An Interview

Mattin is an improvising musician from Bilbao, the Basque country, residing in London now. He plays computer and guitar, and runs the label w.m.o/r and the web label Desetxea (, which release nontrivial music coming with thought-provoking artworks and texts. In addition to solo works, he performs actively with both electronic musicians and players of acoustic instruments. The list of his collaborators includes Lucio Capeco, Margarida Garcia, Timothy Goldie, Radu Malfatti, Eddie Prévost, Taku Unami.

Autsaider (Roman Pishchalov): Is there any concept or philosophy behind improvising on a computer whereof audio-in is connected to audio-out, a hermetic instrument closed to input from outside?

Mattin: Actually, it is the opposite of a hermetic instrument – I use the internal microphone of the computer to generate feedback. The mic picks up sounds from the room or from other musicians, from the audience or my movements in the keyboard. The space where the performance takes place affects the sound. Often digital sounds can be as you said hermetic, then it is just a matter of how the amplification delivers the sounds from the computer, so I try to play with different possibilites of how to deliver the sounds. Or actually let the sound that is already there to be more present. In the trio DC “Training Thoughts” (recorded live at Emban, Tokyo) with Taku Sugimoto and Yasuo Totsuka what you can hear mostly is the sound of trains passing by and very subtle infiltrations of our sounds. Often improvisers try to generate an autonomous situation, in which musicians are in the foreground. “Training Thoughts” does the opposite – by being quiet the sounds that are already there come to the foreground. Our playing becomes completely subjected by soundscapes that we can hear from outside. Funny that often reviewers talking about the sounds of the trains thought they were prerecorded.

Autsaider (RP): I thought computer feedback was rather about processing interferences and errors in music software that would generate a sort of chain reaction, noise, feedback. I can see now that it’s somewhat different from what I thought.

How did you come to playing the computer? Did you play any other instruments before?

Mattin: I used to play the guitar and bass back in Bilbao, and I still do in Billy Bao, La Grieta ( and Deflag Haemorrhage / Haien Kontra (with Goldie) but what I like about the computer is that it does not carry much historical luggage as a music instrument. It is also a very pragmatic choice – with the computer I can do a lot of different things, in fact with the computer you can make music, edit it, master it, make copies, graphic design, press releases, e-mails for distribution... and you can do all this using a free operating system like GNU/Linux. In the last year I became very interested in GNU/Linux thanks to the Metabolik Hack-Lab in Bilbao, a great bunch of people working in the squatt of Leioa. They organize talks, courses, actions... all around the use of Free Software. They also had made their own GNU/Linux distribution for media-hacktivism, it's called X-evian and you can download it from Before, in order to get music software, you would have to crack it, but with GNU/Linux you just download it. And there are great audio applications in Free Software.

For me it has been a very important change. I am not a very technical kind of person, in fact a bit the opposite, but with GNU/Linux you get activated as a user, and it is often very community based.

Autsaider (RP): Billy Bao’s music sounds to be influenced by the Stooges. Do you draw inspiration from them or, perhaps, other American underground bands? Proto-punk, garage bands from the 1960’s?

Mattin: Yeah, sure. “Funhouse” is my favourite record: raw and brutal and at the same time so sophisticated and delicate (“Dirt”). Punk rock was very big in Bilbao throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. There were some great bands like Eskorbuto, MCD, and then later on, Pop Crash Colapso (Mikel Biffs recorded Billy Bao) and La Secta (which the drummer of Billy Bao was in). It was very inspiring to know that great music was being generated in your city. Also the Velvets were a big influence on me, and I still do the cheap Lou Reed with the guitar, a first volume representing this side will come on Japanese label Hibari (, the second volume comes with this magazine.

Autsaider (RP): What is Bilbao for you?

Mattin: It is my hometown, and I feel much attached to it, but at the same time also very alienated. Bilbao has been going through an amazing regeneration. In the early 1990's, it was a devastated post-industrial city, and by the end of the 1990's it appeared on the cover of Times magazine. This was mostly achieved by Gery's grandiose Guggenheim Museum building. Now Hal Folster put Bilbao as an example of “the spectacle of society.” The society itself has internalised the spectacle. In Bilbao, you can really feel this process. Nonetheless, there are some interesting things going on like the conceptual Telestreet Amatau TV, MEM festival (, Metabolik Hack Lab, Periferiak (

Autsaider (RP): Is there an improv scene in Bilbao? D’you perform in Bilbao?

Mattin: There are some great musicians (Edorta Izarzugaza, Enrike Hurtado who makes, then in Bera there is the Ertz collective (, a very active group of musicians who organize a festival every year. A core figure is Xabier Erkizia who is also running the audiolab in arteleku ( He is an amazing musician and very important in promoting the experimental music in the Basque country, and there are other great musicians such as Alex Mendizabal, Tzesne, Akauzazte, Tusuri, Ministro, Bassline... Actually the Catalonian/Greek label Antifrost ( has released a compilation of Basque experimental artists.

Autsaider (RP): There are many improvising musicians and new music composers, who have written essays and even books on music. You’re also active in belles-lettres of this kind. Why do you write texts about music? Is it because you feel you fail to be expressive and clear enough with your tone art that you resort to writing to explain your aesthetic approach? (This question concerns you, as well as your colleague improvising musicians Eddie Prévost, Derek Bailey, but of course I don’t expect you to speak for them. Speak for yourself.)

Mattin: It is not that I want to explain an aesthetical approach with my texts. It is that I am trying to find out what does it mean to improvise. Language is a very explicit form of communication. I find it very useful to put into words thoughts that are triggered by thinking about improvisation and its consequences in a broader context.

Autsaider (RP): You seem to be critical of capitalism in your texts. What’s wrong with capitalism?

Mattin: To simplify a lot: I have neither chose to live under this system, nor to be educated towards work, money and certain values which praise competition.

Capitalism is very complex. There are good things and bad things within that complexity. So, it's a matter of finding cracks in which you can produce activities which do not have to be subjected to capitalist interest but your own-not that the division is that clear.

Autsaider (RP): I heard this thing about “cracks in the system” many times before, but are there cracks? Does “finding cracks” mean “finding a grant to fund your artistic activity and living”? Is financial (in)dependence a question for you? Do activities in the cracks have any future if the system remains the same work-money-supply-demand ring?

Mattin: I think it is very difficult to make a living doing this music, and people who promote this music (organizing concerts, running labels...) often do lose money. So everybody has to look for alternatives. At the moment I am living in London, a very expensive city (especially rent). So many people (including myself) have to squat in order stay here. This is the kind of thing that I have in mind when I talk about “finding cracks” within the system. Others are organization of concerts, or workshops like the one Eddie Prévost is running every Friday on improvisation or Antonnio's at Ramparts on Free Software.

Autsaider (RP): Gilles Deleuze appears to be the name mentioned most frequently in your texts. What’s so special about him?

Mattin: Anti-hierarchical, Permissibility, Becoming, Trendy.

Autsaider (RP): Guy Debord seems to be another influence on you. What do you think about his “Society Of The Spectacle”? Do you find this book prophetical?

Mattin: Sure! Thesis 44 from the chapter “The Commodity as Spectacle”

The spectacle is a permanent opium war which aims to make people identify goods with commodities and satisfaction with survival that increases according to its own laws. But if consumable survival is something which must always increase, this is because it continues to contain privation. If there is nothing beyond increasing survival, if there is no point where it might stop growing, this is not because it is beyond privation, but because it is enriched privation.”

Getting back to the question of what is wrong with capitalism, and the impossibility of being able to distinguish many of its qualities, or being able to divide it, like this is capitalism, this is not, Debord was a crucial figure in analysing the way commodities expanding more and more and the alienation that occurs in this process.

There is a lot of discussion going on about “post-fordism”, and how language, affects and care are the tools of a “new factory without walls”. This decentralised mode of production makes the classic forms of antagonism to cease its power. Now there is the need for new strategies. A good example can be independent media, which before Seattle was not very developed. Constant detournement is constantly needed. Nor just in the media but in our own projections. We should granulate any development of cliché in ourselves, bastardizing our ideas as much as possible.

How is it that even if many of us hate capitalism, we are not doing everything necessary to destroy constantly? That is because we are also part of capitalism, we are reproducing it constantly, and probably we are scared of what it could come after we abolish this system. Not that I see a possible rupture clearly, but hope never ceases.

Again Debord: “The spectacle is not only the servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself the pseudo-use of life.”

Autsaider (RP): Do you think it’s correct to view improvised music as associated with leftist ideas? Or is it just a false view that comes from the fact that some of the musicians (Cornelius Cardew, Keith Rowe, John Tilbury) were and are communists?

Mattin: I do not think there is a correct view on improvised music. Actually when Cardew and Rowe became Maoist, they stopped improvising and they started playing revolutionary songs.

Autsaider (RP): Do you associate yourself with any particular ideology?

Mattin: Anarchism.

Autsaider (RP): You visited Tokyo in 2004. Tokyo is a base of onkyo music. What do you think about onkyo? Do you know the musicians?

Mattin: I don't give a fuck about onkyo. There are great musicians and a very rich underground culture in Japan. In fact, one of the most underground musicians is Taku Unami, the son of famous philosopher Akira Unami (Japanese translator of Deleuze). He has just released the amazing “Kitsune-hitori” on Taku Sugimoto's label Slab. This music completely avoids categorisations and brings another perspective on music, if there is an avant-garde now in music, that is “Kitsune-hitori”. This music avoids trends and terms.

Autsaider (Andrij Orel): At the present moment, a certain tradition of free improvising seems to be thriving, associated with Keith Rowe, some European and Japanese musicians, and the Erstwhile label. For better or worse, this music seems to have established a set of more-or-less firm structural patterns of tension/accumulation/release, along which we can expect it to move. Would you agree that this type of post-AMM layered/textural free improv is becoming a traditional music? Do you support or oppose this tradition?

Mattin: I do not think that to think in binaries is that helpful, even if I think of myself as a very binary kind of guy.

In terms of Erstwhile, even if I appreciate Jon Abbey's passion, I find the production and design often sterile, no danger. I'd rather get Corpus Hermeticum stuff in which you find yourself questioning whether what you are listening to is pure genius or pure shit - obviously this situation questions your own values. And this thing of Keith Rowe being on a pedestal, where he can put himself in any combination that he wishes, brings a hierarchical way of working, in which a couple of people (Jon with money and Keith with respect of other musical fellows) invite other musicians to play in the formations they want. In opposition to that, I admire Derek Bailey, who puts himself in any formation to improvise, not in order to make tasteful music but to create conflict within improvisation.

Autsaider (AO): Regarding “questioning your own values”: do you think of timbral/noise improvisation as the prime way for questioning values in music? Are melody, harmony and meter absent from your music because, being elements of a stable music language, they do not question values, but assert them? Do you consider questioning of values as the only form of thinking worth pursuing? If yes, why?

Mattin: By questioning values I mean to try to find the inner structuralisation that we have inside in order to destroy it, to not get stagnated. I do not think that improvisation is the only way to do this, but for me it has certain elements that I find very refreshing. Like not having to achieve any coherence, the production of constant contradictions and having to deal with them collaboratively.

Autsaider (AO): Do you listen to any composed music (avant-garde or other)?

Mattin: Yes I do listen to composed music, avant-garde and other kinds.

Autsaider (AO): What do you think of field recordings as a “genre” of recorded sound? Can listening to field recordings be meaningful?

Mattin: Absolutely.

Autsaider (RP): Do you listen to pop music?

Mattin: My attitude to pop music is that of both disgust and pleasure. It can be so fucking vulgar and full of common denominators – as with experimental music – and at the same time it can easily bring affects that change your mood. It is like being cheated, which is great if you do not feel guilty for being a fucking idiot while some people are making a good living out of your idiocy.