Last week I got the news that my friend Matt Shoemaker died on August 12th. It was a bit of a shock, especially as he was only 43, and he has been on my mind quite a bit since. It has been difficult to deal with the fact that I will no longer see this wonderful man. He was easy going, kind, gentle and intelligent. And of course very talented. In addition to the human impression he has left on his friends, Matt leaves behind a legacy of recorded work that impresses and delights, as well as less known but equally wonderful visual work.
I knew Matt for around 20 years. During that time, we interacted in a variety of ways. He bought music from me at Anomalous Records. He provided me with videos and conversation while working for Video Isle. He worked at Anomalous Records for a short time. We played music together, both sharing the bill at concerts and playing together in private. He was a pleasure to hang out and talk with as he was knowledgeable and passionate.
Matt was one of the few people in Seattle who I know that actually grew up in the area. Although I don’t know too much about his early life, he did mention playing a space rock group as well as creating his own horror make up – fake blood and the like. I met him in 1996 or 1997. It was during this time that I had an actual store front for Anomalous Records and Matt was a regular walk in customer. I suspect he had been working on solo music at this point already, but he didn’t make any mention of it until presenting me with a two CDR demo in 1999. The following year trente oiseaux in Germany would release the CD “Groundless” and followed it in 2002 with “Warung Elusion”. I don’t think the discs were a huge success, but they led to some international recognition and appreciation. After a lull of several years, more releases started appearing, most notably from Helen Scarsdale Agency and Elevator Bath. The final release in his lifetime came on the latter label in 2015. But while his photography graces the covers of many of his releases, I was unaware of his drawing until the release of the “Wayward Set” CDR. Suddenly another secret aspect of Matt was revealed.
Throughout these years Matt also presented his music at concerts. Initially he was appearing on stage with a laptop. This was how I remember him on Thursday October 28th, 2004 – the night that I did my first concert with the Moog Voyager. It wasn’t too long after this contrast of my analog and his digital that he turned to collecting modular analog gear. He proudly showed off many custom built and limited run devices which greatly enhanced his live sound as well as his recordings. I believe he was utilizing this gear when we played together at his apartment in April of 2005 and twelve months later when we were joined by Jesse Paul Miller and Carl Lierman. While those collaborations were private, Matt had a much longer running and frequent collaboration with another good friend, Dave Knott. This grew out of the time that they were roommates in the Fremont neighborhood. Billing themselves as Omake & Johnson, they initially attempted to keep their identities a secret. Appearing in this configuration live a few times, they finally released a very limited CDR and slightly larger edition cassette on Matt’s own Human Faculties label. Both Dave and Matt were members of the large ensemble I assembled to play graphic scores in 2006. Matt left early on in the history of what became known as Eye Music, but I enjoyed his contributions and was disappointed when no longer wanted to play with us.
Layering on top of this was Matt’s employment at Video Isle. Located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, it is one of the few remaining video rental stores in the city. During his years there Matt was influential in stocking unusual films and encouraging people to explore. Even now you can visit the shop and still see stickers on DVD boxes that say “Matt’s pick”. I think working there allowed Matt an opportunity to be social, which was something I couldn’t offer him during the short stint working for Anomalous Records (he admitted it being a lot harder work there than he expected). He was in the public eye there and no doubt made many friends. For me it was a very accessible way to interact and converse with him, especially as I moved to a house that was literally around the corner in 2003.
On topic that Matt especially liked to talk about was Indonesia and his travels there. He would spend extended periods exploring and getting immersed in the culture. If I remember right, he was there during the Bali bombings, but luckily stayed away from tourist destinations. He was interested in pushing further and digging deeper. And he brought back a prodigious amount of music cassettes, many of which he later digitized and burned onto CDR for me.
These are just some of the memories that have come back to me. It is sad that he is gone, but I am glad to have known him and spent so much time in his presence.
The three albums of Matt Shoemaker’s work which were published by Elevator Bath are available for free download via the Bandcamp page: https://elevatorbath.bandcamp.com/album/isolated-agent-stranding-behavior, https://elevatorbath.bandcamp.com/album/soundtrack-for-dislocation, and https://elevatorbath.bandcamp.com/album/flight-chromatic-splitting-injunction