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Matmos (and an aesthetics of deviation)

July 28, 2008

I wanted to mention, quite belatedly, the visit of Matmos to Toronto last Sunday. The pair are on tour to air their new album, Supreme Balloon, on which they take a break from extracting sampled percussion from all manner of unsuspecting objects / lifeforms, and instead generate their noises entirely on (mostly obsolete) synthesizers.

Some words were put about in advance of the tour to describe the current phase of Matmos’s sound — “cosmic pop”, “the concentration is on psychedelia and zoning out”, and so on. So let me mention that, on the contrary, the performance at the Music Gallery was a fine display of common sense. I’ll come to that later.

There’s a reason why the venue was full up — Matmos specialise in generosity, providing a bit of something for everyone. Their performance of Supreme Balloon‘s title-piece ended with a nice schizophonic trick, Drew Daniel walking the little box that played the pattering percussion to the back of the hall, drawing it out of the aural space created by the electronics that played through the PA.

Earlier in the day, Drew had given a reading outside Kensington’s This Ain’t The Rosedale Library Bookshop. He read from his recently-published book on Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats (his contribution to the 33 1/3 series), Genesis P-Orridge impression and all. Incidentally, as well as being half of Matmos and writing music journalism, Drew has his Soft Pink Truth house music project, and the small matter of a teaching position in the English department at Johns Hopkins University… for some people, there seems to be always enough time. Personally I think that some sort of divine balance between the ingestion and the production of art; or between critical deconstruction and artistic creation; or between professorly explication and a cut-up artist’s evasion of meaning, has been struck.

Answering questions following the reading, Drew made a point which I’ll filter here: rational thought, which artists in his own sampling and chopping-up tradition like William Burroughs so determinedly attempted to subvert, is no longer the oppressive norm. It has been eventually been defeated. We now deviate from rational thought daily, as a matter of routine. Ask yourself seriously: have your dreams ever been as boring as they were in the last year? Clear, rational thought — newly endangered, a near-impossibility — for this reason seems sexy again. Supposedly.

Here’s how I get an aesthetic thrill these days: of course it’s almost impossible not to deviate; what impresses me is how quietly and gently you can do it.

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