Matmos make electronic music fizzing with playfully cerebral ideas honed to immediacy. A perfect pop group in another dimension, they made Ultimate Care II entirely out of the sounds generated by a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine in the basement of their home.
As sound sources go, by comparison with recherché options such as crayfish neural tissue or hair (cf. “Verber” and “SCHLUSS” respectively – both tracks included on Matmos’ self-titled album of 1997), the washing machine—an electronic, essentially rhythmic device with a programme cycle roughly in concordance with a long player’s duration—seems so obviously apposite it’s a wonder they haven’t used it already.
But—as the album art’s digitally-manipulated photography suggests—it’s not like Matmos just went down to the basement, miked up the old Whirlpool and let it do its thing. This is no field recordist’s wet-day side-project. We’re assured that: “No synthesizers or drum machines were used,” but two additional musicians were involved, most likely as percussionists, and in addition to the duo’s transduction, sampling, sequencing, editing, processing (aided by old friend Wobbly) and mixing, analog tape manipulation was outsourced to a third party, and Horse Lords’ Max Eilbacher was charged with “virtual washing machine MIDI modelling”. I have no further clue as to the complexities, but they’re worth pointing up.
Anyways, they all fed into this single, continuous thirty-eight minute piece that (loosely) mirrors the arc of a wash cycle. The duo have fun with the concept, but focus on creating an engaging piece of music, and they pitch it just right, vis-a-vis keeping the washing machine in and out of mind.
The album actually reconnects with formative works such as Matmos and its follow-up, Quasi-Objects (1998). The rhythmic irruption of the spin cycle on this new album, for one thing, is effectively comparable to the drum-centric “…And Silver Light Popped In His Eyes” on the otherwise more capriciously eclectic Matmos. Also note the digitally manipulated cover art on Quasi-Objects.
The duo’s miscellaneous influences encompass Throbbing Gristle, house, hardcore and musique-concrète, and Ultimate Care II bundles all those and more into the laundry as the piece cycles through its various phases with smooth programmatic logic.
From the start, cute vérité touches such as the sound of a program selection knob’s rotation and an inrush of water are offset with more emphatically musical elements. This washing machine’s electronic responses have a ‘deep note’ IMAX depth and presence that’s better suited to a club than a utility room. Metallic clanks and bass note chug signify a spinning drum with the depth of Basic Channel dub, and the piece builds from there into a carnivalesque rotor churn, only pausing to let things settle before kicking on again.
Once we’ve been drawn in, the containing metaphor is relaxed and Matmos cycle through passages vivid with subtle sonic nuance and abstracted effect; a blend of next-generation electroacoustic music, post-glitch electronica and patented Baltimore exotica. But the meat of the album is a shifting universe of percussive rhythms (sometimes closer to physical theatre than industrial music) cut with narrow-frequency tones and just a hint of woozy lounge music. Throughout, Matmos stay true to the often abruptly changeable, programmatic pulse and purpose of their conceptual conceit, never losing touch with a rhythmic, approximately danceable dynamic, ending with a final surge of release in a compulsive techno/tribal-industrial workout.
Less quirky than some of Matmos’ other conceptions (cf. the blend of Americana, Medieval music and electronica on their (recommended) 2003 album The Civil War), Ultimate Care II is both high concept and instant appeal. No one else makes music anything like this, and I doubt anyone else knows how, or would have the wit to pull it off if they did.
M.C. Schmidt & Drew Daniel washing machine, water, transducers, sampling, sequencing, editing, processing, mixing; Jon “Wobbly” Liedecker processing; Sam Haberman washing machine; Duncan Moore analog tape manipulation; Max Eilbacher virtual washing machine MIDI modelling; Dan Deacon MIDI; Jason Willett washing machine.
Buy Ultimate Care II direct from Thrill Jockey.