Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Matmos, or Two Birds With One Stone

Download: Matmos -- "Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein"

Time is not on the 'Croppers' side these days. For a variety of reasons, it's been hard for us to get to posting with the regularity that we'd like. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your feelings on my posts, I frequently am not doing what I should be while I'm on campus pursuing my studies, which opens up a world of posting possibilities. Today's post will be an attempt to explain why I like Matmos' most recent album, The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast.

The record did not jump out at me right away, although I was always fascinated by its structure, with each of the songs dedicated to a particular artistic personality. Some of these people I was familiar with (Wittgenstein, Crash), but some of the names were unknown to me(Joe Meek, Patricia Highsmith). The sounds on the album, made by the two permanent members of Matmos, M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, are collages pieced together to form a sort of audio narrative. We have on this record, what looks to be an attempt at sound biographies, which I find rather interesting. Matmos thinks, and I tend to agree, that something can be said, in music, about the figures these songs are dedicated to that the copious books written about the subjects cannot touch. The sounds are particular to the personalities. Whether it's the crash course in the trajectory of house music in the Larry Levan song, the snipping sound of scissors on the castrating war path in Valerie Solanas, or the wrap, wrap, wrapping of the adding machine in "Rag for William Burroughs", the songs on this record reveal detailed study of their subjects by Matmos, and facilitate a visceral interaction between the lives depicted in the song and the listener. In addition, the record offers a window into the two men that created it, by introducing the listener to the thinkers/creators that have influenced them. To me, the songs still sound good without a knowledge of the personalities they're about, but it's been rewarding for me to go back and try to pick out more and more of the ways pieces of these lives are placed in their songs.

I don't have a physical copy of this record, and, I didn't find the extensive track notes on it until recently. To be honest, I'm rather glad of this fact, because it was in the investigation of the album's subjects that I was won over with this record. As I said before, I'm frequently not doing what I should be at school, and I spent a completely unproductive, yet very satisfying afternoon, listening to this album and reading up on its source material. There I was at my little node of information (desk) with my digital copy of this record and my computer having an extremely interactive experience with this piece of art. My curiosity about the personalities of the album brought about an active participation, on my part, in my experience of the record. Now, of course the listener always has a role in her experience of music, but it's extremely easy, and getting easier, to forget that. Music is increasingly available and increasingly disposable. Our society continues to reward and champion multi-tasking, while frequently reducing art to the backdrop or context in which other endeavors take place, or at best elevating it to the status of entertainment. Sure, interesting things have been done with the idea of art as wallpaper (William Morris, Brian Eno, a filmaker whose name escapes me), but I welcome an artistic endeavor that coaxes me out of my passivity as well. The Rose Has Teeth baits the listener by appealing to her with the wormholes of names. "Who the hell is James Bidgood?" one asks, and soon, after a bit of reading up on the subject, the listener finds that Bidgood was a downright interesting personality and she becomes more interested in thinking about the sonic statement Matmos is making about Bidgood, and she listens more actively while bringing the music into a new context for herself by the small bit of research she has done.

The creation of an audio document that hopes to trigger changes in the way a listener experiences its record as the listener actively involves herself in the music and the subject matter of the music is the noteworthy achievement of Matmos with this album. The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast is not the same record before and after knowing the subjects of the album, and it is the listener that brings about the change in the music. To me, that's very cool, and I'm grateful to Matmos for setting that up.

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