MATMOS with BJoRK at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East), Monday (October 8). Sold out. 416-393-7469.
knowing bjork's taste for the grand and outlandish, touring the world with a 56-piece orchestra, women's choir and avant harpist seems like business as usual. The odd men out in the impish Icelander's surreal sonic circus are the two regular Joes seated onstage, furtively gazing into computer screens when they're not playing cards.
Admittedly, Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt don't appear to be contributing much to the performance, but the San Francisco laptop lovers -- better known in the techno underground as Matmos -- play a central role in re-synthesizing the music of Björk's brilliant Vespertine (Elektra/Warner) album, which they helped shape.
"We've created a stage environment where we can tweak and freak the sound in the moment," explains Daniel from New York. "The set-up gives us a wide range of options, so we can either manipulate the sound very intensely or represent it faithfully.
"Of course, we're aware that people have heard Björk's songs many times and have formed attachments to them as they are. So we don't set out to trash Björk's stuff, but we are trying to change it."
If the idea of putting a couple of bedroom tweakers in control of such a large-scale production sounds a bit risky, it is. There's always the possibility of a system crash, and the Matmos crew know it, so they've taken precautions.
"There are two banks of identical samplers, and a switchover device so that if one goes down we just hit a button and the backup kicks in. The entire set is stored on my laptop. With the switch of one cable I can run the show off my computer if necessary.
"If that goes, too, well, that's when we launch into the harp and banjo jam."
It seems glitch-core guru Kid606 was only half joking when he titled his tribute to his technologically adept contemporaries Matmos Are The A-Team Of Electronica.
Actually, Matmos are more like the genre's nip-and-tuck specialists, as demonstrated on their innovative recent disc A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (Matador), on which they sampled the sounds of cosmetic surgery.
However unnerving the notion of listening to forehead lifts, chin implants and laser eye procedures may seem, the gurgle of a liposuction job works remarkably well in the context of a house jam. Fat was never this phat.
"We wanted to do an album based on the sounds of medical technology," says Schmidt, whose father, like Daniel's, is a doctor. "It just turned out that cosmetic surgery was what was available to us.
"When we found out that in rhinoplasty operations they actually use a chisel to break the nose, we thought, "Hm chisel nose there's got to be something there we can use." But it just sounds like smacking a pencil on a table, which isn't very exciting at all. Whereas with liposuction, there's all this amazing schweel-ooch-slooch going on. That one really paid off. Noises that have an internal rhythm are always good to work with."
For those wondering, no, Matmos didn't encounter Björk getting reconstructive work done at a California clinic while they were surreptitiously recording source material.
She tracked them down after hearing how they used the amplified throb of crayfish neural tissue on their Quasi-Objects (Vague Terrain) album. It was much more impressive to her than any of the soundtracks Matmos have recorded for gay porn films produced by Toronto's Steven Scarborough (see sidebar).
"Having discussed that very topic with her," chuckles Schmidt, "I'd say Björk hasn't got any interest in gay porn at all. When I told her about the soundtracks we'd done, she just gave me an embarrassed wave of the hand.
"She knows these people who work at different record stores, and they regularly send her piles of CDs to keep her up to date with what's going on. Our Quasi-Objects album turned out to be a big favourite.
"Björk later told me she liked the slapstick quality of our music, and I took that as a compliment. We certainly try to bring a sense of humour to what we do. There's more than enough po-faced electronic music out there; we don't need to add to it."
That life partners Schmidt and Daniel both spent their high school years fooling around in punk bands no doubt contributed to the unique Matmos slant. Also, the fact that Schmidt is an assistant manager at the San Francisco Art Institute, while Daniel is currently finishing up his Ph.D. dissertation on "melancholy in painting and literature between 1580 and 1630" at Berkeley further suggests that music is something they do for kicks.
For two people who take a perverse delight in doing the wrong thing, the chance to appear in opera houses alongside a symphonic orchestra and an acclaimed pop celebrity -- despite the fact that neither of them is proficient on any musical instrument -- was too good to pass up.
"This whole thing is very, very strange for me. To suddenly be a part of this huge Björk organism appearing before thousands of people every night, when for the last eight years I've been making odd noises with Martin in our bedroom -- that's completely bizarre.
"I feel like at any given moment some agents will rush onstage, expose us as the charlatans we are and drag us away. I can't explain it except to say it's both scary and a lot of fun."
OUR CAREER IN GAY PORN
Although it's not widely known, laptop duo Matmos had a brief secondary career doing soundtracks for the fetish flicks which, according to Drew Daniel, proved a rewarding experience. "It was lots of fun, paid well and allowed us to indulge in certain guilty pleasures (i.e. Pink Floydesque synth noodling) so we could return feeling refreshed when it came time to make Matmos records." Here are a few memorable moments:
-- FISTFUL THINKING and SCREW GANG (Hot House, 1998) "Severely lo-fi footage of a scary fetish sex party in Amsterdam divided into two films to make more money. We painstakingly transcribed the events, thinking they wanted a second-by-second score."
-- THE HOLE PUNCH (Hot House, 1998) "This is our best porn work. We built the rhythm for the opening scene out of the moans and smacking sounds of an actor being hit in the face with a rubber glove. The result sounds quite menacing and goes well with the gruesome fisting scenes. The only porn film I've seen where the cast is crying on camera."
-- HOT TO TROT (Hot House, 1998) "The only "vanilla' (non-fetish) film we've scored. We got up to our Matmos tricks, making rhythms out of water for the pool scene and using hammers and saws for the "hot construction workers' scene."
-- POWERFIST (Hot House, 1999) "This is the film that cost us our contract. The director had us come to his house and watch the rough cuts while his roommate sat nearby in the nude watching Star Trek on a laptop. He soberly informed us that he was a composer, too, and wanted a "light orchestral colour' to the score. The ridiculous cut-up funk and Nine Inch Nails parody we served up instead is probably what got us canned."