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Matmos at Barney Opening

People rush the stage at a Matmos concert. They just wait until the concert is over. Then they head studiously to the front of the room, as they did after the duo’s set on Wednesday, June 21, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to see what, exactly, had occurred. Matmos has developed a reputation for employing unusual materials in the production of its music, and the SFMOMA show, part of a members-only opening of the Matthew Barney exhibit, Drawing Restraint, was no exception.

Matmos performed the 15-minute piece twice: M.C. Schmidt, one half of the group, used tuning forks to “play” hunks of dry ice; Drew Daniel, the other half of the group, lent some synthesized momentum to the proceedings. Schmidt’s activities were projected overhead, so everyone in the room could witness the metal making its fjord-deep incisions into the ice. The resulting sounds ranged from the nearly visceral waves of the fork tunings to the crunch of ice being defiled and, presumably, of metal being cooled. The printed program for the evening listed Jay Lesser, a frequent Matmos collaborator, as a special guest, but from where I was standing I couldn’t see anything aside from that projected image, which, due to the ground floor Schwab Room’s design, was partially obscured by an exit sign.

Matmos has been doing more and more with visuals in recent years. At a 2004 concert at the Compound, Naut Humon’s remote performance space in the outer reaches of San Francisco, they paid tribute to Christian Marclay’s video art (dragging a piano, in place of Marclay’s original guitar) and showed video of Daniel being spanked by Schmidt, the sound of the impact being the primary audio material of the performance. For their most recent album, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast (Matador), they commissioned original images for each of the album’s tracks. A show at the nearby Yerba Buena museum in 2003 included still shots from the Civil War and video close-ups of the innards of a piano. The close-up video technique with the piano and, at SFMOMA, with the dry ice is a fine visual match for their music, emphasizing the transformative powers of the microphone by likening it to a microscope. Despite appearances, those fjords were maybe a few millimeters high.

Matmos was one of at four musical acts performing at the Matthew Barney opening. Wobbly (aka Jon Leidecker, another frequent Matmos collaborator) DJ’d in the lobby, the Japanese Music Institute of America performed two sets in the ground floor theater, and the Rondo Brothers played some rock music toward the end of the evening.

Despite word of Bjork’s attendance at the opening (she’s the mother of Barney’s child, and has collaborated with Matmos in her concerts and on her recordings), there was no significant sound evident in the Barney exhibit, which includes numerous video monitors and takes up an entire floor. Perhaps it was drowned out by the crowd. The Barney video Drawing Restraint 9, for which Bjork composed the score, is being shown daily, and I’ll be headed back to see it. The exhibit runs through August 13. More info at sfmoma.com and brainwashed.com/matmos.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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