Alarm Call (Rhythmic Phonetics Mix) 5:23
Alarm Call (Speech Therapy mix) 5:57
Crave (Odd Duck Mix) 3:01
An Echo A Stain (Odd Duck mix) 3:01
Hidden Place (Hearts & Bones) 3:36
Undo (undone mix) 2:33
Who is it (Fruit machine mix) 3:23
Where Is The Line (Matmos Rubberband Remix)
source : rolandus.com
For every talented, underappreciated musician who’s dreamed of being discovered, we present Matmos. Their encounter with Björk is a story for the ages, as you’re about to read. Martin M.C. Schmidt, one half of the Matmos braintrust, retells the tale :
“When we put out our second album [in 1998], we went to Rough Trade Records in London to see if they’d consider selling it on consignment. It was a self-made album, and we only had four copies with us at the time. They were like, ‘Sure mate, we’ll take two of ’em.’”
Imagine the odds — two copies of the CD are offered for sale in London, and Björk buys one of them ! Furthermore, she loved what she heard on the disc, and felt compelled to find Matmos and invite them to remix her song “Alarm Call.” It was a series of fortunate event, to say the least.
“We worked on that remix for a good two weeks,” says Drew Daniel, the other half of Matmos. “When she heard it, she told us : ’I‘m flab-ber-gas-ted.’ So that was the start of our friendship and musical collaboration.” Björk enlisted Matmos as guest programmers on the song “Hidden Place” from the Vespertine album, and “it just sort of snowballed from there.” Soon Martin and Drew were part of Björk’s live-band lineup, which would embark upon two world tours, including stops at Coachella and Live 8 in Tokyo.
Today, back in San Francisco, Matmos is hard at work on their next album with an arsenal of classic and cutting-edge synths, samplers, and audio gadgets. The most recent addition to their wall of hardware is a Roland V-Synth. Roland paid a visit to Matmos headquarters in the Potrero district of San Francisco and compiled this report.
There’s no shortage of hardware synths and outboard gear here in your studio. Impressive !
So what is Matmos anyway ? An acronym ?
“It’s from Barbarella,” explains Drew, “the same film that Duran Duran got their name from. Matmos was that lavalamp-like pyschedelic goo under the sea.” Martin adds : “Before it was a film, Barbarella was a French comic book, and the Matmos was a part of that. Also, our record label Vague Terrain is the same name of the comic-book company who distributed Barbarella.”
Drew : It just seems much more musically intuitive to use all ten fingers on a piece of hardware. I mean, I like to play around with and program Max MSP, and I do use soft-synths occasionally, but when it comes to exploring, using your fingers on banks of knobs and stumbling into unexpected sounds is what you get out of hardware. Obviously you can use a controller that has lots of knobs [for soft synths] but there’s a reason why these hardware tools created so many great records, and it’s the musicality of each instrument. The interface itself was designed to give you a lot more options.
People sometimes tell us that we could slim down and use less equipment, especially for our live shows. “You could have no excess baggage.” Their motto is “the best show is the most prudent show.”
Martin : It’s become a joke with us. Hey, we’re making art here. It’s not about efficiency. The idea is not to be prudent and conservative.
Drew : Nobody ever said, “Let’s go out and see that band that didn’t have to schlep a lot of gear to the gig.” That’s not the point for the audience. The point is that they want to be able to see something about how the music is being made, because so much of the time with electronic music it’s very austere. It’s like a black box, and they have no idea how it’s happening. But with gestural controls like the D Beam on the V-Synth, it actually allows us to connect with the audience. They can see that there’s an aspect or parameter of the sound that’s being transformed. Martin : And sure, you can do the same thing with some knobs on a controller, but how interesting is that ? I mean, I should just mail CDs to everyone in the audience, and then it’ll sound really great and we can sit at home and be prudent. Since the V-Synth’s D Beam has two channels, it can do the work of two hands in one fell swoop.
Martin : The D Beam is one of the things that attracted me to the V-Synth. I think it’s a great response to the soft-synth controller movement, because there’s a touch screen, there are knobs, there’s the D Beam, there’s the Time Trip pad. It has every bell and whistle imaginable, so when I saw it, I knew it was exactly what I wanted.
Martin mangles Matmos audio on the V-Synth Drew : We’re a sample-based band, so the majority of what we do involves coming up with a concept and then executing it by creating a situation, recording that situation, and then chopping it up and manipulating it into a song. That’s the way our music gets made, and yet with older generations of samplers, there was a limit to how much you could manipulate in real time. That’s a big advantage of the V-Synth. In the past, I was always the one who used the samples, and Martin would play instruments or objects. Like when we’d play “For Felix (and all the rats),” Martin would sit onstage and pluck and bow the bars of a rat cage, and I’d be the one handling the samples. But since we got the V-Synth, we’ve been writing songs where we each have samples, and Martin can manipulate then just as much as I can and, in many ways, much more dramatically and drastically since the V-Synth allows you to adjust so quickly things such as formant, and making pitch and tempo independent. That’s why we were attracted to the V-Synth, not because of the presets, even though there’s a bumper crop of them. For us the appeal was that it would offer Martin a way to manipulate samples in a way that was very fluid. How long have you been using the V-Synth ?
Martin : I got it in December . Drew : We’re using it on almost all of the songs on the new record [scheduled for release on Matador in May 2006]. So now there’s another sampler at the core of our sound to join the old 12-bit Roland W-30. What is it about the W-30 that keeps you using it ?
Drew : I know it really well. With the turnover of gear, you can really feel the pressure to constantly get the newest thing, but you know, you sort of “dance with the one that brought ya.” To me, the simplicity and speed of using an older piece like the W-30 means that when we’re playing live, I can make samples on the fly and manipulate them very quickly. I don’t have to jump through a bunch of sub-windows. It’s so simple and immediate. It has a metabolism that’s suited to live performance. So that’s why I’m still dragging around this MC Hammer-era sampler. I also love the ability to change the sample loop points in real time, which let’s you do things like this [demonstrates how he transforms a sample from smooth to stuttering]. So I still find it to be a very compelling live instrument. But now that Martin has the firepower of the V-Synth, I’m kind of running scared [laughs]. I like what he’s been coming up with, building these hybrid sounds out of multiple sources.
What types of sounds have you been creating on the V-Synth ?
For this new song we’re working on, for example, Martin fused a flute with a sample we have of Björk singing. It’s a unique string-like sound — a timbre I haven’t heard before. We’re using it as the core of the song. Speaking of Björk, tell us about your experience in the studio with her.
Drew : It was incredibly fun, and mutually productive. Martin : The crazy thing is that she actually asked us to help her mix Vespertine, which was pretty flattering business. There we were, fresh from our wretched apartment studio in San Francisco , at Olympic Studios in London with Spike Stent, who mixes all of her stuff. Spike is this totally sweet, laid-back guy, who made us feel at home. The amount of gear he has onhand there is unbelievable. Thee are more effects units than you can imagine were ever invented — rack after rack after rack after rack.
Drew : To see how he chains reverbs into reverbs, and effects into effects — it was very educational for us, especially considering that we’d never been in a studio where you pay by the hour. And all of a sudden there we were, brought along to provide opinions about mixing Vespertine. It was pretty intimidating, but they were very gracious. When it came to mixing, our sensibility was ... we don’t like to make things sound huge. That was not our goal. We prefer very crisp, close-miked, and humble encounters with an object where it sounds like itself, where a guitar sounds like a piece of wood. That’s really our focus. Spike is totally the opposite ; it’s how to make things sound like tanks, how to make them totally unassailable and huge. Martin : Which created a bit of a conflict, because the tracks we had made for these songs had transformed into something gigantic. We were like, “Impressive, but these are supposed to sound like little feeble pieces of plastic, dry and wispy.” Björk’s idea with Vespertine was to make it sound “like laptop speakers. Intimate and close.” And that’s probably why she chose us, because we specialize in these up-close, tiny, intimate sounds. Drew : I made some of the rhythms for the song “Aurora” by sampling just the sound of the spit on Björk’s lips as they would separate, and I’d turn that into a snare or a kick so it felt incredibly intimate and close. Björk is so far advanced musically in the way that she thinks — it’s quite humbling. The way that she can think through a composition.... We, on the other hand, are the types who just sit and embroider and embroider onscreen. We don’t have a sort of light bulb over our heads where we see a complete melodic idea. We’re not composers in the way that she is. But it’s good too, ’cause we aren’t getting in each other’s way.
Looking around your studio, I see quite a variety of interesting audio devices, including a BOSS VT-1 Voice Transformer. What led you to that one ?
Drew : I have this other project called The Soft Pink Truth, and for that I did a record where there were a lot of different vocalists. When I had to tour it, I couldn’t bring them all, so I got the VT-1, which is my instant sex-change machine. I’ve used it ever since. You have an old Roland classic onhand, the SH-101, which you use both on record and onstage, but rumor has it that your first Roland synth, a Juno-60, died a cruel death. True ? Drew : Tell ’em the story, Martin. Martin : I used to live in a warehouse with nine other “artists.” Someone brought in an S-50 one day and said, “That synthesizer of yours is a thing of the past, old man.” So they shoved my Juno into a closet that had a lit light bulb dangling from a wire, and the bulb pressed up against the keys. After a couple of days, it melted all of the knobs and keys together into a big fused blob. So I took the Juno into a repair place called Magic Music Machines. When they saw it, they were like, “What the hell ? We can’t fix that, but ... can we have it ?” And you gave it to them ?
Martin : I gave it to them, and they hung it up on the wall [laughs].