Matmos (and the Ultimate Care II) @ Soup Kitchen, Manchester

The show began with a phenomenal performance by Matmos’s touring percussionist, Adam Rosenblatt. He spent what I think was twenty, but felt like one, and I wish was a thousand minutes mining to Aphasia by Mark Applebaum. Never mind my words, here’s a short clip of the performance itself.

MC Schmidt is a funny man. He walks on stage and though I don’t remember most of what he said, he was assuredly charming. At one point he used the gender neutral term “y’all” to refer to the audience, and the largely British crowd erupted in laughter upon hearing this distinctly American peculiarity. This was one of many movements of giggles, laughs, and chuckles of the night. Schmidt proceeds to introduce the humble Ultimate Care II in its resplendent sterile white washing machine glory. There was no direct source of water piping, so behind the machine there stood a large trash holding the several gallons of water necessary for the machine to function. Yes! That’s right! Function! Not only is the Ultimate Care II a being of great musical and, as we will later see, sexual potential, but it works! MC Schmidt asked the audience if they had any laundry they wanted done. I soon saw a pair of pants of unknown provenance surface to the stage; whether its giver now stood pantless or if they usually carried an extra pair of paints with them is uncertain. Naturally, Schmidt put the mystery pants to his face and gave them a good long perverted sniff before stuffing it into the washing machine.

Drew

I admittedly don’t know much of the technicalities of the performance. Drew was sitting and doing his thing in what looked like a very percussive manner. Adam was also performing a percussive function by manipulating the microphones around the washing machine and playing it as a drum with either his hands or a brush. Schmidt alternated between playing the washing machine and doing work on his synthesizer, which appeared to have a motion sensor that allowed Schmidt to control the attack, decay, sustain, and release of a note with the movement of his left hand.

Adam

The performance was thoroughly engaging and complex. At one moment I thought of a paper Jo Hutton wrote on Daphne Oram, early electronic music pioneer and one of the founders of the BBC radiophonic workshop, where within she describes Oram’s approach to electronic music in the following way:

Oram introduced into the medium of electronic music an ethereal quality, a sensitivity and sensual awareness of space, as well as an appreciation of acoustic instrumental sound which provided a more accessible compliment to the harsh tones coming over from Cologne, Paris and Utrecht. Hers was a more intuitive approach to composition …. In her criticism of serialism as applied to electronic music composition, it is possible that her frustration was with a prevalent masculist approach to electronic music, a representation of sound according to principle of logical patterns, an overstated need for compositional rules, control of harmonics, and cyclical rhythmic or motive phrase with a defined structure. She stated, “When then are the rules? There appear to be none. You take with you what you consider necessary from the world of ‘conventional’ music. Personally I find this unsatisfactory. Why impose on one medium rules made for another medium … Does the ear and human mind comprehend such rules as complete serialism of timbre, pitch, and rhythm?”

Adam and Schmidt

Not everything in this quote is relevant to the Matmos performance, but its essence manifests. Matmos were not a couple dudes dithering on their instruments, doing something with pitch, timbre, and rhythm as it goes unnoticed by people who are actively suppressing audible sighing while trying to not look too bored. Matmos’s performance was wholly enjoyable, but that’s not to say it was one of conventionality. Indeed, indigestibility was absent, but who’s to say that its presence is the key to challenging and creative art? There were moments of grooving that compelled people to want to dance like they would at a house show, but there were also moments of abrasiveness, density, and dissonance that inspired still awe from the audience. But most powerfully of all were the moments of cutting silence.

The great stillness.

In the middle of the performance, all sonic manipulation came to a halt and the only thing heard was the stand alone washing machine whirling away. Drew, Schmidt, and Adam sat catatonic on stage meditating on these sounds, while the audience stood in shock at the quiet and organic beauty of this ordinary machine. Matmos weaved a beautiful sonic tapestry, lush in complexity that culminated in a moment that did not require our appreciation and admiration for the commonplace washing machine, but by sheer musicianship and mastery of psychoacoustics made apparent of its splendor.

The performance was dynamic and rich in intent, but this intent transcended technicality and bled into what was ultimately feeling. With his remarkable aptitude to translate sound into arm movement, Adam Rosenblatt’s performance at the start shares this common thread. Towards the end, Schmidt and Adam started making squeaky sounds on the washing machine by rubbing their wet finger against it. After some time, Schmidt started rubbing his hand up and down against the side of a machine, leaning over as he reaches down in the most erotic of manners. Drew continued playing his thing in very warm and tactile terms.

Schmidt

There was an Ipad device sitting in front of Drew with the timer app open. At around 35 minutes, he yells three, two, one and the performance comes to an abrupt but glorious end. The washing machine is opened and the pants of unknown provenance were returned to who they needed to be returned to. I left and waited outside the venue before heading over to my bus stop. Schmidt then shortly shows up and asks if anyone wants to assist in carrying the washing machine into their van. No one offers to help, so he calls us all weak asses and we laugh as though he were flattering us. After the machine was taken care of, I approached Schmidt for a station ID.

I left right afterwards and made my way to Piccadilly Gardens. It was only 11, but I saw a guy at the bus stop across from me with his dick out, casually pissing on the floor. He nonchalantly stood in a puddle of his own urine with no intent of moving. Under normal circumstances this would elicit from me a feeling of extreme fear, but under the mists of having just experienced an excellent show, I quietly muttered, “Jesus fucking Christ” and continued thinking of Matmos and their greatness under the blanket of the Mancunian night.

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