Jester: Musically, how is "Excision" different from previous Lab Report albums now that Eric Pounder has left the project and Derek Frederickson is helping out?
Matt: While Eric was a member of Lab Report for the past three albums, there have been other musicians who have helped out in the past. Chris Blazen and Becky Allen were on "Figure X-71", Genesis P. Orridge and Lydia Lunch were on "Unhealthy", and we had a handful of guests on "Terminal". Now while we have constantly been working with other people, at the time it was Eric who I had known the longest, so we were the only real core elements of the project at that time.
The nice thing about Eric was that we didn't have to talk much when we wrote music. We could just play together and the music would work itself out whereas when we brought in other people it was never that easy. They always brought their own personal interests into what was completely improvisational music at the time. So it was always a problem with people wanting to talk in the language of music all the time and not sharing very much.
Our biggest challenge was always to not make noise. Now I realize that "Unhealthy" is a bit noisy, but we always tried to avoid becoming a noise band. Anybody can go out and make irritating sounds, but the biggest challenge was to find structure in the sounds. One of the reasons why Eric left Lab Report is because he became much more interested in writing 'songs' than in creating moods from which the music was derived. Generally I tried to avoid using any type of recognizable notation in my music, choosing instead to let it evolve from a certain mood.
Personally, I feel that "Terminal" and "Excision" are the musical direction that I am really enjoying going towards. Whereas the first two albums we were just trying to figure ourselves out musically.
Jester: Is Derek a full-time member of Lab Report?
Matt: No. Actually he helped engineer the album on the computer and he played on two songs.
Jester: Would you consider Lab Report your solo project now?
Matt: Without discrediting Derek who writes pop music with a band called Dirty, I would say that Lab Report is quickly becoming a solo project. Derek did help me out a great deal with the engineering on his computer because at this moment I don't have a computer myself. A lot of the music making process was me directing the overall creation of the music while he threw in his personal opinion on a few of the tracks. So I decided to include him in the credits because he did help out quite a great deal.
Jester: I actually had a chance to see Lab Report live at the end of August at the LAB in Chicago. Who else was performing with you on stage?
Matt: Bowen Sanders, who I would consider more than Derek as a new member of Lab Report and Keri Simonnien, who plays guitar with Derek in Dirty. I have worked on an off with Bowen for years and it was good to work with him because he really enjoys doing a sort of melodic Vangelis style of ambient music.
Jester: Are you working on any new material?
Matt: I've actually just finished two complete new albums. Recently I purchased a Kurzweil keyboard and it has sped up the music making process considerably. The odd thing is, the whole reason I built instruments like the A.T.G. (Anti-Tank Guitar) was to avoid using the concept of sampling in my music. On the first few albums, my opinion was that sampling was a bad thing because you can do things like fart into a microphone, transpose it, effect it and it will end up being the best kick drum you've ever heard. So after having explored, to what I felt was the limits of my own hand-made instruments, I decided to break down and buy a sampler.
As for the A.T.G., I appreciate the instrument and I love playing it, but right now I sort of have a different opinion about why I am making music. Now I am moving towards that new opinion and have adopted sampling as a new tool. With the addition of the Kurzweil, I worked on "Excision" and finished two more albums all rather quickly. As for live performances, I still like to include the A.T.G. stuff although I'm not so sure I want to be doing live stuff anymore to be honest.
Jester: Where do you come up with all of the multi-media concepts like the live videos, slide shows, and reel-to-reel films that you use in a live performance? The use of all those media rich concepts seem to assault you senses.
Matt: That is exactly what I want to happen. If I had my way, I would be in the orchestra pit sitting in front of a keyboard, with a film playing on the screen behind me. The whole concept of working with the folks at the LAB is the use of video and shortly DVD in association with music. Ultimately I'd like to be able to feed audio and full motion video down the Internet to anyone who wants it. Ultimately I want to incorporate video totally into the music and not sell something as a CD, but only as a DVD. Ideally, you could be able to play that DVD as a CD without the video, but at the moment, the current DVD players don't allow it.
Jester: How did you originally go about designing and building the A.T.G.?
Matt: Back when I used to avoid having anything to do with sampling, I was having trouble finding an instrument that had a good low end. I wanted to find something that was more of a percussive stringed instrument so I have to build one myself. The first A.T.G. that I built and played with Pigface in 1992 was over eight feet in length. It was a 4x4 wooden beam that doubled as two instruments. One side has guitar pickups and the other side had bass pickups. The wires were each 18 to 20 gauge single string strands on the guitar side, and the bass side have woven wire that you use in electronic garage doors. What I liked about the A.T.G. was that it could be very percussive, while still being able to remain subtle like a bass and even melodic like a standard guitar.
Jester: How many A.T.G.'s have you built?
Matt: The one inside the cover of "Excision" is the fourth one I've made. All of the others were designed like guitars, totally flat between bridges, and fretless. The newest is a six string, with one end having staggers between the ends of each string so I can bow each string independently. A lot of the music that appears on "Excision" was actually made from using an E-bow or a cello bow on that A.T.G. I love the sounds that the bows make just attacking the thick, fat string. Ultimately I ended up cannibalizing the first A.T.G. for some of the smaller ones I made later because I found I could get just as much low end with a smaller instrument that is only five feet long.
Jester: Have you built any other instruments beside the A.T.G. to use in Lab Report because I noticed the use of the Theremin in the live show.
Matt: The Theremin is an odd little instrument. Everyone seems to be using it these days, including bands like Portishead, so much that I think it is swiftly becoming overused. Personally I think they are horribly expensive and a waste of money. It is fun to use, especially when you MIDI link it to a keyboard so that you can get more sounds out of it than just from the single oscillator it contains. Ultimately the problem with instruments like the Theremin is that you can never play the same melodic notation twice. The pitch field that you break on a Theremin is so specific that it is impossible to keep the same melody without spending years perfecting the skill. Personally, I'd rather try to do the same thing with a sampler and a keyboard that you can buy for $50 at Radio Shack to hit the same tones but with a much easier interface.
Jester: It sounds to me that you've realized after all these years of hand-making instruments, that while it is great to make music with them, it is that there is an easier way to do it?
Matt: Exactly. The irony that I find by working with these types of sound sculptures is that if I use the same sound on two albums, people complain that they have heard it before. People only seem to tolerate the same sounds from my type of music once. So implementing the use of technology has been imposed onto me by the people who listen to my music. Nowadays I try to give them new sounds as often as possible without sacrificing what I want in my music.
Ultimately I sense the A.T.G. being used less simply because of the fact that people don't want to hear the same thing over and over. However, I am working on a new A.T.G. that is sculpted in addition to it's use as an instrument so that it will look attractive. The only difference is that it will include a big, brass, hollow bowl that will be down by the belly of the instrument. The strings will run above the bowl and resonate the bowl which has a contact microphone underneath it. The idea is that I can place different types and volumes of liquid in the bowl and get different tones.
Jester: Is it like Dave Wright's waterphone?
Matt: I've been told that it is. Of course, my Kurzweil has the waterphone as a preset sound which is again very ironic. It brings to mind the problem that Eric and I always faced when we played live, which was how were we going to make it entertaining for the audience. Personally, I have never seen a Lab Report performance as conducive to being fun but we still needed to do something to entertain people.
Jester: The thing that I enjoyed about your performance was that while it was too loud to listen to without earplugs, that once I put ear plugs in, I could enjoy it more from the resonating bass tones that I felt rather than heard.
Matt: I'm glad that you enjoyed it and your experience is what I want to strive more towards in the future.
Jester: Were you involved in any aspect of the creation of the LAB?
Matt: Only to the extent of donating the video portions of LAB performances. Stephen Collins is the chief coordinator of the project and the first real event they held was the twelve hour live performance with Dead Voices on Air, not breathing and a few other musicians. While they have this huge video crew that I could use while performing at their loft, personally, I just went and bought a video camera. Then I downloaded all of the Super-8 and 16mm footage I had archived onto it as well as shooting everything I could find for a month all over the city. Then I gave the various video clips to the mixing guy who mixes in the video live with the music which in conjunction with the live crew and the music is all fed to a multicast on the Internet. I think that this type of thing is totally the wave of the future.
Jester: How long have you been making those sculptures that appear on the artwork of "Excision"?
Matt: I've been making them for quite some time, but it was really only around the release of this album that I had acquired enough pieces that I wanted to exhibit them alongside my music. I also want to find a gallery dealer and exhibit them in a more conventional manner. However, I want to do it in a multi-media type manner, with installations of sculptures and my music playing. It just so happens that those three hook pieces happen to fit thematically with the music on "Excision" so I included them in the artwork.
The album is also a promotional tool to aid me to find a gallery. The whole concept is being sold as a complete package of music, film and sculptures. My whole goal is to ultimately either package film with music, or soundtrack with graphic novel so that I can offer a true multimedia aspect to all my releases. Unfortunately, I may have to end up releasing those projects myself because it is getting rather difficult to find someone who is interested enough in my work to put it out themselves.
Jester: Have you ever had any formal musical training?
Matt: I played French Horn for nine years in school.
Jester: How does that translate to the kind of music that you do now? Or is it not applicable?
Matt: If I was really quick and arrogant, I'd say that it was totally based on theory, however for the types of scores I've written in the past the musical notation might be all timed correctly, but the notes are all in watercolor. The idea is that each instrument plays to a different color on the musical bars and it ends up being completely interpretive based on whom was playing what instruments. The only thing that my scores seem to maintain is the time signature of each instrument.
To me my music has always contained a certain sense of looseness and improvisation. My personal musical theory is that I am trying to iconize certain sound elements. Instead of sampling from movies, I try to iconize sounds that are uniquely specific to almost everyone based on their sound context. As a result, I use things like doors creaking, matches lightings, and rainfalls. For me that door creaking suggests that someone is coming into a room, so immediately my mind drifts to the mood of expecting a new person to stop by. Ultimately I want to make my music sound effect orientated via these universal icons of sound so I can invoke certain moods.
Jester: Do you think there is a market for something like that?
Matt: Ultimately, I don't think that anyone cares. At this moment in our lifetimes, I feel that a great deal of art has been exhausted. It is very easy to note when you listen to so called Alternative artists regurgitating old classic rock. I also think that Experimental music has fallen into the same trap of piecing together all of the old concepts in the hopes that they will discover something new.
The acceptance for this type of music has drastically dwindled recently. Right now there are no places in Chicago where you can go and see a band like Lab Report doing anything new. Therefore, by the simple fact that no one is exposed to this type of music anymore, I sense it is dying rather quickly. I'm at the point where if someone happens to like the type of music that I am making, then I'll burn a copy on my CD recorder and send it to you. I'm not in this for making money by any means, I'm only into it for the sake of the music even if it means that only you and ten of your closest friends will ever hear it.