In a dingy, low-ceilinged basement somewhere near Baltimore two men huddle over a human brainpan. Bits of fragmented goat vertebrae rattle inside. One listens intently while the other scrapes it with a bow. A disembodied bovine uterus is inflated with air then squeezed. The pair become giddy with perverse joy as it emits a flatulent “pffffffft.”
What’s happening here? Are we on the set of a horror movie? Are these men serial killers?
No, they’re not. They are Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel of the experimental group MATMOS and they make music out of everything. And that human brainpan and goat skeleton? They’re musical instruments heard on the soundtrack of a NASCAR television commercial.
Since 1997, MATMOS have pushed the boundaries of what would soon be called “intelligent dance music” beyond the natural limits of self-contained software and circuitry by using found objects (a partial list is on their website) to produce music at once alien and familiar, and dare I say, pleasant.
Once plucked from the scrap heap, these objects are manipulated, recorded, and processed by effects pedals, synthesizers, and software to construct new instruments to be used in their dense compositions which combine the intellectual curiosity of musique concrete with the dopamine rush of four-on-the-floor techno dancefloor bangers.
In 2001, the pair’s fearless approach to sampling caught the ear of Björk who approached MATMOS to collaborate on her album Verpertine, which sold two million copies by the end of the year, and earned them a place in her backing band. That same year, they released A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, an album composed primarily of field recordings of surgical sounds that needs to be heard to be believed, and proves yet again that to MATMOS, there are no “unusable” sounds.
More recently, MATMOS released an album composed entirely on a washing machine titled Ultimate Care II (2016) and have completed (with Nico Muhly) a film score for John Cameron Mitchell’s How To Talk to Girls at Parties, which stars Nicole Kidman and was released May 2018. They are currently finishing an album made out of plastic.
While MATMOS has the uncanny ability to find inspiration in anything that vibrates, Drew Daniel considers his first lightbulb-moment with an effects pedal to be an instance of musical discovery. “I wouldn’t have a lot of the desires that I have now to fuck with audio if I hadn’t had that pedal at the right age,” he says. “The fun is in the making.”