Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Marriage of True Minds

Matmos - "Aetheric Vehicle" (The Marriage of True Minds)

Matmos rank very highly in my "favorite bands of all time" battle for musical supremacy. Their "musique concrète" approach to electronic music--using real-world recorded sounds for samples--appeals to the part of me that likes to think of itself as brainy and intelligent, and I enjoy the musically avant garde shaping of every day sounds into tracks. But what elevates them to "possible favorite band" status is their impish pursuit of novelty. Albums composed of surgery samples, audio "biographies" of LGBTQ historical figures, side projects of electronic covers of classic punk/hardcore songs done for an academic paper, etc. Their high-concept flights of fancy make me incredibly happy. And I think the backstory of their new album, The Marriage of True Minds, had me the most intrigued out of all the things they've done:  

"Over the past four years, we have been re-enacting a classic para-psychological experiment known as the Ganzfeld (total field) experiment, which is designed to provide a scientifically verifiable way of investigating extra-sensory perception. Standard versions of the test involve the isolation and sensory deprivation of test subjects who are asked to relax and empty their minds while a remote agent attempts to transmit simple graphic patterns into their minds. After the session, test subjects are challenged to identify which symbol the agent was transmitting from a range of possible candidates, in order to see if a more-than-chance rate of correlation emerges. In our version, a test subject is isolated in a dark room. They rest on a mattress, and headphones are placed over their ears and halved ping-pong balls cover their eyes. White noise is played at low volume over the headphones, and a soft red light shines upon the ping-pong ball eye-coverings. The goal is to reduce sensory input through vision and hearing in order to permit other, possibly weaker perceptual pathways to open up. After a rest period and a countdown triggered by a set signal, test subjects or “percipients” are instructed to empty their minds and try to receive any incoming psychic signals. Resting comfortably in an adjacent room and staring at a fixed point in space, I try to transmit “the concept of the new Matmos album” from my mind into the minds of the targeted percipients. The test subject is asked to describe out loud any sounds they seem to hear in their minds, to hum along or sing along if they hear musical phrases, and to describe any objects or actions or events that they seem to see or hear during the session. When I feel that sufficient time has elapsed, the session is terminated. These sessions are recorded onto videotape and transcribed. Having gathered the transcripts together, M. C. Schmidt and I have used them as scores, instructions, source material, blueprints, or restrictions to guide the creation of the songs, sounds, words and music on this recording."

How close these tracks come to what Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt were actually going for is not known. And while I wouldn't put The Marriage of True Minds at the top of the Matmos ouvre, it's still one of my favorite things to be released this year. And just for comparison's sake, the above track was based on a Ganzfeld session with musician Keith Fullerton Whitman. The psychic imagery he reported receiving is as follows:  

"Visually I’m seeing an inverted pentagram, oddly. The shape of a small metal bracket. The word “grandiose” just popped into my head. Chinese checkers. The Swiss alps. I see the shape of an “S” spline curve. And in the noise I can make out distant Gregorian singing, massed singing. I can sort of see shapes like re-entry, coming back from space, sort of contrails. A thin melody like upper whistling. The word “piecemeal”. A long, non-repeating melody, sort of a long snaking pentatonic melody with no regular rhythm."


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