Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion hosts a series of free concerts on Thursday evenings called “Loops and Variations,” which brings together electronic experimental music with modern classical music. (“New music,” if you will.) This past Thursday (June 27), the series presented a concert by the Baltimore duo Matmos, with Chicago’s Fonema Consort as the opening act. The Fonema portion of the evening was a good deal more serious. Matmos was downright silly. Still, somehow the two halves of the concert seemed to fit together in a strange way.
Matmos has collaborated in the past with artists such as Björk and So Percussion. They’re one of those electronic acts featuring guys hunched over their laptops, but they’re much livelier and more playful than the typical artist matching that description. On Thursday, they strolled out onto the Pritzker Pavilion stage clapping their hands and making goofy vocal noises, wandering around the stage as if they didn’t know where to sit down. After settling down with their gear and making an evocative soundscape, they explained that they’d been playing music that used recordings Matmos member Drew Daniel had made on recent trips to Istanbul and Beijing.
Joined midconcert by a guitarist and drummer, the Matmos duo transformed into something slightly more like a traditional rock band. OK, hardly traditional — Matmos member M.C. Schmidt blew bubbles in a bowl of water during one performance that was described as a aural simulation of liposuction. And near the end of its set, Daniel expressed his desire for NSA leaker Edward Snowden and led the group in a version of “I Want Candy,” with the words changed to “I Want Snowden.”
Fonema Consort focuses on 20th and 21st century vocal and instrumental music. According to the group’s website, it’s all centered around “our fascination with the exploration of vocal possibilities in music, including the traditional presentation of a text, the breaking down of words into phonemes, or the total absence of words, and the ramifications thereof.”
Those concepts were on vivid display during the consort’s performance on Thursday, including passage of spoken word whispered like auditory hallucinations. (Matmos member M.C. Schmidt later remarked that he’d been in the backstage bathroom listening to this music through the speakers there. “It was terrifying,” he said.) There were also some bravura passages of ear-shattering singing, and wind and string instruments dancing around the voices. The concert included works by Pablo Chin, Daniel Dehaan, Edward Hamel, Jonathon Kirk and Joan Arnau Pàmies.