When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. When life hands you a rat infestation, you purchase a trap, you set up high-fidelity audio-recording equipment — all the better to snag the rattling of the mechanism, and the feral squeal of varmint fear — and you then transform those found sounds into heady, sample-laced prog rock. Well, you do if you’re Matmos, the conceptual-art-minded electronic duo from San Francisco, who have built pop music from such unlikely sources as Rhinoplasty surgery and squeaking Latex.
This infestation scenario is the subject of Rat Relocation Project, Matmos’ new two-track release from the Chicago-based Locust Music record label. Drew Daniel, one half of Matmos, explains further: “Since we already had a pet rat, the prospect of trying to kill one rat while feeding another struck us as intolerable hypocrisy, so we bought a non-lethal ‘Have-a-Heart Trap.'” One track on Rat Relocation Project is the raw field recording, and the other is Matmos’ transformation of that documentary tape into music. The full-length release is reportedly close to half an hour in length, but a one-minute sample of the field recording and a two-and-a-half-minute segment of the resulting music (think of it as a Buddy Holly-length pop song) are posted on the label’s website (here). This isn’t pure musique concrete, by any means; the rhythmic squeak and the high-pitched whine are just individual elements amid a thick, rollicking tune, with a rich bass line and occasional lapses into sci-fi effects.
Thanks to Matmos, we now know how the caged rat sings. Oh, and what happened to Relocation Project‘s featured artist? “The following morning we took the rat to a wealthy suburban neighborhood,” says Daniel, “and set it free.”