In May 2011, Matmos played a live show in the concrete shell of Auto Italia, an old car showroom on one of London’s less appealing old main drags. Their performance began with an ad-hoc choir perched on an elevated walkway reciting texts in variegated monotony, while, on the stage below, Matmos’ M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel and guitarist J Lesser wove the chorus of voices into a sonic collage. It was a disconcerting prelude to a show that subsequently changed tack, pushing Matmos’ trademark sampledelia into an exuberant, discobeat-inspired jambalaya. Quite a night.
That opening piece was the fruit of workshops held earlier in the day, in which Matmos, reenacting 60s experiments into telepathy, attempted to thought-transmit “the concept of their new album” to the minds of their sensorially-deprived test subjects. The latter were asked to “recognise” and interpret the sounds and images Matmos transmitted, and their performance involved readings from the resulting transcripts. A neat studio realisation of the same process produced “Just Waves”, a 25 minute piece included on the Ganzfeld EP.
To interpret the subjective responses of the Ganzfeld experiment subjects, on the new album, Matmos allowed themselves free rein in the selection of sound sources, combining electronica, live musicians and field recordings. They’ve also, as on the gorgeously atmospheric “Aetheric Vehicle”, integrated their Imperial Balloon experiments with analogue synthesizers into the main thrust of their work.
The rest of the Auto Italia concert fell somewhere between the complexities of two other new tracks, “You”, from Matmos’ new album The Marriage of True Minds, and its techno remix by RRose, which is on the EP. The latter strips away the strings, piano and sampled tap dancing of the original, distorts its Laurie Anderson-inspired narrative vocal, and turns the plastic bass line of an amplified rubberband sample into a monolithic thump.
Of Matmos’ previous albums, the eclectically devotional The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast is arguably the most fully realised, while the most accessible is the beat-centric, medically-themed A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure. Now The Marriage of True Minds works the best elements of these into a collage aesthetic that’s as esoteric as anything they’ve ever done, yet also, I think the best one-shot distillation of their sound, making it both their most well-rounded and purely enjoyable.
The fusion of repetitive beats, treated piano and pseudo-gospel incantations on a track like “Very Large Green Triangles” (an edit of which is the EP’s lead track) is infectiously upbeat, as is the motoric, psychedelic groove of “Tunnel”, while “Teen Paranormal Romance” channels something more like Plaid’s gently uplifting retro-electro euphoria.
Elsewhere, “Mental Radio”, picks up the Middle Eastern accents in the percussion on “Green Triangles” and emphasises them. The structure here is less linear, and more impressionistic.
Throughout the album, verbal reports of Ganzfeld test subjects’ psychic impressions are integrated into Matmos’ musical narrative (in the words of a press release: “The resulting transcripts became a kind of score”), and triangles, both musical and geometrical, are a recurring theme in both lyrics and music. This brings unity to the duo’s free-flowing (sometimes literally, in the form of water samples) audio montage. Either Matmos are really good at transmitting the mental idea and sound impression of a triangle, or… But hey, why would they cheat?
The Marriage of True Minds ends with a version of Buzzcocks’ “ESP”, which seems set to build to a crescendo. But Matmos wrong-foot expectation, reeling the track in, then letting it flower in a surge of disco-ball exuberance, its melodic hook and and Pete Shelley’s lyrical payload reserved for the kiss-off:
“Do You believe in ESP? / I do and I’m trying to get through to you … / So Think.”
In September 2012, Drew Daniel wrote a blog post on The Marriage of True Minds for The Guardian: Matmos: Exploring the Power of Darkness.