Matmos Share New Song 'Injection Basic Sound'

The album is set to be released digitally on November 3rd via Smithsonian Folkways (with physical formats arriving in 2024).

By: Oct. 03, 2023
Matmos Share New Song 'Injection Basic Sound'

Last month, the globally acclaimed music duo Matmos unveiled details for their 14th studio album, Return To Archive, which is set to be released digitally on November 3rd via Smithsonian Folkways (with physical formats arriving in 2024).

Created to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Folkways Records, Return To Archive was exclusively assembled using early "non-musical" recordings initially released by the historic label during the mid-20th century. Matmos dice, loop, stretch and transform some of the earliest sounds captured by field recordists, scientists, and experimentalists documenting the margins of our human soundscape, recontextualizing the source material into something completely unexpected.

Today, Matmos have returned to share a second preview from the album, titled "Injection Basic Sound." Following the lead preview track, "Mud-Dauber Wasp," which was meticulously crafted using a single sound source of the titular animal, "Injection Basic Sound" seamlessly fuses sci-fi sounds with the human voice by sampling three near-unclassifiable selections from the Folkways archives: Science Fiction Sound Effects (1958), Vox Humana: Alfred Wolfsohn’s Experiments in the Extension of the Human Vocal Range (1956), and Speech after the Removal of the Larynx. 

Reflecting on the hundreds of albums sifted through for the project, Matmos' Drew Daniel comments on what unites them all: "Taken together, these LPs capture a particular historical moment in the emergence of the long-playing record as a crucial interface between the lonely listener and the surrounding panorama of the label’s Cold War social milieu.

Promising the intimacy of access, some records are voyeuristic peepholes into domestic or professional spaces: a baby’s playroom, a busy office, an operating theater. Some records shrink the listener to the Lilliputian worlds of beetles and wasps. Some records are submarines plunging listeners to oceanic depths, or magic carpets flying them to the outermost reaches of the newly explored space age. In its own idiomatic way, every record promises transport, adventure, journeys into sound."

Halfway through The Science of Sound, an LP produced by Bell Laboratories and released by Folkways Records in 1958, an anonymous narrator proposes, “The sounds to which our ears respond may be classified as either music,” -- pause for dramatic effect -- “or noise.” We hear the gentle twinkle of a strummed harp, a wood thrush chirping into the morning air, and the sluggish honk of a tugboat, followed by our guide reflecting on how perspective impacts the ways that sounds are categorized.

It is a moment of philosophical pondering nestled amongst scholarly presentations of audio phenomena, these scientists allowing themselves to peer momentarily at the infinite artistic capacities of their subject matter. Sixty-five years later, the same voice floats above a digitally processed soundscape, providing a mission statement for a new album on Folkways by electronic music duo Matmos: “Music, or noise?”

Return to Archive, Matmos’ 14th album, is constructed entirely from the “non-musical” recordings released by Folkways Records in the mid-20th century. It contains sounds sourced from dozens of LPs, from Sounds of North American Frogs to Speech After the Removal of the Larynx, Sounds of Insects to Voices of Satellites, Sounds of Medicine to Sounds of the Junk Yard. Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt were given unprecedented access to the label’s fabled archive at the Smithsonian Institution and encouraged to repurpose and rework the source material however they liked.

The resulting album illuminates the radical, inquisitive, and poetic aspects of the original recordings, extracting the latent moments of creative revelation on records intended primarily for the backroom shelves of universities and libraries. Some tracks cycle through source material at a rate of dozens of samples per minute, while others sit with specific recordings for their duration.

Released to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of Folkways Records by Moses Asch and Marian Distler, Return to Archive is a whimsical, entrancing, and at times unsettling traversal of what Asch called the “World of Sound.”

For the past two and a half decades, Matmos has made collage-based electronic music that comments on contemporary culture and hints at the ways humans use sound to structure our lives. 2001’s A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, made primarily using sounds of cosmetic surgeries, is a landmark album of leftfield dance music and an empathetic exploration of the pursuit of an ideal body.

Matmos subjected their washing machine to a similar process on 2016’s Ultimate Care II, the pounding rhythms of wet clothes against metal implying deeper truths about domestic labor and its gendered history. And in a 21st-century update of Annea Lockwood’s Glass World, their 2019 album Plastic Anniversary explored the resonance of that human-made substance most linked to wastefulness and climate collapse.

In so many ways, Schmidt and Daniel exist in a direct lineage with Folkways recordists like Charles Bogert, Michael Siegel, and Albro T. Gaul: deep listeners searching for meaning through the raw sounds of nature and civilization who point obliquely towards their cultural implications.

Listening to Return to Archive, sounds normally considered incidental or uncomfortable become unmistakably musical. Glottal gurgles and tree frog croaks are snipped and looped into beats, siphoning out their inherent grooves. “Mud Dauber Wasp” is built entirely out of the serrated whir of the titular animal’s beating wings, the disconcerting buzz masterfully flipped into lurching, blown out techno.

“Why?” features sounds of humans attempting to communicate vocally with animals (John C. Lily’s experiments with dolphins, Bogert’s Sounds of North American Frogs) and other humans (studies in infant speech development, as well as larynx-less medical patients) spliced over a hasty four-on-the-floor pulse. Guests Evicshen and Aaron Dilloway, known for their cataclysmic manipulations of various types of physical media, add elements of chaotic sensory overload as they work their magic with the Larynx and Sounds of the Junk Yard LPs, respectively.

The album’s second half, especially the sprawling, wind-swept title track, nearly dispenses with cohesion altogether, harkening back to early experiments with musique concrète concurrent with the source material’s original release. As on the classic Folkways LPs, our guides throughout this journey are the naturalists, physicians, and scientists whose authoritative affects betray an uncommon passion for their subject matter as they attempt to explain exactly what it is we’re hearing.

Return to Archive is a conversation between two distinct eras in recent human history. The natural soundscape of the 1950s and ‘60s was abundant in an era before the climate crisis. The physicality of office work meant there were sounds of an office to record beyond the steady clack of a sound-dampened keyboard and distant dings of Slack messages.

When we return to the archive, we do so from where we are in the present, our own cultural biases built in to how we’re perceiving either music, or noise. In our reaction to these recontextualized sounds – their vibrancy, their humor, the fear they elicit – we catch a glimpse of how our contemporary soundworld has changed, and how it might be heard 75 years from now.

photo by Farrah Skeiky


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