the other.

MS: San Francisco is a rich, thriving city.  Baltimore is none of those things.

DD: It’s poor, it’s struggling, and it has a very different kind of emotional presence than San Francisco.  I really have loved Baltimore so far, and I wasn’t sure that I would, but I really like it a lot.  I miss people in San Francisco, but I haven’t regretted what we’ve done, I haven’t looked back.

MS: I miss burritos, and good Chinese food.


Matmos | Matador Records

Filed in Interviews | Tags: , ,
Comments (1)

One Response to “INTERVIEW: MATMOS Go On (Part 3)”

  1. […] PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 […]