M.C. Schmidt posed an important question last Sunday during a live Song Exploder event at the fourth annual Megapolis Audio Festival. Schmidt, one half of formerly-local-now-Baltimore-based experimental music duo Matmos, effectively summed up the value of Song Exploder for its host Hrishikesh Hirway by reiterating a thought coming from his days at the San Francisco Art Institute: “Is [an art piece] still gonna tell the same story without the little plaque?”
Schmidt surmises that in the realm of audio, this feat is significantly harder. Musicians need to somehow capture their audience with far fewer chances for explanation, really having only a press release to work with. Enter Song Exploder, an idea so brilliantly simple the music industry did a double take when it was introduced last year. Anchored by LA’s Hirway, the podcast “explodes” a pre-determined song into its individual parts and allows its creator to explain, or essentially “plaque,” each stem.
For Matmos, this was overr 100 components to the song “Very Large Green Triangles” from their most recent album, The Marriage of True Minds (2014).
At Omni Commons, the show sold more tickets than there were chairs; many of the attendees lay down on the floor in what seemed to be optimal podcast listening position as Schmidt and his partner, Drew Daniel, carried most of the presentation. This fit Hirway’s purpose—he explained to us at the start of the show that the conversation would run about an hour but eventually be condensed to 15, 20 minutes after editing, and that his questions would be entirely omitted.
The finished podcast from Sunday hasn’t been released yet, but it’ll be interesting to see what Hirway kept—Matmos, as part-time academics and a full-time couple, were dynamic and entertaining guests who required minimal guidance from their host.
Between individual stem playbacks, the duo dissected Daniel’s telepathy-based creative process, told the story of how Schmidt purchased a used piano with a warped pinblock from a “weirdo,” and commented on the ubiquity of Baltimore club at its characteristic “record-skipping” tempo of 133BPM.
As revelatory as the session was (Hirway played “Very Large Green Triangles” again after the conversation to prove his point), Song Exploder doesn’t entirely solve the plaque problem. The podcast is still a Google search’s time and effort away from immediate access, about the same distance as any other explanatory material; however, it allows both listener and artist to geek out. For conceptual artists like Matmos, it’s a moment for them to shine.
Song Exploder could potentially serve as a highly educational music discovery tool—a digital and admission-free sound museum of sorts; otherwise, it is most useful if your taste happens to align with Hirway’s mostly indie rock / electronic guests (though he is trying to branch out). He publishes on a biweekly basis; guests featured on the 39 episodes thus far include The Postal Service, Baths, Alexandre Desplat, and Toro Y Moi.
As a podcast, Song Exploder appears to be the only one of its type for music, an observation made by Roman Mars, who featured Hirway’s program in his own 99% Invisible. Sunday, Mars served as the introduction to the podcast taping, reprising 99%’s Episode 65, a 2012 show about disruptive camouflage titled “Razzle Dazzle.”
Article by Joanna Jiang