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  • Jonathan Widran

MATTHEW J VAN HOWE, Cognitive Concrete

Whether he’s listening to Beethoven or Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, a musical compadre of mine always says, “To catchy every intricate detail, some recordings are simply better experienced and understood while high. ”

I feel tempted to challenge him with Cognitive Concrete, Chicago based compositional surrealist and experimental synth/techno master Matthew J Van Howe’s Cognitive Concrete, the sonic equivalent of 14 sonically, vocally and lyrically transcendent/fascinating/mind-bending/trippy/annoying and lyrically abstract/offbeat/weird/insightful excursions to the shapeshifting musical equivalent of “The Twilight Zone” or maybe the late Andy Kaufman’s brain.

Because the enigmatic artist intuitively knows visuals offer a deeper entry into his off-kilter, sometimes scattershot, oftimes sweet and soulful corner of the universe, he creates a powerful and wildly dynamic mindf*** of a video for “cindodecinco,” an intensely percussive, spaced out, then surprisingly sweet, lyrical and longing piece – offering some of Van Howe’s most emotional, plaintive vocals – about math and space exploration (um, I think), rooted in his belief that “reason and logic would dictate that five of our five senses would agree there is more out there.”

In collaboration with VJ, DJ and developer Lerk, the artist performed the clip live and in real time on the Twitch platform. Like all the stacked textures and sonic herky-jerkiness and colorful otherworldly surprises that arise on the collecti, the video is hard to describe with mere adjectives (of course, “mindblowing wow!” may just do). But let’s try – it features a psychedelic, ever shifting pop of colors behind images of his head and face, first singularly, then duplicating without ceasing, at times forming a snake like coil.

On the tech side, Van Howe and Lerk built custom control panels for the iPad and mapped functions to an Xbox controller so both could perform the camera, edits and special effects. They accomplished this using technologies the average listener/view (um, sadly, like me) may have never heard of but make the crazy visual world go round these days – including touchdesigner, chataigne, magic music visuals, touchosc, loopmidi, Ableton Live, snapcam and other stuff.

Van Howe’s provocative yet intentionally inscrutable lyrics emerge from imagined historical, scientific and sociological journals and fictional third person narrators who comment on history and the human condition (again, I think!). As you get sucked into the crazy parallel world of synth washes, industrialized percussion and distorted guitars, booming drums, operatic vocalizations and loads of other experimental razzle dazzle, you might enjoy trying to figure out the meaning of his lower case, no space titles like “theeightofusinthegardenofeden,” “killerrabbit,” “whenitstimeitstimeitstime” and “andhishands were full of dirt.”

By the time you get to the end, you’ll be joyfully exhausted from the journey but you may find yourself agreeing with the title of the final track “iwishIknewwhy” – Van Howe did it and you listened all the way through as you fell under his intoxicating hypnosis.


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