Matmos and So Percussion, supporting their new album Treasure State, took the stage of the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday night one member at a time, to pluck the quills of an amplified cactus. The collaboration between the percussion quartet and the experimental electronic music duo was a happy one, in two senses. The music itself was stimulating. One standout, featuring kettle drums and xylophones, duck calls and kazoos, sounded like a soundtrack for a fantasy ride through a Chinese tropical jungle. As for the performance, the exuberance and light-heartedness of the players made it obvious they were enjoying themselves.
The projection behind the bands, their sometimes abstract manner, and the venue made it seem like a hybrid between an art show and a concert. I couldn't decide whether I liked the experience better with eyes open, so I could watch and try to figure out which sounds were coming from which instruments, or closed, to feel the percussion thumping through my body. The alteration of mood in the music made it noticeable how what you're watching can effect you. The intensity of concentration evident during the opening wood block ensemble, Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood, as the players watched each other and kept an intricate percussive rhythm going, made the audience likewise focused.
The music was engaging for a genre that often lacks heart. The six guys onstage didn't suffer from the typical electronic band's lack of showmanship. Is it because of the percussion, mimicking heartbeats, or chimes, or natural sounds added to the mix? Or was it the frontman's geniality and banter? That, and they were actually doing something. There were computers but they didn't take center stage. The music only became a bit distant toward the last couple of numbers, all of which began with the creative interplay of strange sounds—chains, a conch, water being poured, sheet metal and beer cans crackling, musical saw, eery spoken word distorted by vocoder—and built up until all those sounds gave way to a general loudness. The saxophonist of opener Tiger Hatchery guested, doing his screechiest free jazz best. Heavy and distorted, the maximum density felt top-heavy, more an explosion than a crescendo. It worked until it didn't, and with overfamiliarity, fatigue set in. Music should end just before you are tired of hearing it, not just after.
The projection in the background sometimes added to the performance, but at its worst verged on performance art precocity. During one number, I wondered what the traffic interchange and urban landscape reflected on-screen had to with the polyrhythmic ensemble on chimes. Koyaanisqatsi it wasn't. But I shrugged, closed my eyes and forgot it.
-review and pics courtesy of Emily Johnson