Dancing to rhinoplasty: Matmos turned surgical sounds into music

     The electronic duo, Matmos, at the laundromat. (Photo by Stewart Mostofsky)

    The electronic duo, Matmos, at the laundromat. (Photo by Stewart Mostofsky)

    The experimental electronic duo Matmos, comprised of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, is known for sampling rather unusual objects and organisms, and even making music out of it.

    Think everything from the amplified nerve tissue of crayfish, to an antique enigma machine, to freshly cut hair.

    But in 2001, they turned to family and medicine for inspiration. Both the children of doctors, Schmidt and Daniel’s album “A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure,” released on Matador Records, brought their recorders into the operating room. And out of chin implants, nose jobs and more, came some rather catchy dance tunes.

    (Confession: “The Pulse” can’t get enough of this and has sometimes featured excerpts on the show)

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    The track, Lasik, is entirely made up of samples and manipulations of audio generated during an eye surgery that was performed on Daniel’s friend and poet, Monica Youn.

    “We recorded two procedures, one where the surgeon wanted us to just tape the DAT recorder and microphone to the laser machine itself, and the other where we got to go back and stand in the room,” said Daniel. “So you’re hearing samplings and manipulations.”

    The track “Memento Mori” includes samples from a human skull “since it’s a classic tool of teaching anatomy.”

    Daniel’s father is a surgeon specializing in anatomy, “so I was always surrounded by the clutter of his work,” Daniel said, adding that “a doctor is a financially rewarding career path, and a musician is not. So in a strange way I think [the album] was a sort of mediation of shame, to turn being a musician into something that was crypto medical.”

    Dad, however, is pretty into the album.

    “In fact, he’s operated [while] listening to it,” Daniel said.

    Beyond the personal, making “A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure” was also a way to deal with broader aspects of medical technology.

    “We were thinking about the way that laboratory animals are used,” said Daniel.

    For Felix (And All The Rats)” uses the sound of plucking and bowing a rat cage “because rat bodies are used to create medical knowledge.”

    But when “The Pulse” asked if the duo plans to revisit the operating room again anytime soon?

    “No,” said Schmidt, with a slight cringe and smile. “I’m not sure this music was very therapeutic for me.”

    For their latest album, “Ultimate Care II,” the duo has turned to something more literal and accessible in nature: their washing machine.

    Matmos prepares their washing machine for a recent performance at International House in Philadelphia. Pictured: Drew Daniel (center, on computer) M.C. Schmidt (right) and collaborator Sam Haberman (left) Video by Elana Gordon

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