Matmos with the London Contemporary Orchestra, The Village Underground, London, 26/05/2009


Posted on May 28th 2009 01:00 am

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Matmos with the London Contemporary Orchestra, the Village Underground, London, 26/05/2009

The rather discreet and, to most revellers it seemed, until then unknown, Village Underground, in London’s Shoreditch, welcomed a rather eclectic event, headlined by American experimental electronic duo Matmos and the London Contemporary Orchestra, with opening performances by electronic act Micromattic and pianist Sarah Nicholls, who, until recently, performed as Tilly Automatic.

Kicking off the evening with a display of computer-generated psychedelic images, arid electronics and deconstructed orchestral shards, Micromattic, performing with the LCO, offered a challenging piece where disjointed electronics and dissonant orchestral sequences appeared to compete for the privilege of affecting the visuals. While the set certainly demonstrated a high level of involvement from the artists, it also lacked playfulness and warmth and felt a tad inaccessible.

On the side of the room, Sarah Nicholls, who was next, began by presenting her work and the evening performance. Talking of the ‘contraption’ that was to be the centre of attention for the next half hour or so, she described the heavily customised piano, opened to reveal its set of strings, allowing to use them in various ways, then introduced the video artist who would project detailed views of the performance on the big screen, and Leafcutter John, who was here to land a helping hand on laptop and additional noises. Nicholls’s set went through a series of strong ebbs and flows as her and Leafcutter John experimented with sourcing sounds out of the odd instrument in a variety of ways, occasionally plucking the strings or playing notes on the keyboard, more often by hitting the strings with a mallet or amplifying vibrations, until, at one particular moment, the pair reached a huge thunderous moment, before progressively bringing the piece back down to more delicate structures and eventually leaving it to die away.

But the evening belonged to Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt. Introducing the evening’s performance with the London Contemporary Orchestra, the pair announced the experimental character of the event, highlighting that what the audience was about to hear had never been performed in this particular set up before. Before getting the orchestra settled though, the pair performed two pieces, the first one beginning with gentle electronics progressively brought to life by Daniel, and while the rhythmic structure cut through, Schmidt was laying gentle melodic features on top. The second piece saw Schmidt and a collaborator throwing poly-faceted dice upon polished stones, while Daniel sampled and layered the sounds into something strangely reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Money.

The rest of the performance featured the LCO, a formation composed of young classical musicians who dedicate their time to contemporary classical works. Kicking off with a sumptuous version of Semen Song For James Bidgood, taken from The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast, minus the voice of Antony Hegarty but with added orchestral touches, while footage of Bidgood’s 1971 gay erotic movie Pink Narcissus were projected on the screen, Matmos and the formation went on to perform a further two somewhat short but tight and controlled pieces, one involving a tray, a plate, a cup and cutlery thrown on the ground. Then it was the turn of a densely charged version of the centre piece of Matmos’ latest effort, Supreme Balloon. Once again bringing gentle electronics into action, Daniel created the rhythmic skeleton upon which the orchestra built more substantial repetitive layers until they appeared locked in a loop. Meanwhile Schmidt was busy laying beautiful melodies with warm electronic sound waves. As the piece seem to get to a moment of lull, the string section of the orchestra was crafting some pretty intricate motifs, while Matmos were slowly bringing the pace back up, with once again Schmidt at the forefront piecing together another slice of lush electronic melody. While the track is deeply rooted in seventies German electronic music, with particular nods to Ash Ra Tempel and early Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, the orchestral element, far from clashing, actually proved to work extremely tightly with the piece and bring an interesting new dimension. The piece, and evening, concluded with Daniel carrying what looked like a giant Buddha machine and a portable radio, both playing tinny drone forms, around the room.

By the end of the evening, it was clear that Matmos had delivered a very rare performance, and that they had revelled in the challenge of opening their compositions to the London Contemporary Orchestra. The lucky few who attended, and, with serious lack of promotion, it was really a few, were visibly charmed and enthralled by a band who, after years of experimentation, can still find ways to surprise their audience.

Icon: arrow Matmos | Matmos (MySpace) | London Contemporary Orchestra | Sarah Nicholls | Micromattic (MySpace)

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2 Responses to “Matmos with the London Contemporary Orchestra, The Village Underground, London, 26/05/2009”

  1. Granton 28 May 2009 at 6:56 am

    26/08/2009 ?

  2. themilkmanon 28 May 2009 at 7:39 am

    It’s official, Matmos are from the future. Corrected though, thanks