Magazine article Artforum International

Basement Tapes: Alan Licht on Matmos's Ultimate Care II

Magazine article Artforum International

Basement Tapes: Alan Licht on Matmos's Ultimate Care II

Article excerpt

SINCE THE LATE '90s, the electronic duo Matmos have brought together musique concrete and dance music in singular, arch fashion, crafting ebullient tracks from audio samples that frequently exhibit a penchant, descended from industrial music, for grisliness: Materials they've wired or otherwise manipulated to produce sound include a human skull, a goat spine, a cow uterus, and the neural tissue of a crayfish. On Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey), released in February, they have narrowed their scope to a Oulipian degree, deriving all audio from exactly one, notably nonbiological, component: the titular Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine, located in the basement of the Baltimore home shared by band members Drew Daniel and M. C. Schmidt. To produce the album's single track, which spans thirty-eight minutes (the length of the machine's wash cycle as well as that of the average vinyl LP), the duo miked up the appliance, pushing and prodding both the recordings and the machine itself to produce not only the expected sloshing noises but hammering beats, turntable-esque scratches, screechy horn sounds reminiscent of Jon Hassell's modified trumpet, deep bass tones, marimba notes, and twinkly, space-age-pop arpeggiated chords. Much of this was achieved through extensive electronic processing, although it is noted that "no synthesizers or drum machines were used"--making the record something of a rejoinder to their 2008 album Supreme Balloon (Matador), an all-synth affair of which the group declared, "No microphones were used on this album."

Unlike Matmos's other records, which contain standalone tracks that cumulatively adhere to a unifying concept, Ultimate Care II is structured as a continuous journey, in the mode of Kraftwerk's twenty-three-minute classic "Autobahn" (1974). Beginning with the sounds of the machine's dial being cranked and the water starting to flow (also similar to "Autobahn," whose evocation of a highway excursion starts with a car engine revving up) and ending with the buzzer that signifies the completion of the wash cycle, the album has, by my count, eight sections, mostly indicated by different beats suggested by the washer's own chugging rotations. There are a few glitchy ambient moments and three minutes of more or less untouched water sounds that provide respite from the overall rhythmic onslaught. Far less hypnotic than "Autobahn" (or a wash cycle, for that matter), Ultimate Care II's soundscape is in fact quite busy, its activity reminiscent of a hive rather than an appliance. …

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