Matthew Dear has long been known for intricate avant-pop and meticulously crafted techno, which he plays under the name Audion. As a co-founder of Brooklyn-via-Detroit label Ghostly International and its more dance-focused Spectral Sounds, Dear and his partner Sam Valenti IV have been delivering boundary-pushing electronic music for over two decades.
But since the 2012 release of his last album, Beams, Dear has returned to his techno roots as Audion, though not strictly to in-studio and DJ’ing endeavors. His latest is a new multimedia collaboration with Microsoft and the New Museum called “DELQA: Inside the Music of Matthew Dear, An Interactive Experience,” now open through August 9 at the New Inc. Gallery on the Lower East Side.
The installation employs movement-responsive technology from Microsoft Kinect that is activated by interaction with mesh and netted fabrics set up in a cavelike construction. By pressing against the mesh with your hands or climbing atop the mountainous netting, gallery visitors enable the loops composed by Dear to morph sonically into unique soundscapes. The space becomes a living piece of music, constructed by these movements and bolstered by a rotating set of other un-manipulated loops that bounce around through the installation’s system of 44 speakers.
Dear was approached earlier this year by Steve Milton, a founding partner at Listen, “a strategic agency working at the intersection of music and marketing,” who counts Microsoft as a client. Milton has previously linked the tech giant with artists like Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails, and Aphex Twin, but called upon Dear for the New Museum project because of a past working relationship. No doubt Dear’s ability to weave layers of disparate sounds into cohesive pop songs also inspired the choice. A roomful of people pushing and pulling to create different tones could result in a discordant mess for the ears, but the results at DELQA are ironclad, owing to Dear’s aesthetics. When a visitor steps outside the womblike installation to hear what’s produced as a whole, the lone piece of music sounds resolute.
This isn’t the only time Dear has worked outside of the regular tech parameters to which most electronic artists are confined. Just last year, Dear worked in conjunction with General Electric’s Global Research Center to make the track “Drop Science” from samples of different GE machinery — but these partnerships were not something Dear sought out. “I [didn’t] decide, ‘I’m going to be [in] the multimedia sound experimental part of my career right now,’ ” he says of collaborating with people in other industries. “You get to work with all these different people who are really good at what they do…I’m watching these guys put the code together and build the brain of the system. And when they describe it, it’s numbers and genius math and you’re just like, ‘Wow, I would never be able to do that.’ I learn from it and I get a great experience. It’s a lot more fun than me sitting in a studio and making an album. That’s boring!”
But that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his pop work for these collaborations; nor has his reinvigoration of Audion become his sole musical focus. “I’ve always walked the tightrope between full dance-electronic-club music and the stuff on my albums like Beams or Black City, which are much more at-home listening,” he says. “I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are still doing the DJ thing and the techno thing, so it’s a bit of a grass-is-greener situation…Long story short: I wanted to bang the box again.” And there may be new Matthew Dear material on the way at some point, too.
“The music’s there; I’ve probably got ten or fifteen songs ready for the new album,” he says. But it may not be as straightforward, so to speak, as his audience is used to. “I’m just kind of enjoying leaving the songs open-ended….There are pieces and loops and fragments. I can just play them live, and that’s great. Maybe I’ll just record a live show and say, ‘Here’s a bunch of new stuff.’ ”
“DELQA: Inside the Music of Matthew Dear, An Interactive Experience” is open August 6–9 at the New Museum’s New Inc. Gallery.