Here’s Looking At You: Matmos Give Their Regards To Bogusław Schaeffer

When the avant-garde Polish composer Bogusław Schaeffer died in 2019, who but Matmos could prepare the ultimate tribute? Words by Kevin O'Rourke

That it has somehow been more than twenty years since the release of Matmos’s breakthrough 2001 record A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure is difficult to believe – and not simply because I’m now much older than I was when I first heard the bubbling opening notes of A Chance’s first track, ‘lipostudio… and so on’.

Of course, Matmos didn’t spring into existence upon my first hearing them; by the time A Chance to Cut was released, Matmos had been around for the better part of a decade, which makes their longevity and quality even more impressive. How many acts last longer than a few years, let alone a few decades? And who would have thought that Matmos, whose initial claim to fame was making IDM out of liposuction recordings, would be one of those groups? Yet here we are, in the year of our lord 2022, and Matmos is set to release their twelfth album (not counting splits, collaborations, and limited releases), Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer.

Since they first began releasing music in the mid-90s, Matmos has been inspired by everything from surgery (the aforementioned A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure) to their washing machine (the excellent 2016 album Ultimate Care II) to plastic (2019’s Plastic Anniversary). Now for the first time, their source is a single artist’s work: the avant-garde Polish composer and playwright Boguslaw Schaeffer, who died in 2019.

The album serves both as an introduction to Boguslaw Schaeffer – I was unfamiliar with Schaeffer beforehand; indeed, the album’s press kit notes he was “celebrated in his native land but not widely known beyond” – and a homage to his work.

Schaeffer’s music may have been “interpolate[d], edit[ed] and manipulate[d],” per the album’s liner notes, but Matmos clearly approached it with care; that the album’s title and track names are all given in English and Polish is evidence of this (to avoid any confusion, I’ll be sticking with the English titles throughout this review). And based on the few pieces of Schaeffer’s I’ve listened to since – ‘Project for Tuba and Tape’, and 1966 symphony are good examples – I can see why Matmos were drawn to his work. Schaeffer’s music may not have been easy but it was incredible; I wish I’d discovered him earlier.

Cultural introductions and respect for one’s forebears aside, Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer is simply a fine addition to Matmos’s catalogue. It’s also further evidence of Matmos’s continuing movement away from pop song structures.

First: that Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt have been making music together for so long, and that their music has been so consistently good (and, perhaps more importantly for experimental electronic groups, that their music has been so interesting) for so long really is remarkable. Matmos is the rare musical act that has managed to avoid the creeping mediocrity and/or tendency toward templatised production that afflicts so many artists who’ve had a measure of success.

That said, Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer sounds like a Matmos album. Regardless of their sonic inspirations, Matmos records always sound like Matmos records. Which isn’t a criticism of Regards as it is a feature of Matmos’s work. The polyrhythms, the blips and the bloops, and the droning string-like sounds that aren’t strings but instead are Matmos playing with objects and effects

, they’re all there. And Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer unfolds like previous Matmos albums, insofar as its first half is more fun than its second. Matmos records can be seen as a reverse mullet: party up front, business in the rear.

Specifically, it’s often the second track of a Matmos record that is its most melodic and danceable (case in point, ‘Polychords’ from 2008’s Supreme Balloon), and in this sense Regards does not disappoint. Before it switches gears halfway through, the album’s second track,‘Cobra Wages Shuffle’, is as whimsical as Matmos gets. For its first three minutes, “Cobra Wages” is bizzaro carnival music, with honking horn blasts and random bongos. Which makes the song’s transition to half-heard spoken word and muted, intermittent beats that much more jarring.

From there on – and really, from the start of the album – the task of describing songs as discrete units becomes more difficult, because Regards is less an album of songs than it is of moments. With the exception of ‘Flight to Sodom’, which is four minutes of psychedelic electronic (heartbeat beats; delayed keyboards, choir-like choral bits) each song is less a song than a collection of moments which generally fades into or out of those bookending it. In this way, Regards is a faithful take on Schaeffer’s avant-garde compositions, and the album picks up where Matmos’s last record, the three-hour The Consuming Flame, left off. Sure, Regards clocks in at a relatively brisk forty-ish minutes, but it’s not forty minutes of neatly wrapped two-minute Ramones songs. Instead, it’s forty minutes of songs like ‘Flashcube Fog Wares,’ a shifting phantasmagoria of mechanistic feedback that sounds like having one’s brain pulled out through one’s ears. Which I mean as a compliment.

And then there’s the second half of the album, which is as ambient as anything in Matmos’s catalogue. The three-song suite that closes Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer – ‘Tonight there is something about the moon’, ‘If All Things Were Turned to Smoke’, and ‘Anti-Antiphon (Absolute Decomposition)’ – reminds me both of MC Schmidt’s solo work (specifically, there are similarities between his Batu Malablab Suite for Prepared Piano, Flute and Electronics and ‘If All Things’) and Drew Daniel’s 2018 collaboration with the noise musician John Wiese, Continuous Hole.

However, where Continuous Hole was marked by icy stuttering static, the closing suite of Regards is much warmer. It begins with jauntily plucked strings, moves onto spoken word and the suggestion of vast distances, and closes, arrestingly, with a minute of wind and water. And all of the eternal things that wind and water will forever suggest: time, the earth, the earth’s heart continuing to beat long after we’re gone, and the hope that we, though we must someday depart, will live on through our work, and will be remembered by others through our work. Like Boguslaw Schaeffer himself was by Matmos.

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