Thursday, October 12

sometimes they play so strangely

I went to see Matmos tonight at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. I interviewed them a few months back for an interview in Seed Magazine, and they showed me their equipment when I visited their apartment. I'd never seen them live, though, so it was cool to see how they put together all the strange noises—from squeaking rods, crackling tin foil, and squeaking metal rods—into songs, of sorts.

Their first few songs were with a group called So Percussion who did fabulous xylophone backing for the most melodious of their songs, "Y.T.T.E." (link to sample of the song on emusic), which descended into chaos, with M.C. Schmidt banging on the wires inside his piano and everyone going crazy (except Drew Daniels on the laptop, who was still staidly clicking away—it's kinda hard to freak out on a laptop). Then they toned down the noise and went back into another melodious piece, (I think) "For the Trees", off their album "The Civil War."

They did a song where Schmidt read the text of a speech by Venesuelan president Hugo Chavez at the UN recently, where he called Bush the devil. (Link to a CNN article with links to video of Chavez's speech.)

They played a movie they made of a man's hand slapping another man's butt, and they tweaked the sound of the slap so it sounded tinny and artificial, and then back to realistic, except that it sounded like increasingly harsh slaps. It was hard not to wince at the slaps, and people laughed out loud, even though you could see on the video that it was just the same clip being looped. (An older couple got up and left halfway through this video, apparently offended—the only people to get up during the whole show.)

They put the clip into each of four quadrants on the screen and played with the timing of the slaps so weird rhythms came out of it, just like in Steve Reich's music, which So Percussion played in the opening of the show. Reich's songs play with simple, repeated loops that often ride on the edge of being annoying, except every so often he switches the rhythm of them in a subtle way that gives rise to new, emergent patterns, like how simple sets of lines can create the Moire effect (click here for a cool demo of it).

It reminded me of a radio show I heard recently, where listening to loops of speech can make the talking seemingly transform into singing. The radio show producers did an awesome job of mixing up a linguist's story of how she found this effect, with the actual recording so you can experience the effect yourself, with a loop of the phrase "sometimes behave so strangely." The show is kinda long, but the key part is from around 1:30 to 3:30 into the show. Listen to it on WNYC's website.


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