Musicscan: First of all, congratulations to another splendid album! Since your music has always been driven by strong conceptual undercurrents, I was wondering if you could talk about the conceptual impetus for this record.
Matmos: I was reading about Ganzfeld experiments that had to do with visual perception, and then got really interested in the premise of a sensory deprivation situation that suddenly generates all this content seemingly from out of nowhere. So I started researching it more, and learned about the use of the Ganzfeld situation in telepathic research and it made me curious. I just wanted to try it out, firsthand, and as soon as we did we realized that this might well be the source of a record.
Musicscan: How does the new album aesthetically differ from your previous efforts for you personally?
Matmos: The use of voice is a scary new development, in some ways pulling us full circle to the Björk era- the voice is so dominant of the mid-range of frequencies in a mix and such an attention-seeking sound that you have to be very careful about how to balance it out with other elements. For me as well, there’s a certain curious push/pull between pop and noise, and I don’t think we ever arrive at the “right” mixture, it’s always a conundrum, every album is a different proposed solution.
Musicscan: There are surprisingly many vocal samples on the album. What led you to incorporate more vocals on the record than previously?
Matmos: It’s something we’ve always been skeptical of, honestly, and it’s a prejudice that we had to get over to finish the album- I don’t like “celebrity guest” bullshit, it’s just cross-marketing and it’s gross. Letting in the voices from the original psychic session was the first step, and then the transcripts themselves often referred to singing, chanting, arguing- all sorts of vocal sound-making kept emerging as the content of the transcripts, so we had to just get up the courage to overcome our own embarrassment or resistance. The hardest thing was to let ourselves sing briefly at the end of “E.S.P.”- that really feels risky to me, and still does. People might well hate it.
Musicscan: The list of artistic collaborators is equally expansive on this record. Could you talk a bit about how you choose who to work with? What are some criteria that you are looking for?
Matmos: It’s always specific to the particular song and what we feel it needs. With covers, there’s an obvious sense in which you need to be able to reproduce certain key elements, say a vocal or piano or guitar component. But we also are thinking about the personality behind the sound. For example, Carly Ptak, who delivers the vocal on “You” is a hypnotist and new age therapist, and her voice has this power to simultaneously relax and command, and that was important to us, that there be a kind of tranquil authority there. We love the sound of her voice, and the same is true for the instrumental players: Ashot’s violin playing is unbelievably sharp and precise (duh, he’s in the Arditti String Quartet), and, from another direction, so is Jason Willett’s amplified rubber band playing, and Ayman Harper’s tap-dancing. I could go on.
Musicscan: Do you think it is vital to be able to discern the sources of the samples used in your music or do you think the listening experience is completely independent of that knowledge?
Matmos: Hopefully you can hear the same record “for the first time” twice; once without knowledge and then again with the knowledge. We are curious animals and when we hear a sound we want to know what the source is, so you can count on the mind to embroider upon its experience regardless of what you tell people. I like that.
Musicscan: How did you get in touch with Thrill Jockey and what led to label transition from Matador? How would you describe your cooperation with Thrill Jockey and in what way do the two labels differ?
Matmos: We got in touch with Thrill Jockey through our friend Jason Urick; he had a good experience with Bettina and her team, and so we when were dropped from Matador for financial reasons we just hopped on board with Thrill Jockey without a lot of heavy breathing or mascara running. It’s been really great so far, they’re enthusiastic about the partnership. There are a lot of differences between, shall we say, the New York City vibe and the Chicago vibe. They’re both good, just very different. There’s something to be said for what we in the US call “Midwestern nice”, and Thrill Jockey have that in spades.
Musicscan: You probably get this question a lot, but I was wondering what it is like to work together with your partner all the time? Does this not cause any friction?
Matmos: It causes a great deal of joy and satisfaction and pleasure but it comes with a price tag of, yes, constant friction. We both care a great deal about what we do, and we both care about the details and specifics to an intense degree, and we’re very different people with different “communication styles”. Happily, our aesthetics overlap a lot and our intuitions click frequently, but when they don’t, it’s painful. People who are just bandmates tend not to let things escalate emotionally in the way that we let them escalate. Having extra members of the band helps a lot to keep the peace when touring because it puts a certain standard of decorum in place that chills things down. After twenty years, there’s a powerful connection that drives everything, for good and bad.
Musicscan: How did your musical career change after your collaboration with Björk? Do you feel like you are still largely defined in the public eye through this collaboration? Are there any plans for a future instalment with Björk at this point?
Matmos: Our career was utterly transformed, but it’s hard to evaluate as we can’t compare it with the other possible worlds in which that collaboration didn’t happen. But we owe Björk a great deal, insofar as the public trust she put in us made a lot of other people check us out and give us a chance in the wake of her generous gesture. That said, I don’t think we’re still defined by that in 2013; that collaboration was a long time ago. We’re proud of it and we are still pals with Björk, and we see her and Matthew in New York. I honestly don’t know the answer to the last question, no plans as of breakfast this morning.
Musicscan: Do you think there are still genuinely new sounds to be discovered or can modern music basically be said to be a recombination of already existing forms and elements?
Matmos: Of course there are new forms and sounds still to come. I will quote something from the past -what a pretentious hypocrite I am today -, a slogan which is the title of a painting by Andre Masson: “There Is No Finished World”. Because it’s true that the world isn’t finished, music isn’t finished either. But we shouldn’t let the mantra of “ceaseless novelty” fool us- that’s how commodities dance around us- keep people busy, distracted, keep people racing to “catch up” with products.
Musicscan: Is pop music always already global these days or do you think that there are always local specificities/aspects that mark and distinguish certain regional and cultural aspects?
Matmos: Software availability and the internet as a diffusing / homogenizing force are leveling down regional difference in an alarming way. We like living in Baltimore because it has a distinctly regional flavor of pop music - called “Baltimore club” - and that’s pretty rare in our country. But anybody can appropriate its patterns and forms, and that is just inevitable. Art and theft go together, and the pressure that puts upon you to simultaneously “belong” and “distinguish yourself” is part of that partnership.
Musicscan: Can music have political dimensions? Do sounds have directly political semantics or is any attempt to politicize music always only achieved through discourse about the music?
Matmos: Sound is in space, and space is territorialized by power, so all sound is subject to and within the domain of politics. The queerness of sound, the fact that its priorities are distinct from the priorities of power, also makes it possible to think about sound as a kind of alternative scene or alternative way of encountering the world, one that offsets norms of power. Music can be put to the instrumental ends of different kinds of political agendas, party affiliations that are left or right, capitalist or communist etc. But music as such is organized, and so there is a kind of slippage between the resistance of sound as such to control and power and the scene of music, which is always one where a certain kind of human authority is made manifest. We like noise music and improvised music because they ride that edge where music dissolves into and perhaps liberates the autonomy of the sonic. It’s beautiful when sound becomes music, but its liberating when music collapses into noise/sound.
Musicscan: What can we expect from Matmos in the near future? Any further releases, collaborations, tours planned?
Matmos: Right now there’s going to be a Berlin show, then a month of touring in the US, then a month back in Europe, then a trip to Brazil to perform in Sao Paulo. After that, it’s hard to know. We know we’re collaborating again with So Percussion for a concert of the composer David Lang’s music at Carnegie Hall. Other than that, we’re pretty wide open. Sometimes it’s nice to not have a plan.