The Telepathy and Tap Dancing of Matmos
BY Sunnivie Brydum
January 24 2013 4:00 AM ET
If you listen closely enough to the song “Aetheric Vehicle” on electronic duo Matmos’ latest album, The Marriage of True Minds, you might be able to make out the sound of a kinky accessory jangling in the background. Matmos’ Drew Daniel acquired a pair of metal shackles from a BDSM store on eBay to re-create a sound heard by one of the people who participated in a telepathy experiment to help drive the concept record.
That’s right — telepathy, or extrasensory perception, was the overarching theme for Baltimore-based duo Matmos’ newest album, which drops in February from the Thrill Jockey record label. After more than two dozen records and two decades together, Daniel and his partner in music and life, Martin Schmidt, went beyond their most far-fetched creations to get downright esoteric with Marriage.
For the past four years, Matmos has been conducting parapsychological experiments based off the classic ganzfeld experiments, which use sensory deprivation and telepathic messaging to search for evidence of extrasensory perception, or ESP. In a twist on the traditional method, Daniel tried to transmit the concept for the new album directly into the minds of his subjects while they were blindfolded and had white noise piped into their ears via headphones. Subjects were then asked to tell whatever came into their minds during the experiment, and their accounts were videotaped and transcribed to become the driving narrative force of the record. The album’s liner notes include a full transcript from the psychic session that produced each song.
But how does one go about translating abstract images, sounds, and guttural hums into a full-length record?
“It’s hard,” says Daniel. “You have to use intuition, and you have to go with what is actually pleasurable too. Sometimes there was a very poetic or a very funny or a very surreal psychic transcript, but it just didn’t want to be a song.”
The men behind Matmos first ventured into telepathy-inspired tunes on their 2012 release The Ganzfeld EP, which included two songs that also appear on Marriage. But the new album is a fuller exploration of the concept, says Daniel.
“With the album, you’ve got nine different ways to respond to the idea that there’s a greater range of approaches to how to make a song out of a transcript,” he says. “There are some songs which are very much a portrait of that person’s experience, and some are very literal.”