The band quickly gained recognition for the conceptual, post-modernist approach and eagerness to constantly reinvent Matmos, while keeping the audience on their toes. Another distinctive feature is a unique post-'musique concrete' sound extraction and sampling technique, aimed to produce very listenable music from highly conceptual (and at times maybe even abstruse) ideas. Schmidt and Daniel exploit multiple unusual and bizarre non-musical objects on par with traditional acoustic and electronic instruments: amplified crayfish nerve tissue, the pages of bibles turning, water hitting copper plates, surgery procedures, contact microphones on human hair and other body parts, rat cages, tanks of helium, a cow uterus, human skulls, snails, cigarettes, cards shuffling, life support systems, inflatable blankets, rock salt, solid gold coins, etc.
Matmos have published over ten albums through a long-running collaboration with Matador label, which signed the duo in 1999 and re-released their self-titled debut album, as well as a follow-up Quasi-Objects CD. Matmos also produced The West album on Deluxe Records – an unorthodox take on country and Western music.
Since the beginning of their career, Matmos had been actively partnering and working together with various musicians and artists. Early examples of such collaborations include RGB [ An Audio Spectrum ] (produced with Leif Elggren and Ian M. Mackinnon in 1998), split releases with Piano Magic in 1999 and Motion (2) (in Fat Cat Split Series in 2000), and Full On Night mini-album with Rachel's. Schmidt and Daniel were also members of a glitch project Disc with Miguel Depedro (Kid606) in 1997-98, and recorded Armadillidium Vulgare album as members of a legendary occult-avantgarde band Iao Core. An incomplete list of people who 'either played on a Matmos recording, performed onstage as a member of Matmos, been in another band with Drew Daniel and/or M.C. Schmidt, collaborated with, toured with, commissioned a remix from, or released a recording by Matmos' is available on a group's official website.
An Icelandic superstar-singer Björk became one of their key collaborators and recognized Matmos talents early-on in their career. In 1998, after purchasing Matmos disc in Rough Trade record shop in London, Björk asked the duo to remix Alarm Call single from Homogenic album. Four years later, she invited Matmos to collaborate more extensively on Vespertine album. Subsequently, they became a core members of Björk's live band (with Zeena Parkins and a choir of Inuit women) on Vespertine World Tour (Aug – Dec 2001) and Greatest Hits Tour (May – Sept 2003). Some of the performances were documented on Vespertine Live CD and Vespertine Live At Royal Opera House DVD. In 2004, Matmos produced one of the tracks on Björk's Medúlla. The group also released a couple live albums with other musicians around the same time: Matmos Live with J. Lesser on Vague Terrain in 2002 and Wide Open Spaces (2003) on Tigerbeat6, documenting a concert with People Like Us and Wobbly at the San Francisco Art Institute.
In 2001, Matmos presented a first original conceptual album on Matador – A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, entirely based on sounds recorded at hospitals (patients' breath during surgery, vibrations of a human skull, the flow of blood in the jugular vein, etc). The band used a number of cutting edge medical tools, such as endoscope microphones, and collected audio samples at different procedures, including liposuction and rhinoplasty. The album was accompanied by California Rhinoplasty EP, which contained a cover on Coil's Disco Hospital, and remixes by Doctor Rockit (Matthew Herbert) and Surgeon (Anthony Child).
Their next album on Matador, The Civil War, continued the exploration of historical music started by The West album. This time, Matmos utilized Irish reels, Scottish bagpipes, and various medieval instruments. In November 2003, Drew and Martin were artists in residence at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts, San Francisco – they spent over 90 hours improvising and playing music with friends and guests. Highlights from the best performances were compiled and released on Work Work Work CDr on Vague Terrain.
A few smaller-scale releases followed in 2004, such as a Split Seven Inch with Die Monitr Bats on Ache Records, and a Rat Relocation Program in Met Life Location Sound Series on Locust Music. This mini-album include an unedited field recording of a rat inside the trap, as well as a dance/experimental post-processed remix edit of the raw track by Matmos.
The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast, another concept album on Matador, was released in 2006 – ten 'sound portraits' of various (both well-acknowledged and obscure) homosexual icons from around the world, such as William S. Burroughs, Larry Levan, Darby Crash, Patricia Highsmith, Boyd McDonald, Joe Meek, and Valerie Solanas. The album was accompanied by a promo single with Safety Scissors and The Soft Pink Truth (Drew Daniel's solo project) remixes.
To coincide with The Rose Has Teeth In the Mouth of Beast Tour in Sept-Oct 2006, Matmos also produced a mini-CD For Alan Turing, limited to 1000 copies and only sold on tour. The material was originally commissioned by UC Berkeley's Mathematical Sciences Research Institute for inauguration of a new conference hall, and performed at a dedication ceremony in front of mathematicians. On this recording, Matmos collaborated with Matthew Patterson Curry of Safety Scissors, Keith Fullerton Whitman, David Tibet, Blevin Blectum, Mark Lightcap, and Clodagh Simonds.
On Supreme Balloon in 2008, Matmos took an unexpected turn and didn't use a single microphone or any external audio output whatsoever – the entire album was performed and recorded on (mostly vintage and modular) synthesizers. The band traveled around the States and abroad to record specific rare instruments, including Coupigny Modular Synthesizer at Studios INA-GRM in Paris. Guest musicians on the record include Keith Fullerton Whitman, Lesser, Jon Leidecker, Marshall Allen, Sarah Cahill, and Terry Riley (ARP 2600 solo). Drew and Martin couldn't decide which tracks to include in the final mix, so they presented two significantly different selections on CD and LP versions of Supreme Balloon. The duo also released two tracks recorded on Coupigny synth at INA-GRM in France on a limited edition seven-inch.
In 2010, after a decade long record deal with Matador was over, Matmos went on to produce a couple collaborations with contemporary and new music ensembles: Treasure State album with So Percussion on Cantaloupe Music, and remixes of Jefferson Friedman's Quartets performed by Chiara String Quartet on New Amsterdam Records in 2011. Matmos also released Simultaneous Quodlibet LP with Lesser and Wobbly on Important Records in 2010, while Martin Schmidt presented Instant Coffee! LP on Planam, a ltd. edition avant-free improv album with Jason Willett and Lisle Ellis.
Matmos joined Thrill Jockey roster in 2012, and released The Ganzfeld EP and The Marriage Of True Minds album. The concept behind both records is telepathy. Matmos spent four years conducting parapsychological sessions based upon the classic Ganzfeld experiment. But instead of simple graphic images, Drew Daniel attempted to transmit 'the concept of the new Matmos record' directly into the minds of participants, who were put in a state of sensory deprivation by covering their eyes and listening to white noise. The test subjects were then describing out loud anything they saw or heard during 'transmission'. Videotapes and transcripts of the experiments at Baltimore and Oxford University were then utilized to generate and record nine songs on the album.
Many artists participated in psychic experiments and following recording sessions, including Ed Schrader, Dan Deacon, Jason Willett (1/2 Japanese), Carly Ptak (of Nautical Almanac), Angel Deradoorian (ex-Dirty Projectors), Clodagh Simonds (Fovea Hex), DJ Dog Dick, Dominique Leone, Owen Gardner (from Horse Lords), Ashot Sarkissjan of the Arditti Quartet, Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Flock Of Dimes), and Gerry Mak of Brooklyn experimental doom metal band Bloody Panda. One of the tracks on Ganzfeld E.P. is remixed by Rrose (of Sandwell District label). The band also released 8.3 Hours Of Mixes By Matmos as a digital bonus for online pre-orders of The Marriage Of True Minds. Some of the small-scale projects around that time included a digital split I Want Snowden / Sheremetyevo Breakdown Blues with The Disco Yahtzee Empire, only distributed via Tor network, and In Tempo Di Carestia Ogni Buco E Na Galleria tape on Vague Terrain.
In 2016, Matmos presented their next album on Thrill Jockey, Ultimate Care II, which marked a return to more 'traditional' sampling techniques. This time though, all sounds were generated with a single object – Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine. A few guest musicians, such as Dan Deacon, Max Eilbacher, Sam Haberman (Horse Lords), Duncan Moore (Needle Gun), and Jason Willett, either played the washer like a drum or post-processed recorded sounds with samplers, software and hardware effects. No synthesizers or drum machines were used.
Matmos contributed music to a few soundtracks, including Daria Martin's Minotaur film, The Appeal theatrical play by Young Jean Lee, and works of Berlin-based choreographer Ayman Harper. Daniel and Schmidt (under fictional names) also made music for five hardcore gay fetish pornographic films – selected tracks with additional snippets of onset dialog were released as a A Viable Alternative To Actual Sexual Contact CDr on Canadian IDM-label Piehead Records in 2002. They recorded a song with David Grubbs for a soundtrack to Les Invisibles, a 2012 documentary about elderly French gays and lesbians, and made a track for The Urbz: Sims in the City video game soundtrack. More recently, Matmos became members of the ensemble for Robert Wilson's production The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic (featuring Marina Abramović, Antony Hegarty, and Willem Dafoe).
In twenty years, the duo produced remixes for an eclectic crowd of musicians and bands across genres: Björk, Herbert, Kid606, People Like Us, Wye Oak, Bloody Panda, Sutekh/Twerk, Pluramon, Richard Chartier, Voice Crack, CoH, Oneohtrix Point Never, Slicker, Labradford, Phoenecia, Slag Boom Van Loon, Tipsy, My Robot Friend, Her Space Holiday, Erase Errata, Dan Ghenacia, Ben Parris, Dudley Benson, Hatis Noit, Dani Siciliano, Foetus, Current 93, Melvins, Liars, and Ground Zero (3).