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A Gift of Roses

Matmos, Red Room, Dec. 8

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Let Two Dozen Flowers Boom: Matmos Delivers At The Red Room

By Michael Byrne | Posted 12/12/2007

You had to know the roses wouldn't survive. As 60 or so people filed into the Red Room's pocket of a concert space adjoining Normals Books, the roses, maybe two dozen of them, sat off to the side, blindingly conspicuous in a room stuffed with computers, mixing boards, small rivers of audio cable, traditional rock instruments (almost as conspicuous), and handcrafted skronk machine whatchamacallits. Recent Baltimore import Matmos sets up--after Michael Muniak and Stewart Mostofsky (aka Ear Pieces) lovingly recite the skronk encyclopedia in 25 minutes--and a microphone is placed over the roses. With that in place you knew some sinister business was going down; the roses had about as much chance of survival as a bunny does chasing through a heavy manufacturing plant.

They make it less than 10 minutes. The first song is a version of "Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein" off last year's incredible The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast--10 hyperconceptual left-field electronic songs of musical biography via "extreme" sampling/musique concrète redefinition: Valerie Solanas gets vagina farts from a cow's preserved reproductive tract, Boyd McDonald gets literal fucking, Darby Crash gets a close-miked cigarette burn. The album version of "Roses and Teeth" is built around the clacking of wisdom teeth, cow dung, and dried roses banged into oblivion. The only reason we really know this is because it's listed in the guidebook: you know, one of those albums. And of those read-the-manual albums, it's pretty much the reigning king.

Matmos' Martin Schmidt--decked in a dated, narrow suit, looking sort of like the screen version of Bill Lee--starts off with rhythmic mouth-produced, Jaap Blonk-ish pops and clicks before reciting the track's Beat-ish, Wittgenstein-scribed monologue. (Matmos collaborator Björk reads it on the album's version.) Without much ado, two assistant types each take a pair of bouquets ("a newborn has no teeth/ a goose has no teeth/ a rose has no teeth"), and maybe you can guess what happens.

The pair rhythmically bangs them into two pairs of rose-petal fountains. It takes less than a minute for the roses to reduce to stems and, in that time, the sound phases from muted splats to what sounds like the banging of half-shattered drum sticks. The smell's what does it, though. When's the last time you've been to a concert, anywhere, that smelled like roses? When's the last time anyone's deeply considered the sonic possibilities of the disintegration of the universal symbol for beauty?

Matmos never hits its MO for extremity--there's no spanking, no cow uterus, no rat cages--which is fine. We hear the lovely, delicately glitched turned IDM seizure "Ur Tchun Tan Tse Qi," a gimmicky track that uses a clicking electronic acupuncture wand as its source sound. With Mike Muniak following with a video camera--the image is projected large-scale for the crowd--Schmidt traces the wand up his arm, around the back of his head, the flesh folds of his exterior ear, and, finally, the tip of his noise (you can practically find constellations in his pores). Click, click, clickclickclick, click. Matmos does a take on its celebration of porn wise guy Boyd McDonald, a disco cheese number climaxing (pun totally intended) in a grand electro-squish. And, yeah, there's porn projected behind them. "I hope no one here minds gay porn," warns Matmos' other half, Drew Daniel. He pauses and adds, "No, I actually don't care."

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