matmos made an entire album using only a washing machine

The electronic musicians (and former Björk tour mates) air their dirty laundry.

by Anthony Palliparambil, Jr.
Feb 19 2016, 2:55pm

photography josh sisk

Sometimes, a Tide stick just won't cut it. It's a lesson electronic music duo and real life couple Martin (M.C.) Schmidt and Drew Daniel — better known as Matmos — learned while working on their tenth album, Ultimate Care II. Made entirely from sounds generated by the Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine in the basement of their home in Baltimore, MD, the album was an exercise in focusing their musical proclivities to create a unique sound using an appliance we're all intimately familiar with.

Listening to the album, however, is no trip to the laundromat. Sampling the hum of the machine, the sloshing water within, the mechanical beeps and whirs, even drumming on the machine itself, the album transports you to an unknown, hypnotic world for precisely 38 minutes — or, the amount of time it takes to wash one load of laundry.

Matmos, best known to some as the pair who contributed to Björk's Vespertine and Medúlla albums and also toured with the singer, is no stranger to distinctive sounds — they once played the reproductive tract of a cow at the San Francisco Art Institute and have also made an entire album sampling the sounds of plastic surgery. Upon speaking with them, it's not hard to see why one half of the duo, Drew, is a tenured literature professor at Johns Hopkins University. We chatted with M.C. and Drew to discuss laundry, day jobs, art, and cum stains.

Why did you make an album out of a washing machine?
M.C.: It's a great, self-contained system that has all the elements of music in it. It's got periodicity in that it does this rhythm for this long and that rhythm for that long, and at the end it does what it does at the beginning. And less glamorously, it is sitting in our recording studio anyway. We make all our records at our home and we record in the basement. It's where the bicycle is, and it's where the kitty litter box is, and it's where the washing machine is, so it's kind of ready to rock.

Do you still have the machine today?
M.C.: I do my laundry in it every week. At the moment it's a serious pain in the ass to do laundry because I have to disconnect it from the system that we have it connected to to make music with because we're going to take this very washing machine on tour with us.
Drew: Every time we practice, we have to disconnect it from the walls, and then every time there's a pile of t-shirts and socks, we have to reattach it to the wall so... Martin's becoming a junior plumber.

Did you sample the sounds of actual loads of laundry being cleaned?
Drew: Yes. You get different sounds when it's got a lot of clothes.

Did you wash anything aside from clothes to manufacture a different kind of sound?
Drew: No, we really wanted the sound of use. We thought we could put marbles or ping-pong balls or unusual objects in, but the problem with that is, then the sound that you're making is really the sound of marbles. It's not really the sound of the washing machine, and we wanted a sound that people would associate with their own lives. We wanted the documentation of the machine to be kind of pure - to start from the known and go to the unknown.

Did your process change with the creation of this album?
Drew: We tightened up the timing of how long it takes to make a record, because everything was accelerated by the sheer focus of only being able to work with one object.
M.C.: It was a world of convenience, honestly, because of this conceptual restriction... because you can't do anything else.

The washing machine is a vital part of everyone's lives - a machine that cleans our dirty clothes. Is there a correlation between how you both dress and how the music comes to be?
Drew: Well, we style ourselves pretty differently. Martin wears white button-down shirts a lot, and there's a fair amount of labor involved in looking that way.
M.C.: I don't think this idea would have occurred to someone who didn't care about laundry. And as smug as Drew is trying to come off, he's wearing all white right now.
Drew: It's my Andrew WK day. Andrew WK homage. We learned this German word for when you have cum stains on white t-shirts. It's called Sportflecken.
M.C.: Sportflecken. Pretty good right? Good vocabulary word for the day.

Who's on your radar right now?
Drew: I'm listening to a lot of old drone music, which is not like Matmos but which is a place to abide in whether it's an Eliane Radigue drone or Robert Turman's music.
M.C.: Jan Švankmajer, amazing stop-motion animator of the 80s from the Czech Republic.
Drew: Another Jan we've been jamming to is Jan Hammer, who did the Miami Vice theme. It's like these fusion funk albums. There's one about the creation of the world, and it's got some really fucking insane synthesizer. Another Jan we like is Jan St. Werner, whose new solo album is pretty sweet. There's a lot of good Jan's.

Drew, does your day job with Johns Hopkins inform your creative process?
Drew: I try to keep them very separate. But certainly, if you look at renaissance commonplace books and the way that people share little pieces of culture that they find interesting with each other, in a way it's a form of collage. Maybe that's a link in terms of what I do with sound and early modern ways of thinking.
M.C.: Drew's perspective of history helps me not get over-concerned with what's hot right now.
Drew: Yeah, I spend less time worrying about what people were thinking and feeling 400 years ago. Especially with the internet, it's all about what people said 20 seconds ago and that's the frame of reference. It's nice to take the long view.

Are there sounds that you're still trying to explore? Is there an album of dryer songs coming next?
Drew: I have a bunch of sounds that I'd like to work with - field recordings that I made traveling from Beijing to Istanbul.
M.C.: We start with what's right in front of us frequently. Drew's idea for the last record was Byzantine as hell and it could have led anywhere.
Drew: But it's true... we're kind of leaving everybody with a pile of wet laundry.

'Ultimate Care II' is released on February 19.


Text Anthony Palliparambil, Jr.
Photography Josh Sisk