By Robert Freeman
August 6, 2012
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Matmos choose to open their Meltdown evening on the South Bank with a Burroughs reading. The story, a Robbe-Grillet style obsession with inanimate objects and the way they move under our fingers, is the beginning of a series of efforts that Matmos make to imbue life into machines and ‘things’. “You may experience a strange feeling as if the objects are alive and hostile,” reads Martin Schmidt. In this cut and paste musique concrete, the sweep of a brush, the click of a typewriter, the closing of a drawer, all loop over themselves to form a rhythm, a story of the ‘hidden life’ of things. It is a piece of dark, pseudo-Disney fantasy, giving life to the lifeless.
Whether Schmidt is blowing a penny whistle while birds dance on the screen behind him, or Drew Daniel is looping the sound of an old typewriter in front of a projection of keys tapping, the audio informs the visual and vice-versa. Although the sounds bounce off the burned red-white lights on the walls and back into the visual projected on the screen, tonight the addition of the touring guitar and drums almost perform the exact opposite of that—bringing the objects out of a loop and into the real world. In ‘Enigma Machine for Alan Turing’ (“one of yours, but also one of ours”), the click of a German enigma machine sits under the whine of an oscillator and a frenetic piano melody. Matmos are quick to point out that the dedication is being performed exactly a week after the cryptographer’s hundredth birthday, and Turing’s ‘Imitation Test’—a program to discern the existence of artificial intelligence in machines—is encoded using an enigma cipher and translated back again on the screen behind.
Matmos are nothing if not playful though, and after complaining of ‘a fucked-up mixer,’ the abrasive static and whines turn out to be the precursor to some meta-glitch shenanigans. Schmidt turns away from the audience, and his image appears on the big screen behind the band, gesticulatingly wildly and tweaking the buttons of a mixer, before proceeding to have a kind of sonic war with his real-life counterparts. Also not a band to miss an opportunity to provoke, the closing song begins (to a chorus of titters) with a perfectly timed loop of a hand rubbing slowly down a bare, crucifix-tattooed back (projected onscreen, naturally) and the slap of a spanked arse, repeated over and over. The final song again sees a metaleptic break between on screen and live, as Drew Daniel puts Schmidt over his knee, and proceeds to spank his bare buttocks raw. ‘A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma’ as someone once said. A sexy enigma.