petite mort In this issueSomething from Nothing No.3 2005
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"I think it's a vain hope that you can control the meaning your art gets."

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The Civil War album you guys came out with in 2003, would you say it’s a little bit more pop than your other albums?
D: Gosh! [laughs]
M: I don’t know… it will be hard for me to say that it was pop, but I guess. It isn’t as long and with straight sounds as other ones I guess.
D: [laughs] I think it's because we started writing a lot of the songs with an autoharp. (Wiki: autoharp) There were a lot more actual chords and chord changes that are a little bit closer to capital R and capital M, real music. A lot of our songs usually start with sounds that gradually become musical, in The Civil War a lot of sounds were already musical from the start. I think maybe it’s an easier record for some people to get, but with that said, not easier for people that were already fans of our work. We have a process when we make music where we cut things up and reassemble them. It’s consistent. It’s not really a genre or a style, but I think people still want to beat that dead horse of a process in our direction, just a little bit.

Was The Civil War a theme album from the beginning, did you mean for it to have a political atmosphere?
D: Well Martin better answer this one, because the name was his big idea.
M: Honestly, the name of the record came after making the record. The names of the songs were done in post as well. So obviously we had worked on an American theme, and there’s this sort of English folk music obsession in there as well. Pretty much the name was sort of like a vision, we were in the restaurant and I just said, “Oooh! This album should be called The Civil War!” There isn’t a heavy-duty conceptual reason behind it.

Whether you were conscious of a theme or not, I don’t think any artists or musician can really remove themselves from this heavy political cloud surrounding us today. When I hear the tracks like Regicide, Reconstruction, and Stars and Stripes Forever, I couldn't help thinking of certain current events.
D: Yes, I guess while titling and choosing the order of the songs I was sort of constructing a little narrative in my head, but I have to say it was after the fact. For Regicide, I gave it that name because of that real surge of violence in the middle, but I guess that melodic sour grape of that song, Regicide, is what you might be connecting with the title.[laughs]

Do you see a danger in artists letting their audience know what their political stance is? Because I noticed in the online notes for The Civil War that you try to steer clear from making any opinionated statements, for the most part you just sort of allude to certain things. Was that on purpose?
D: I think it’s a vain hope that you can control the meaning your art gets. You know, it’s sort of like why don’t I just go door to door with everyone who buys the record and sit down with them, and while they’re listening say, “O.k., this part represents the unassailable totality of media circular logic.” It would be annoying if you tried to do that. [laughs]

And you might get frustrated too, because even spelled out, some listeners might still not get it..
D: Yeah, it would also appear like you don’t trust people to think for themselves, and that you need to control the way it’s perceived. There are some musicians that are very good at combining their music and their politics, like Krass and Public Enemy. So I thought if I would be able to do it on that level then I would, but frankly it doesn’t suit me. I think you’d know if it’s a component that your music needs. (Wiki: Public Enemy)

Would you say then that you are neutral?
D: Oh, I don’t know about being neutral.

I don’t mean in your personal life but aesthetically?
D: Well, I guess it’s neutral. It’s not music that made out of feelings we have and then illustrate with music. It’s music where we pick some objects that seen compelling, and then the objects kind of take control. So I don’t really regard the songs as self-expression. You know what I mean? In the way the Catpower is self-expression, or Bright Eyes, etc.(Wiki: Bright Eyes) It’s almost like there’s a spirits in objects that’s leading us, rather than us pushing them around… When you pick up an object and start to tap it and sound it, it’s giving you some kind of clues about genres, and about it’s mood or it’s personality. Matmos’ music is, I think, primarily about that.

In this day and age do you think music can really change things politically in relation to other art forms, without coming off as just being a pop commentary? For example, you have paintings like Picasso’s Guernica that present an everlasting bold statement about Spanish Civil War. (Wiki: Guernica)
M: I think there are different audience sets that are more reactive to these sort of things. I think the people we are talking to, the people who are picking up our records, are generally already pretty educated, which often translated into being either more political, jaded, or cynical. Am I being too unkind by saying that?
D: Maybe this sounds weird but this is an age of Info/Visual, and that’s often an exploited tool for seduction, whether you are talking about advertising or politics. But I think the ability to just sit down and listen to music and experience only the sounds can make you a more critical thinker. And if you do it often enough it can make you a more abstract thinker as well. As a result that might give you an ability to resist some of the visual angles of promotion that we all get bombarded within our life right now. So that’s my only hope as far as what music can do. It’s not really only through listening to lyrics that you are moved.



"If you catch a wild rat even if it gets to the point where it's feeling a little bit more pleasant, it will still run away as soon as you let it out."





Jay Lesser’s website:

Mondo Kim’s, New York City:

Other Music, New York City:

San Francisco Art Institute

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco:

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco:

Bitstreams exhibition at the Whitney, NYC

Locust Music,
(release of MET LIFE: Rat Relocation Program)

I’m curious to hear what the new album sounds like.
M: Yeah, find the “Rat” one (Mat Life: Rat Relocation Program). It’s not the most toe-tapping thing we ever made. It’s kind of more conceptual. That whole series is part of this location-recording series on Locust Music where musicians take field recordings and then respond to them.

So you recorded the sounds a rat was making and then turned it into music? I have to hear that, it sounds really interesting. When does that Rat Relocation Program CD come out?
D: It’s out right now at Kim’s Video in New York and online via the Locust Music website.

It was a rat that you recorded for this album, not a mouse correct?
D: It was a rat.

Was it huge?
M: Yes.

When you came across this rat, were you at home?
M: It actually came across us! I gotta tell you -it terrified me! I’m a person who’s had pet rats since I was like- I don’t know- 9 years old?

Pet rats?
M: Yeah, rats! I’m talking ROPEY TAIL, BIG TOOTH, HUGE BALL RATS!

And despite being familiar with them it still terrified you?
M: Well, they move about 50 times faster than your average pet rat ever does.

Why do you think that’s so?
D: Well, I think it’s the fear of predators...

They fought too, which was weird.
M: Our pet rat and the wild rat.

Oh, you still have a pet rat?
M: Yea that’s why we didn’t feel good about killing the rat that had invaded our home. So we got one of those traps that don’t kill them.

What if you wanted to keep that wild rat? Is there a place you can go to get it tested?
M: I actually read that you can tame them to the extent that they are not always incredibly furiously pissed. But you can’t really ever let them out of the cage. If you catch a wild rat even if it gets to the point where it’s feeling a little bit more pleasant, it will still run away as soon as you let it out. There are a lot of rat web sites out there. We did a lot of reading about wild rats.

And so that’s different than your pet rat right now: it wouldn’t necessary just bolt?
M: No, how can it say no to all that delicious free food all the time?

Oh yeah… [laugh]
M: or I don’t know, I don’t really know what the rat logic is. X



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