The two men of Matmos are living rebukes to the idea that conceptual art is somehow scary and inaccessible. When they decide to make a track out of the sounds of a breast implant or a cow uterus, they’re challenging themselves not just to use those noises, but to make them sound funky and fun. In a recent interview with Norwegian artist Lasse Marhaug, M.C. Schmidt—one half of the duo alongside his musical and romantic partner Drew Daniel—described being one of 10 people at an electroacoustic festival a few years ago; the problem, he believed, was that the venue had only invited “academic composers” to the festival, rather than putting up flyers and getting the word out to the public. “I feel like multi-channel electroacoustic music can and should be a populist/popular art form,” said Schmidt. “Just, for example, enjoyed by anyone who smokes marijuana.”
Their new album Regards / Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer integrates electroacoustic music and populist art in a very literal way. While most of the record is stylistically in line with the duo’s M.O. of mapping sounds from unconventional sources onto a rhythmic grid taken from electronic pop, all the sounds here are sourced from a sample pack the duo created from the electroacoustic works Polish composer Bogusław Schaeffer made at the influential Polish Radio Experimental Studio in the 1960s and 1970s. The couple didn’t know Schaeffer’s music before Poland’s Adam Mickiewicz Institute commissioned the sample pack, and it’s hard to blame them: Though popular in Poland, especially in the 1990s, Schaeffer is little known abroad. Recordings and performances of his pieces aren’t always easy to come by, but anyone who saw the awesome recent touring print of David Lynch’s Inland Empire will have heard his work.
The 11 pieces incorporated into the sample pack provided just about everything the duo could need for the album’s eight tracks. Choral samples take on the role that fake angel-choir presets generally play in electronic music, casting eerie chords to create a sense of grandeur and foreboding. It seems unbelievable that a ridiculously funky bit of frat-rock organ on “Cobra Wages Shuffle / Off! Schable w gurę!” could’ve come from Schaeffer, but nope, it’s from Schaeffer’s “E.S. Jazz.” (The titles are bilingual, and three are delightful anagrams for Schaeffer’s name.) A forest of bells criss-crosses the landscape of opener “Resemblage / Parasamblaż”—not the fairy-tale kind but gruff clanks that emphasize the fact of bells as percussion instruments. Then there are the honks. Matmos adores honks, and Schaeffer provides them with no shortage thereof.