California Rhinoplasty and A Chance to Cut is A Chance to Cure
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Tuesday, May 15 2001, 1:22 PM
When I had my first endoscopy it was televised. I was half-conscious from the mild anesthesia, but remember being fascinated with the sight of a broadcast from a miniature camera far up my ass.
The proctologists watching my Intestinal Channel commented on some about-to-be-expelled fecal residue in my not entirely clean gut and I responded with the pun "You're looking at the Turkish gross national product. I had some dried figs yesterday." It was pretty good wit for someone so terribly groggy and doing videography behind his pupik with an optic fiber cable running out his rear end.
The next time I need an endoscopic check-up I'll invite Matmos to bring their microphones and make it a multimedia production.
The California Rhinoplasty EP was released several months before Matmos' critically acclaimed full-length of medically-inspired computer wink and funk, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure. Both records rely on the transmutation of sounds recorded during plastic surgery, which are then processed to all high hell and subsequently arranged into uniquely challenging pop songs. With a glitchy beat and a good remix, a nose job never sounded so good.
These two releases have earned Matmos -- the duo of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel -- a certain reputation in the world. One of the most interesting features of Matmos' reviews is the frequency with which critics refer to grotesqueness. With its recent albums composed of sound recorded from plastic surgery and various operations, Matmos has become increasingly associated with the gross-out factor. That speaks to personal disgust over sound origins, not the musical accomplishment.
The associated question concerns why some reviewers consider this music to lie within the realm of grotesquerie. It implies that there is a necessary ugliness within the body, or that some embarrassment characterizes surgical treatment of a body. Description as grotesque speaks to an alienation from the body, and the musical origins of California Rhinoplasty and A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cureconcern altering bodies to lessen alienation. To be embodied, Matmos seems to suggest, is not a precondition of perception: it is the origin of aesthetics. What happens when the body changes? Does a new aesthetic emerge?
The musical project is one of simultaneous re-integration of aesthetics and perception. Perception becomes the base of the musical aesthetic itself. In the A Chance to Cut , for example, the sampled sounds include audiology tests and galvanic response to acupuncture. The recombinatory mix work of California Rhinoplasty , beyond being a paen to the powers of the nose, lies in the difficult work of reconstructing listener perceptions together with sound. The album's fourth and slow-moving final track, "Surgeon's Second Opinion," is especially successful in this direction, reframing a rhinoplasty recording into a futuristic neo-industrial soundscape.
Matmos has become a favorite experimental group for indie music fans increasingly comfortable with the avant-garde. This is because even though their albums remain quite serious, a sense of the duo's humorous musical personality never disappears. I once described the cumulative Matmos effect as "Marxism does glossolalia," as an immersion in sounds from the material world rearranged to create a new and parallel acoustic world. As those surgical drills press forward and tearing tissues get stretched, distorted and sonically renewed, Matmos redefines comprehensibility. And leaves listeners with a small smile.
I wonder if these guys will do a bris?
Matmos' releases are available from Matador Records