Matmos, purveyors of samples of crayfish nerve tissue, splattering semen, hamster cage bars and anything else you’ve yet to consider a musical instrument, have gone all synthy. Their new album Supreme Balloon relies for its sounds on synthesisers. And a couple of computers, a guitar and sundry percussion devices. And a microphone. Samples have this time been left on a backburner somewhere.
Fresh from an artists-in-residence slot at Oxford University, the pioneering experimentalist duo have tonight pitched up in the railway arch that is the Beaconsfield Galleries, a place a little to the left of what passes for civilisation in Vauxhall. It’s their third night in a row here, with the previous pair of gigs made up of solo musings and improvisation. Billed as “the three faces of Matmos”, it served as a fundraiser for the galleries. MC (Martin to his mum) Schmidt and Drew Daniel make a dramatic entrance, clutching lasers, the better to control their instruments remotely, bending their fragile sounds, morphing their output at will.
Wending their way through the crowd, Drew takes up his bespectacled position as computer geek at the back while Martin, dressed like a Chicago detective circa Bugsy Malone, takes off his jacket as he sits down to his synths – a rare red and ancient Roland SH-101 which your reviewer really wanted to half-inch, and a Roland V-Synth – plus guitars and old-style mic. At one stage Martin takes up lap steel guitar – an unexpected twist for electronica artists, perhaps, until we remember that Matmos have been nothing if not eclectic with their sound sources (cf. crayfish nerve tissue et al).
This show, reasonably enough, flutters intently around Supreme Balloon, including the 24-minute epic title track for which Drew kindly tels us “you might want to sit down for this one”. It calls to mind the ambience of The Orb, and whether it really needs to be as long as it is remains a moot point – it gets the biggest round of applause of the evening anyway. The squelchy/quiet Rainbow Flag and the thumping/gameboy Polychords are also aired, and the audience stand stock-still, some stroking their beards. Perhaps it’s the sense of watching artists create that allows Matmos to achieve the level of interest or reverence their audience display toward them.
With this Beaconsfield project Matmos have taken electronic aural art to the ultimate level of expression and put it in an art gallery to be witnessed. It might be that the venue is coincidental, but it’s rarely used for gigs; rather, this seemed to be a statement from the duo, that not all electronic music exists merely to dance to, and it’s okay for it to have loftier ambitions. Ambition is something Matmos do not lack.