FUCK SEPARATION: A Conversation, by Alessandro Keegan/Mattin

Published at Visitation Rites

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mattin is a musician and performance artist from the Basque Country. He has produced a slew of releases under the names of Deflag Haemorrahge/Haien Kontra, Sakada, Billy Bao, and No More Music. He has also collaborated with many artists, including Drunkdriver, Margarita Garcia, Tim Goldie, Taku Unami and Tony Conrad, to name a few. His work mixes laptop electronics with politics and, in the case of Billy Bao, some harsh, deconstructed rock and roll. In the live setting, Mattin is subversive, sometimes abrasive, and always finding ways to undermind audience expectations and break the boundaries  inherent to performance. 

I began interviewing Mattin by writing back and forth with him via email; finally we sat down to talk further about his work. We decided it would be best to present what we came up with in the spirit of Mattin's work: without categorization or clear authorship. This is not an interview per se, as Mattin's words often become my words and I in turn have re-written and expanded upon some of his.

Are there lines that should not be crossed or cannot be crossed in a performance?

Do you mean like killing somebody? Like using somebody's head as a resonance box [Jon Abbey]? I do not mean to sound like a futurist, but machine guns have beautiful sounds! 

I am more interested in bringing certain ideas that the situationists used in the urban environment into concert situations. I understand that this is problematic, in the sense that I am still an artist. The situationists did not want to have their personal stamp or the brand of an institution on their documentation.

After a concert in Madrid, somebody took my microphone and told me to stop. I was surprised and I did not know what to do. Somebody else told me that I should hang myself with the cord. I was even more confused. I went up to her and asked her, "why don't you do it? Here is the cord and here is my head." She said: "Fucking shut up." Afterward, I was thinking that I should have fought her for the microphone. What she did was fascist in the sense that she was censoring what she did not like. 

Maybe the fascist was me but I leaned a lesson: to always ask myself, before a concert, how far I am willing to go with the situation, with what I am doing, how much integrity there is in what I am doing, and how much I am willing to give up. My physical health? Prison? Everybody hating me afterwards? Lack of recognition?

Violence, anyways, can be an effective way of breaking certain boundaries and connecting with a sensation of the real. I must say that only time that I experienced real violence was during a concert with Drunkdriver, when Berdan was swinging the microphone and hit me. I did not faint, so I continued to play. Even if I am interested in getting head-fucks in concert, l am not sure whether I want to get them literally. I was very confused after that concert; the whole conceptual approach did not work, but there was a very strong atmosphere and it seemed that everybody was feeling very intense.

This "strong atmosphere"  is something difficult to quantify, but I think many performers have sensed it at certain times. Instead of being hypnotized in some orgiastic way, we are forced to reckon with an unexpected situation or to look at the event through a different frame. Something has been transgressed in the social hierarchy of the setting.

Violence is a difficult question, I am personally interested in a 

psychological type of violence, in doing something subtle that can really disturb peoples expectations. The boundaries we create with limited expectations and the categories we ascribe to art are the most oppressive psychological factors, and the most difficult to overcome. They dictate separation and cause alienation. The goal is to identify those moments of separation, because those separations produce power structures and defend ideologies.

I remember seeing concerts where the musicians were very good, and the music was very good, but where what they were doing was something that I could just throw into a category. It would leave me with a feeling of emptiness. When a performance can be easily framed, it risks becoming impotent, no matter what energy or intentions lay at the heart of it. There is always a passive consumer mentality at work, and a market ready to exploit the artist. Even if this market pretends to be alternative, it is still about profiting from people.


You have an unusual relationship with you laptop, sometimes using it as a means of physical engagement with the audience.

One of the most important things that I get out of improvisation is the opportunity to play instruments against the grain. So if people usually stay in front of the screen, respecting only those little fucking patches that they have in front of them, letting the audience seem like they are just secondary to the situation, I am interested in doing the opposite: in socializing my interaction with the computer. It has cost me many motherboards.

Do your collaborations usually begin with a conversation or with a performance?

Either way, a conversation might be a way of putting a process forward,  a process that exceeds the framework of the concert. There is no such thing as a neutral audience, or a perfect audience, or an audience where everyone has the same level of awareness about your work. So if everybody has a different relation to the performer's work, and to the situation that is at hand, I find it stupid to say that the performance is the only thing that matters, or the only place where things are going on. In terms of improvisation, many concerts start before the actual concert begins, with conversations that influence the playing. 

Recently, I played a concert with Margarida Garcia and I said to her that I did not think I had anything interesting to play with my computer. I wanted to just plant myself in the audience and see what would happen if I was announced as a player in the concert but then discovered just sitting there in the crowd, the only sound I produced being the clapping at the end, along with the rest of the audience. This was probably the concert where the most attention was on the other players, as I did not have worry about my shitty playing. And it was amazing!

Being given the role of performer is a kind of alienation. Being a member of the audience is alienating as well. It's funny how the concert situation falls into a submissive pattern when one would think that it should be a moment of liberation.

It can be very lonely on stage because it transforms you into a very particular subject, like a rock star, and this somehow distances you a whole lot from the audience. You are suddenly this gifted artist who commands respect, rather than another pathetic human being. Don't get me wrong: I am saying this about myself. If the danger is gone, that means this desperation has become a commodity. And I am not just talking about physical danger here.

Words:  Alessandro Keegan/Mattin

Photo: Hrvoje Goluza

Continuing Education:

Mattin's website