Feast Of Friends-Matmos Cuts Up Improvisation to Construct Supreme Balloon

“We’ve received our fair share of raised eyebrows because we’ve sampled everything from hair clippers to the sounds of plastic surgery,” says Drew Daniel, one half of musique concrète powerhouse Matmos. “We’ve had crowds shouting, ‘Where is the music?’ We’ve actually had a lot of fun with that. But for Supreme Balloon [Matador], we wanted to get away from the wacky samples and create something purely electronic.”

Departing from the electro-popmeets- Stockhausen fare of 2006’s The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, the Baltimore, Maryland, twosome of Daniel and M.C. (Martin) Schmidt have created what they believe to be the most accessible release of their decade-long career. But make no mistake—Supreme Balloon isn’t Matmos’ attempt at pandering to radio program managers. In a sense, it’s as deep and challenging of a listen as the pair has ever produced. “The album is full of friends of ours just soloing and improvising,” Daniel says. “We had a 20-minute solo that Marshall Allen from the Sun Ra Arkestra did for us. He was playing an EVI—basically, it’s a breath-controlled oscillator. It was great to have this 80-year-old jazz legend bottlenecked through this one oscillator. Our craziest field recording never came close to that.” Like Matmos’ previous albums, Supreme Balloon was created mostly in Daniel and Schmidt’s home studio. “We just begged for and borrowed all of the equipment we needed— which, for this album, was all-analog synths like the Korg MS-20 we got from [San Francisco electro artist] Safety Scissors,” says Daniel. “We also got to perform on this rare, ’60s modular synth called a Coupigny at Maison de Radio-France. It has 11 oscillators!
It’s truly one-of-a-kind. “We’d record long sections of improv, chop them up, create banks of samples, and then structure them into compositions using MOTU’s Digital Performer as our sequencer. We’d load alternate samples into two laptops— one running DP, and one running Ableton Live. We don’t sync to a master clock, so with the two programs running, the timing of the samples and loops gradually falls apart.”
Though clearly unorthodox in the approach they take to creating their art, Daniel and Schmidt’s choice of mastering format is still bound to shock even the most ardent of experimental recordists. “We use DAT,” exclaims Daniel. “I know that must make us sound ancient, but I’m passionate about the format. We believe in it. We are part of a declining minority.” But Matmos has always been singleminded and reckless when it comes to recording. Case in point: the source of some of the samples that made up The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast. “That album was basically a bunch of biographical portraits of artists,” Daniel says. “One of the tracks was about the late Germs vocalist Darby Crash. Amongst Germs fans there was this thing called a ‘Germs’ Burn,’ which was a brand on the inside of your wrist that was given to you by one of the band members. So we had former Germs drummer Don Bolles give me a Germs’ Burn, and we sampled my cry of pain. Then, we manipulated it and put it on the album. How’s that for suffering for your art?”