Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Carte Postale: Matmos

Matmos is everywhere these days, from playing with Kronos Quartet at the Yerba Buena Forum to broadcasting neighborhood public radio from a storefront window on Valencia Street. I prefer them behind the glass. With Kronos they were overshadowed by their video, one of those mind-numbing, minimalistic, nature-becomes-geometry-becomes-nature morphologies. While the video may have provided musical cues for the quartet, it failed to entice me in a musical way. Everyone's going multi-media, yet few seem to conceive of the "media" as a necessary member of the performing ensemble. Experimental video is a powerful collaborator, with the potential to act as soloist or supporting character: it can capably "perform" visual music or suggest narrative or design the set with lighting effects. Too often, though, I find myself wondering about it the way I wonder about page turners: is this necessary to the performance or merely distracting?

The affair with Kronos diminished my awe of Matmos, but only for a day or two. What I love about the duo is their intimate and playful approach to the creative musical process. Standing inches away from them at ATA, I watched Drew manipulate a crackle box while Martin quickly devoured a granola bar. (He proceeded to crinkle the wrapper near the microphone.) Watching them "goof around" like this was far more engaging than contemplating that video! These hands-on, music-making details are somewhat lost in a large venue or on cd but reveal a degree of creative involvement that I, as a performer, fully appreciate. And from a purely aural perspective (whether in a concert hall or via a pair of headphones) the wrappers and toys and processed sounds do become the perfect mysterious counterpoint to the more danceable rhythms, beats and loops that one (almost) expects from their music. I envy how Matmos walks that line between too weird and too accessible. Case in point: one of my favorite moments at the Kronos concert was when Drew stood up and kept time with a tambourine! The flashy gesture seemed silly and brave...but also, musically appropriate. It was necessary in the way that the video was, perhaps, not.


"I envy how Matmos walks that line between too weird and too accessible. "

You know, this is something I see as the best part of San Francisco culture, no city I have ever visited is able to produce so many artists who walk this fine line. From Bob Ostertag to, well, the whole psychadelia movement.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:20 PM  

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