The electronic duo Matmos and the classical ensemble So Percussion have teamed up on a new CD called Treasure, which truly blends the two groups together into one. The same was true of the concert Matmos and So Percussion performed Saturday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
While So Percussion played a couple of pieces on its own (as the two guys in Matmos watched, along with the rest of us), for most of the show, both groups were fully engaged in collaborating on the music. Before the concert began, I’m sure a lot of people in the audience were wondering why a small cactus was sitting on a wooden stool at the front of the stage. When the musicians entered, they went straight for that cactus, standing around it and plucking its needles. The amplified cactus sounded like a drum kit as shifting rhythmic patterns emerged from it.
The members of So Percussion moved off to the side a while later and played a Steve Reich composition for mallets hitting blocks of wood. As simple as that sounds, it was an impressively complex piece, performed with stunning precision. Two of the percussionists played continuously, while the other two would periodically and stop and then begin again, entering gradually into the beat.
At other points during the concert, the members of Matmos and So Percussion played around with cans of beer (chugging their contents first before ripping them apart) and buckets of water, among other objects. It created an intriguing mix of actual concrete sounds emanating from things right there on the stage with electronically treated sounds emerging out of the laptops. Some of the collaborations between Matmos and So Percussion off the new CD sound almost tropical or loungey, with a bit of an Esquivel zing.
In one of the stranger and more humorous moments of the night, a member of Matmos performed a monologue with no musical accompaniment into two microphones, one of which had a vocoder effect. An infant in the audience laughed, apparently at the sound of the vocoder, which prompted others to laugh, too. How odd.
The evening began with an opening set by the Chicago avant-garde jazz trio Tiger Hatchery. It was pretty much a wall of noise, for better or worse. It was probably too much for that infant to take, as well as for some more mature members of the audience, but you had to respect Tiger Hatchey for launching such a full-on assault upon our ears.