Matmos: "Ultimate Care II Excerpt Eight" (via SoundCloud)
The idea to make an album entirely out of the sounds of a washing machine came to Matmos’ Martin Schmidt as he drummed his fingers on the Whirlpool Ultimate Care II in his home studio, lost in abstracted contemplation of its cyclical rhythms. “It was a self-contained, very simple idea,” Schmidt explains. “But once you start examining anything, it gives and gives and gives. The shit writes itself as soon as you're actually paying attention." So what began as a lark turned into a profound investigation into the creative process itself.
Of course, Schmidt and his longtime partner in art and life, Drew Daniel, are no strangers to ambitious projects—whether it be musique concrete sourced from the sounds of plastic surgery, as on 2001's A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, or the fusion of Medieval folk music, early Americana, and electronic processing of 2003's The Civil War, or their last album, The Marriage of True Minds, which followed a convoluted parapsychological conceit in which human guinea pigs attempted to divine the particulars of an as-yet unwritten album. But Marriage's many moving parts tested their abilities, and sometimes their patience, taking up more than five years of their lives and occasioning more than its share of tears and fights. For the follow-up, they wanted to do something simpler.
“It started with just the sound of the washing machine itself," says Daniel. "We made a recording of its full cycle, but we were really disappointed in it." It sounded less like the dramatic slice of found sound they had imagined, and more like, well, water sloshing around in a metal box. So they began experimenting with the placement of contact mics; using transducers to feed samples of the washing machine back into the machine's resonant chamber; and inviting friends from Baltimore's underground music community, including Dan Deacon, to contribute. They decided to call the record Ultimate Care II, in honor of its star.