5 Questions: Matt Shoemaker

Matthew Shoemaker is a self-taught artist working in both digital and analogue realms. His interest in the treatment of sonic phenomena has lead him to produce diverse sound works that take the form of manipulated environmental recordings and mind-melting psychedelia. He has been published by Trente Oiseaux, Helen Scarsdale, Ferns, and Mystery Sea. He is well travelled. To my delight, he agreed to answer some of my inquiries via email.

Scrapyard Forecast: First off, It’s a bit unclear as to where you live now. Are you still in Seattle or have you recently relocated to San Francisco? Either way, how do you think living on the West Coast has affected and influenced your music, in so far as, personal connections you have found to be fruitful and whether or not you find “place” to be all that important in your practice?

Matt Shoemaker: Presently I'm living on Camano Island in Washington state. I was down in San Francisco for awhile in 2009, but circumstances brought me back to the Pacific Northwest. Yes, because I have lived my entire life on the West Coast, there certainly have been regional influences: people, art, and music; all have been deeply affecting, as have more West Coast geographical factors like the the nearby mountains and the ocean. I'm pretty much affected by everything I experience, so for sure, "place" is important. I have yet to figure out how to work with sound in a vacuum.

You released two works on Bernhard Gunter’s Trente Oiseaux label dating back to 2000. How do you regard those works in comparison to more recent releases on Helen Scarsdale and Mystery Sea? Are any of these less or more “grotesque” than others?

I regard my early work on Trente Oiseaux with much affection, but that sentiment would pretty much apply to everything that I've been fortunate enough to have released out in the world. Honestly, I don't know if I really have the distance necessary to offer any critical insight regarding a release-by-release comparison. Certainly there are surface differences, mostly to do with technical aspects of how the sounds were assembled or differences with each individual album's narrative (the way tracks are sequenced, for instance); but beyond those fairly obvious distinctions, what I mostly perceive is a continuity of sorts, with one thing relative to another and various persistent themes tracing a fundamental constant. Those particular themes are very difficult for me to put into words. Making the music is my idiosyncratic way of considering such things. Regarding the "grotesque" factor, I would first like to say that it is an arbitrary descriptor that I have used before but please do not read too much into the word. However, to directly answer your question, I am totally comfortable in saying that all of my releases are more or less equal in their "grotesqueness." Or, in other words, that they can all be more or less listened to as highly altered versions of a sonorous reality. By that measure, you could just as well describe the music I make as "psychedelic," or any number of things. I fully intend there to be an aspect to each release that's really open to the listeners so that they can kind of complete the picture or give it their own meaning. It's important to me that my music doesn't say anything definite.

A) Field recording is often at the center of your work, especially the use of bird calls. I think I speak for many musicians and connoisseurs of sound that the practice of the tasteful use of these recordings in an experimental context is truly a fine line to tread, the result often being something that sounds either beautiful or trite. How do you approach the incorporation of field recording into your work?

It's true that for many people taste is often a fine line. I would describe myself as one of those people. Regardless, seriously considering what the status quo finds tasteful or not is an activity that I avoid, maybe to my own detriment, though I hope not. My approach to using field recordings is pretty simple really, and is not that much different than how I approach using electronics or acoustic instruments: the base criteria being whether or not the sound works in a piece. I usually begin working on something in a additive way, with a great deal of layering or augmenting, but after awhile that approach begins to get old so I start to tear things apart and boil it all down. I will usually cycle through this process a number of times before some sort resolve takes hold. Occasionally I'll begin a piece starting with a field recording as the foundation to work from, but just as often I'll begin with another sound, maybe a bowed guitar or some electroacoustic feedback, for example. Whatever captured sound is auspiciously appropriate or evocative will usually be brought into the mix and given consideration. Saying that, I should let you know that I have some releases on the horizon which are created entirely out of mixed field recordings, as well as some releases created without any field recordings at all.

B) Is it true that you went to the Brazilian rain forest as part of a residency guided by Francisco Lopez? Could you talk about that experience a bit and about some of the prized sounds you captured there?

Yes, the trip took place in November of 2007. I was part of a group of 11 who went to Brazil for several weeks to participate in Francisco's annual Mamori Sound Project residency/workshop. We convened at a jungle lodge in an isolated area of lowland lakes and rainforest, perhaps just four or five hours' journey outside of Manaus, right in the heart of Amazonia. As you can imagine we did a tremendous amount of recording, morning, day, and night, in all kinds of locations. Francisco is extremely good at organizing these things; his knowledge of experimental sound art is deep and vast, and his training as a biologist makes him an excellent guide in the jungle. I had some experience in tropical rainforests while traveling in South East Asia, so I had some idea of what it was going to be like with the heat and humidity, but I also knew from prior experience that there's truly nothing quite like the super abundance of noisy life in such a place. It's self-evident, I suppose, but the Amazon rainforest is really an intense place. Sonically, it's unrelenting. I have assembled a three-volume CD set of minimal soundscapes created solely from my Mamori field recordings that's being released by Ferns Recordings in France (who, by the way, also released my Mutable Depths mini- CD back in 2008.) The first volume should actually be out in a month or so. Birds, insects, frogs, and fresh water river dolphins; open air mic; contact mic, and hydrophone recordings all make a featured appearance. I have tried to create something that considers the Amazon rainforest as deep space.

I’ve read that you have a broad knowledge of avant-garde cinema. What are some of your favourite films? Is the use of sound in cinema something that greatly peaks your interest?

Ah, movies. Yes, I enjoy movies. I'm proud to say that I have both a low brow and high brow. A few favorites that come to mind: Perfumed Nightmare, The Thin Man, Zulawski's Possession, Pather Panchali, Gimme Shelter, Vertigo, Gates of Heaven, Mystics in Bali, M. Hulot's Holiday, the original Dawn of the Dead, Planeta Bur, Mick Jackson's Threads, Pick Up on South Street, Un Chien Andalou, Mike Leigh's Nuts in May, The Bank Dick, Scanners, Caché, Sorcerer, Que Viva Mexico, The Seventh Victim, Once Upon a Time in the West, Audition, Sans Soleil, Paddle to the Sea, Holy Mountain, Lyrisch Nitraat, Chinatown, Quatermass and the Pit, Mysterious Object at Noon, Lang's Scarlet Street, Werckmeister Harmonies, Wiseman's Hospital, Girl from Tobacco Row, Even Dwarfs Started Small, Road Warrior, The Exterminating Angel, Them!, The Killing, Come and See, Brewster McCloud, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Heaven and Earth Magic, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre...I could list a thousand other movies. I'm pretty much interested in any use of sound, so naturally sound in cinema piques my interest.

You’ve collaborated with David Knott under the guise Omake & Johnson, to date releasing one album on your own Human Faculties label. Could you briefly describe how this project came to fruition, and possibly indulge us with what’s in store for Human Faculties in the near future?

Dave has been a very good friend for years. He's an amazing musician. I've learned a great deal from him and he never ceases to surprise me with his approach to improvisation. I can't remember exactly when we first started Omake & Johnson, but I would guess sometime around 2003. We intend to produce more albums, as we have hours and hours of recorded material stored away, but we have no specific release dates scheduled. Hopefully, sooner than later. Regarding the future of Human Faculties, all I will say is that I hope to be able to get some more releases out on the label. I created Human Faculties to have something directly under my control so that I can spontaneously get a release out if I feel the need. That concept still applies, so expect something from the label in the future, but specifically what that 'something' is or when it will come out I cannot say for certain. Besides, right now, I'm preoccupied with a handful of projects which are destined for release soon on other labels. Aside from the Amazon field recording project that's coming out on Ferns, I have two other new projects which I am very excited about: a picture disc and a new full length CD, scheduled to be released later this year on Elevator Bath. Keep an eye (or ear) out!


Fake Jazz Festival 2010

illustration by Bill Batt

I have been honoured with an invitation to play the first ever Fake Jazz Festival. I hope to see you all out at the Western Front on March 27 and at all the other shows. All around it's an incredible group of musical acts and like me, I'm sure you're all trembling with excitement for this to start.


Western Front 303 East 8th Avenue
Lick 455 Abbott Street
Casa Del Artista 150 East 3rd


Festival Pass $25
Single Shows $7 EXCEPT KK NULL $18/15 – Festival Pass add-on $5

Independent curators Anju Singh, Jeremy Van Wyck and Bill Batt perform CPR on their defunct Cobalt Hotel series Fake Jazz. In partnership with Western Front New Music and new venues Lick and Casa del Artista, Vancouver’s underground experimental music scene is celebrated in the Fake Jazz Festival running March 24 through 28, 2010


Wednesday March 24 / Lick 10 PM-1 AM
Aerosol Constellations
Heavy Chains
Broken Sleep
Empty Love

Thursday March 25 / Western Front 8-11 PM
Rachael Wadham + Shane Krause
Scant Intone

Friday March 26 / Western Front 9-11 PM
The Sorrow and the Pity
Flat Grey
Whip of the UFO

Saturday March 27 / Western Front 8-11 PM
V. Vecker
Glass Armonica
Giorgio Magnanensi, Kedrick James, Chad MacQuarrie

Saturday March 27 / Secret Location Doors 11 PM
Shearing Pinx
Josh Rose

Sunday March 28 / Casa del Artista
Pancake Breakfast 1 PM
Music 6 PM – Midnight

Haunted Beard
Stamina Mantis
Twin Crystals
Black Mage
Ejaculation Death Rattle


Label Highlight: Elevator Bath

It was a hellish ride with a storybook ending.
Such was the unfolding of a weekend trip to Seattle almost two years ago. The occasion was the 10th anniversary concert of the Seattle based (formerly Texas based) label Elevator Bath, managed by Colin Andrew Sheffield. The concert, commemorating the decade-old label featured outstanding performances from the likes of Jim Haynes, Matt Shoemaker, Dale Lloyd, Adam Pacione, and Rick Reed. Sheffield also arranged the compilation a cleansing ascension, featuring the artists mentioned above along with a number of other talented names. It is an impressive arrangement that seemed to re-instill a number of people's faith in the very idea of compilations.

Various Artists a cleansing ascension (2008)

Mr. Sheffield was kind enough to send me Signatures, his debut full-length from last year. It was the first available release from the mysterious Invisible Birds label run by Diane Granahan and Matthew Swiezynski, spawning from the idea of "tiny feathered workers motionlessly charting immensity." I missed out on the initial limited edition deluxe art-box release of Signatures, which, judging by the images looked stunning; the music within, equally so.

From early starts as a drummer, Sheffield eventually became interested in electronic music, and later refined the scope of his practice to the distilling, blurring, and expanding of existing musical material to form new works of smeared "plunderphonic audio collage," as written in his bio. In 1998 he formed Elevator Bath, and to date, the label has over 40 releases from some of the finest sound sculptors out there.

Colin Andrew Sheffield Signatures (Invisible Birds, 2009)

Picture Disc Series
Jim Haynes Eraldus/Eravaldus
Rick Reed dreamz/blue polz
Dale Lloyd Akasha_For Record
Not Pictured-
Adam Pacione Dobranoc

The picture disc series is in my opinion the highlight of this highlight. They are incredible to look at, and all of them are packaged in a thick, clear plastic sleeve that leaves barely anything between you and the glorious art. And thus, the most important thing, the music imbedded within these colorful planks of wax is always a pleasure. Here is an older review of mine about the Haynes and Reed albums:

Eraldus starts things of with a static current that slowly builds and eventually sounds like a helicopter crash landing into a giant cavern, then seamlessly gives way to pressurized drones covered in years of dust, debris and melted wax. Eravaldus begins in similar territory but is an overall more abrasive affair. Amplified space and agitated atmospheres ring out over corroded landscapes, a black hole of sound, swallowing everything in proximity. From start to finish this record is an exploration of space and time and it's relation to sounds, patiently transitioning from one sonic environment to the next. These are the sounds of mountains eroding away and (malleable) shorelines dissolving into the oceans, only sped up so we can listen to our Earth crumbling before our eyes. I am beginning to love the idea of decay; I tend to go about my day with the idea lodged in the back of my mind. Jim has really taken it to the next level, embodying the idea in his art and life and now in this spectacular record.

Dreamz/Blue Polz
Dreamz (2007) starts off with a muted electronic clatter that is quickly taken over by a dense tone, everything wrapped in what could be short-wave radio static. The track then undergoes a series of fluctuations and swells, leaving the static behind and churning onward as a multi-faceted (sine?) wave of pure synth flatline drone eventually mutating into a sinister crawl. At about the 16 minute mark the track takes a rapid shift as Reed introduces a Fennesz/Hecker-like pixelated synth loop, so dreamy and hypnotic that it could stretch over a whole side of vinyl and I probably wouldn't tire of it. The flip, Blue Polz begins with a much more glitch electronica feel, sonar pulses pepper the opening 3 minutes giving way to more of that dark ambient synth drone that Reed handles so well. A slow throbbing pulse eventually takes over maintaining itself for the duration, so slow and methodical reminding me of early Mirror, and anything even remotely close to the Mirror sound is worth getting excited over. Impressive stuff.

Akasha_For Record
This is the first album to emerge from Dale Lloyd in a number of years. If his intentions were to build anticipation amongst the dedicated drone nuts then subsequently unleash a masterpiece, I would say he has succeeded. Akasha For Record may just be his masterpiece, evident in the punctuated transitions between vast expanses of grainy ambience and segments of well situated field recordings. The record almost feels like a compilation of well respected drone artists, because of the variations in sound, though at the same time remaining very cohesive. Lovely image, and likewise, lovely sounds.

Francisco Lopez
Lopez Island, Machines 2cd

Now available as a "bundle" set, Lopez Island and Machines together amount to over 200 minutes of sound. It's a lot to digest if you've only ever briefly heard a track or two from Lopez's extensive backlog of albums. The hundred or so releases can seem a bit intimidating at first, but you'll be truly rewarded after finally making the brave decision to take the head-first plunge into Mr. Lopez's tactile sound world. The release of Lopez Island dates back to 2007, where Lopez visited said island and managed to capture an array of sonic activity ranging from churning and whirling mechanized electrical devices to crackling fires and wildlife. The opening moments reveal layers of a burning fire, each one expertly introduced on a precise snap of a twig, or fizzle of an ember. From here the 50 minute piece unfolds into many miniature sound worlds, eventually yielding pulsating industrial rhythms and fissures from unknown sources. Quite remarkable and a very good starting point for the unfamiliar, as I was.

Though similar to Lopez Island, Machines is, to an extent an entirely different beast. From the four long tracks spanning these two discs we hear Lopez actualizing his finely chiseled compositional techniques; a sort of fluctuated kinetic acceleration comes to mind as if Lopez's arrangements are derived from him tossing his recorded fragments into a particle accelerator and then slightly tweaking the product. Each piece is focused around a particular set of source recording material: clocks, metronomes, elevators, and factories. The lopsided rhythms of the clocks and metronomes can be a bit disorienting and don't amount to the calibre of recording that Lopez is capable of. The other tracks, however, make up for the initial misstep. Still very recommended.

Other select Elevator Bath discography-

Adam Pacione Dobranoc LP Picture Disc (029)
Rick Reed Dark Skies At Noon (025)
Colin Andrew Sheffield First Thus (020)
Ilya Monosov Vinyl Document #1 LP (010)
Havergal Trash 10" (002)

Special Thanks to Colin Andrew Sheffield
Keep in the loop with this label as there seem to be many promising albums on the horizon.


In Collaboration | Colin Potter & The Hafler Trio 'A Pressed On Sandwich' (Nextera, 2006)

This is the first installment of one of my purposed monthly mainstay featurettes, dedicated to artistic collaborations respectively within the experimental-fringe genres of esoteric minimalism, tactile drone, ambient, decayed tape fuckery and so on. My initial idea was to link all the albums together through a common artist but now I am slowly visualizing all the inevitable dead-ends and thus making me re-think my approach. I am happy to settle for a degree or two of separation from album to album. With that said, I'll still try to maintain a level of cohesion, linking everything together, even if by dangling loose threads. The Collaborative Network might take yet another varied path in the near future, as things are still very unfixed at this point.

Colin Potter & The Hafler Trio
A Pressed On Sandwich (Nextera, 2006)

I'm drawn to the collaborative process.

It isn't simple to work with other people. A difference of opinion can easily plague the outcome of a work, and when your work primarily orbits around the confines of minimalist sound making, it can mean the difference between a decent record and a brilliant one. What draws me to the collaborative process is not the process itself, but how collaborators derive at a process that works. This can take many forms: on-the-spot improvising, or a back and forth exchange of individually recorded segments, or any degree of implication of the two with the potential left over for post production tinkery, if one so happens to feel it necessary. There is the case of Ben Chasney and Hiroyuki Usui working together as August Born. Working material was constantly being mailed back and forth across the world until the songs just felt complete. There was also the case of Christoph Heemann and Charlemagne Palestine's brilliant Saiten In Flammen LP from last year that actualizes a collaborative process that happened in two distinct parts, Palestine handling the source material, in this case a Bosendorfer Imperial piano, while Heemann later reworking and processing the album, transforming it into a deeply saturated stoic album of muted jackhammer keys and flickering tonalities. The albums mentioned above along with countless others could not have turned out the way they did had the collaborative process been different, changed, or somehow impeded. And thus, the right process is essentially vital to the making of a strong album.

With that long-winded intro out of the way, I can now focus on the two gentlemen responsible for the album at hand, who are in no way strangers to the collaborative process. A Pressed On Sandwich remains a classic in my books, though a lot of the pages are still being filled-in. It is an album that is constantly present in my listening world, not unlike Sumac, which I've mentioned, reviewed, and gushed over more then once on this blog. Colin Potter and Andrew McKenzie are both regarded as highly skilled sound sculptures and have along the way draped their personas in enigmatic cloaks that still remain completely non-translucent. It was the Hafler Trio performance How to Slice a Loaf of Bread that brought these two together and thus, spawning this wonderful collaboration. Some time after the performance, McKenzie sent Potter the recorded material of ...Loaf of Bread, in which, Potter decided to rework it, pushing it into different sonic areas while still attempting to maintain the original work's overall shape. Might I state that Potter vastly succeeded in his attempt.

A Pressed On Sandwich begins with an icy dampened drone, like a lo-fi recording of the mechanics of a turntable on its last legs-or gears I should say. Static pops peppered throughout the opening moments fill the foreground but then disappear into the glacial expanse. From there, the tones undulate, spin and flicker leaving in their wake dust clouds of high-end feedback and buckling conveyer belt drones. Over an hour the piece is eroded to the smoldering electronic static alluded to at the opening moments but only fully realized during the concluding quarter. Isolating, dark, and oh so good.