Matmos’ Drew Daniel on Schneider TM’s Construction Sounds

Words by Drew Daniel

Drew Daniel is best known for his work with avant-electronic duo Matmos, together with partner M. C. (Martin) Schmidt. The couple make toe-tapping, conceptual electronic pop from unusual sound sources. For their most recent release, The Ganzfeld EP (Thrill Jockey), they conducted their own version of the famed parapsychological experiment by putting test subjects (mostly friends) in a state of sensory deprivation. They then played them white noise and attepted to telepathically communicate “the concept of the new Matmos record”. The subjects’ impressions were then used as a compositional guide for both the EP and the band’s upcoming LP, The Marriage of True Minds, scheduled for early 2013.

 

Electronic music, especially rhythmically predictable, warm, analogue sounding electronic music, has become a way to keep everybody working. You put a record on to push back the sounds of the outside so that you’re able to focus. Whether that record is Burial, Andy Stott or Pye Corner Audio, it doesn’t actually matter; the point is that there’s a nice and predictable structure that serves to increase your workflow. In contrast, Schneider TM’s Construction Sounds effectively functions as a critique of this modern, functional and occasionally mindless way of listening. Choosing to have the sounds of manual labor, the sounds you usually try to blot out, be the noise coming out of your speakers subverts the very idea of music as buffer against the real world. It refuses to offer the listener a shortcut to feeling “contemporary” while avoiding real issues. In fact, you could argue that it makes real world issues the point of focus, and it’s a coolly critical thing for Dirk Dresselhaus to attempt. That doesn’t mean that Construction Sounds isn’t beautiful or complex. I was reminded of the record Sleeper Awakes at the Edge of the Abyss by Merzbow and Christoph Heemann, where Heemann sculpts these new age melodies underneath Merzbow’s collosal wall of noise. You have to listen through the noise to find another layer that taps into a very different emotion. Having this turbulent feeling buried deep within and somehow obfuscated by the real world is actually a Romantic trope, and by using melody as a counterpoint to the grating sounds of industry, as on “Grinder in the Sky” or “Container”, Dresselhaus takes the listener to a similar emotional plane. I see it as a strategy for producing a certain kind of longing, similar to how My Bloody Valentine would bury their drums almost beyond perception—the direct result being an almost unplaceable sense of yearning stirred up within the listener. Dresselhaus has also thought a lot about tuning because there’s something strangely harmonious about the interlock that’s hap- pening. Indeed, many machines are based on the same kind of cycle. In the US anything that’s electrical—fans, fluorescent lights, you name it—have their hum tuned to B-flat. This makes me curious as to whether engine cycles also emit the same tone. Certainly, Dresselhaus exploits the innate musicality of those sonic by-products that we refuse to categorize as musical.

Accordingly, it would be foolish to talk about Construction Sounds without mentioning musique concrète. This record both relates and breaks with Pierre Schaeffer’s conflicted theory of creating a disconnect between sound and source. Schaeffer always sought to create objet sonore that would float free of reference, whereas most other artists and musicians who made compelling musique concrète actually did the opposite. Here Dresselhaus has given clues in the titles—“Grinder”, “Container”, “Pneunisch”—in effect, stressing the relationship between material and music, as well as prompting us to think about how we perceive raw matter. But what I find most dramatic is the level of restraint he shows; if Matthew Herbert had done it, or even me and Martin [Schmidt] as Matmos, I’m sure we would have drawn upon the syntax of sampling with rhyth- mic chops and edits. Dresselhaus has gone elsewhere, tracing a path more closely resembling that of kosmische musik and the German electronic continuum, with the ambition of transcending the sampler to something more abstract. The titular track opens the album with fourteen minutes of industrial grind. It’s a risk, but it also offers an option: you can hear it as invasive back- ground sound or you can choose to carefully enter inside its world. By foregrounding the industrial harshness of that first track Dresselhaus takes a risk, and some people may not make it past those fourteen minutes. But those that do are intrigued; they want to really follow the whole journey.

Of course, historically machine sounds are also closely linked to industrial music, and what intrigues me is the strenu- ous effort put into fighting the genre’s father figures. The press one-sheet requests reviewers not to compare Construction Sounds to Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten—a defensive, almost Oedipal gesture hinted at in the title: this is an album which, at least in one sense, is about building, not destroying. And it’s a partial rejection of industrial-sounding pop music for a much more conceptual schema. Listening to the record I thought I detected a political narrative, and Dresselhaus openly describes that he was responding to sounds of gentrification and real estate speculation in Berlin. That’s a salient topic in a city with so much empty property. What can justify building something new in 2012 when there are so many buildings ripe for repurposing? Construction as a sound is an index of prosperity. This is certainly the case in Baltimore, where Matmos is based. It’s a poor city filled with abandoned buildings, and I’m astonished every time I see a construction site. Why build when it’s already there? I heard this record as reinforcing this viewpoint by pulling what’s outside into the interior domestic space and forcing you to confront what’s happening beyond your window. My partner Martin [Schmidt] hears the record in a much gentler register, where it’s about transforming rawness into something beautiful simply by staring into it and carefully work- ing with it until it becomes thera- peutic, improved, and ennobled. Or maybe Construction Sounds is just a sonic Rorschach blot. ~

This article is taken from Electronic Beats Magazine Winter 2012.