Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.
New York new composers So Percussion are constantly working and competing in an arena immune to the hype cycle, so it’s easy to take their awesomeness for granted. Four dudes making tikking-takking art-patter on various percussive toys, they’re pretty much set for life as the Kronos Quartet or Bang On A Can for drummer geeks, but their close ties to the indie world have also given them hipster cachet their forebears have never imagined. Recent live outings have had them teaming with Dirty Projectors, Dan Deacon, and Terry Riley, but their newest collabo is their most expansive to date — a full-length wrestling match with esteemed sound-benders Matmos. Their upcoming album together, Treasure State (July 13, Cantaloupe), plays to the strengths of both groups: So Percussion’s spider-webs of interlocking percussion sprawl and glistens Matmos’s inhuman squirts of electro pulse float with their trademark blend of slapstick and sensitivity. Oftentimes it’s impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends.
The two groups holed up in a studio in Montana (a.k.a, “The Treasure State”), toying with water, cactuses, beer cans and more, finishing with an album that certainly exemplifies the most jovial interpretation of the term “noisemaking.” So Percussionist Jason Treuting says opening track “Treasure” “is definitely coming out of the exotica, Hawaiian lounge music, Martin Denny thing,” a glorious clutter of rattles and steel drums combined with various kinds of sparkling, tinkling, tweeting, and honking. Josh Quillen gently taps a steel drum into a cartoonish chillscape until Matmos crashes the party at the 97 second mark with what sounds like a Eno-era guitar solo turned inside-out. But it actually may be one of the So Percussion guys playing a deer call that Matmos ended up mutating. Bring a map.
So Percussion’s Jason Treuting on “Treasure”:
What is “Treasure” about?
“Treasure” was a Matmos song first. Some of the tracks were the first stuff recorded in Montana that became a part of the album. They were working on the tune when we first met them, and we played a weird Martin Denny/Aaron Copland mash-up on the first show we played together oh-so-many years ago. “Treasure State” is Montana’s state motto of sorts and that became the impetus for the track, and in some way for the growing collaboration at the time.
This song has kind of an exotica vibe…Who brought that to the table?
Matmos brought it to the table. That was new for us, but the noisy B section with the Balinese style pentatonic scale definitely felt like home. Josh played a bunch of the layers on this tracks on the steel drums and glockenspiel and we all added some squeaks and chirps and shakes.
You guys are very concerned with tone. Did you feel weird about having Matmos manipulate your sounds at all?
Not at all. I think in the end, we kinda went both ways in terms of sound. Messing with our sounds and processing them in wacky ways, but then countering that with lots of lush percussive sounds that don’t always make it into an electronic world. On some of the other tracks, the back and forth was significant. “Needles” is a piece made with a cactus, an homage of sorts to John Cage’s “Child of Tree.” The “tone” of the cactus goes many places — some of that is us discovering sounds and some of it is processing and making pitches of the needles, etc. Matmos had a huge part of that, but we got in that mix and made chords from the cactus. Structures are similar… We’ve discovered a real give-and-take between the shorter loops that Matmos oftens deals in and the longer, static harmonic structures that we often deal in. So, no weirdness or concern with the give and take with tone or form… Maybe just a little weirdness with the deer call that Martin [Schmidt of Matmos] uses on “Treasure.” It is just a weird sound!
What did you learn about yourselves by working with Matmos?
We come from many musical backgrounds, but the strongest collective background is a grounding in contemporary chamber music and that tradition. That tradition is grounded in an American experimental tradition, but it also has strong ties to a European classicism, and… all to say that there is a baggage there that we don’t always recognize, but is definitely there. The way Matmos makes music doesn’t recognize that baggage. This collaboration has taught us about this relationship and the need to shun that baggage and just make music. I am sure the tradition/traditions they are working in has a baggage all its own, but not the classical baggage we have grown out of.
Tell me about some of the percussion you use on this song. How much of it did you bring to Montana and how much did you just “find” there?
This song has crazy layers of percussion, but mostly “traditional” stuff. Bongos, shakers, guiros, maracas and those kind of noisemakers. As I mentioned, Josh plays the pitched stuff on steel drums and glockenspiel and there are all kinds of noisemakers that in some way try to conjure up animal-type sounds, deer calls and animal calls and some vocal squawking that doesn’t really resemble any animal, but tries to. In general, we bring our unique stuff — in this case lots of little noisemakers and the steel drums — and Brett Allen of Snowghost was nice enough to help us get the vibraphones, glockenspiels, drum kits, etc to the studio. We also got our cactus in Montana as well as the ceramic flowerpots and aluminum beer cans.
So Percussion and Matmos play together at Le Poisson Rouge on June 9. They promise “top secret cover songs”