- by Ian Fraser Rating:7 Release Date:2016-02-19 Label: Thrill Jockey
Captain Beefheart was reputed to have been influenced by the rhythm of his windshield wipers. Pink Floyd were rumoured to have considered recording an entire album using household appliances. Now Baltimore duo Matmos have taken things a whole leap further and recorded their washing machine.
Not that Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt are strangers to this kind of experimentation you understand, having sampled the sounds of cosmetic surgery as far back as 2001. This though is something else again and one that may reignite the old “is it art” debate.
Composed of one, unbroken thirty-eight-minute track, ‘Ultimate Care II’ (the titular Whirlpool model) is meant to reflect the length of a standard wash cycle. Taking the concept further, a limited run of the vinyl version comes in a “very dirty laundry” (brown with white swirl) version only available on mail order. That’s the one I want.
This idiosyncratic wring cycle (get used to this) starts with the grinding turn of the wash size selection wheel, and ends with the alert noise that signals that the wash is done. In between we get to experience The Machine not just in normal operation, but also as an object being rubbed, stroked and drummed upon then sampled and sequenced and processed by the duo, with some occasional help from members of other Baltimore bands, some of whom are reputed to their laundry around at Matmos Manor. We’dhope that no gadgets were harmed in this process and no reports of sharp objects being inserted inappropriately, so in that respect it’s no weirder than Keith Emerson and his stabbed keyboards or Einsturzende Neubauten as regards pretty much everything else.
As a concept then it’s certainly a hoot. As a piece of music it’s certainly interesting. Taken in the round the result is a suite of chugs, drones and splooshes provides for a rhythmic and surprisingly cerebral output which ahem, flows surprisingly well. My own favourites are the ambient wash – look I do apologise – of Excerpt VI, the funky Balinese-style kling-klang percussiveness of Excerpt VIII and the very nearly danceable (and just a bit scary) IX, but across the nine sub-cycles (the term “tracks” sounds so prosaic in this context) the mostly down-tempo rhythms and synthesized aqua-sounds are far less tiresome and gimmicky and much more cohesive and enjoyable than might have been expected at the initial load-in.
Whether you consider this to be delightfully deft or just plain daft will depend on your point of view and state of mind and I’m not sure how they intend to pull this off live – and whether the Whirlpool will get to play a role in that. No matter, this has been a lot of fun, although whether it will still get put on at parties in years to come is a moot point. Right here, right now, though, it does the job and may well merit a few repeat spins. Art, then, definitely.
This is my favorite release of the year so far. It reminds of Autechre's work in the late 90s.