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Interview: Matthew Herbert

His album has got animal activists’ organic knickers in a spectacular twist, with some branding the record an act of brutal torture before even unwrapping the CD’s cellophane packaging. But prolific denunciation from animal lovers aside, a month after Matthew Herbert’s album release and this electronic pioneer continues to fight for his rights as an experimental artist – all because of ‘One Pig’.

For those of you who didn’t already know, Matthew’s a wee bit of a sonic maverick. He’s established the use of so-called ‘real’ sounds in contemporary electronica via releasing the likes of ‘Bodily Functions’, which culled sounds generated by manipulating human hair and skin as well as, err, internal bodily organs. His pioneering didn’t pause there either. In 2005, he issued ‘Plat Du Jour’, a record made entirely from objects and situations in the food chain. Now he’s diverted his attention from humans to animals, namely the pig – as you naturally do.

And so ‘One Pig’ was born. As the final part of a trilogy of albums based on ponderings of consumerism, ‘One Pig’ samples sounds of the life cycle of a farmed pig from birth, to the dinner plate and beyond. ‘I’ve always been interested in the idea of music as biography’, says Matthew. ‘We’re used to seeing pigs represented in language and imagery everywhere but rarely give them a voice. Their bodies are found in thousands of everyday items, not just food, yet we barely register their presence.’ And just to solidify this point, Matthew’s eponymous pig’s remains were converted into a drum, a pig blood organ, other percussion instruments and even candles.

For twenty four whole weeks Matthew visited the pig and its family but surprisingly says no bond sparked between the two of them. ‘The pig wasn’t that interested in me and spent all its time with its family so I rarely got it alone. After all I wasn’t there to feed it or take it for walks. Once it was killed there was a period it spent in deep freeze but I was sad to see it come back in parts.’

When PETA, the People for the Ethnic Treatment of Animals, caught a whiff of how Matthew was recording his pig’s life cycle they squealed and squealed for the album’s production to be withdrawn. They were apparently disgusted by his participation in the killing, consumption and the exploitation of a living being for the sake of art, food and music. Bare in mind though, this comes from the same people who last week slammed Super Mario for wearing a cartoon Tanooki suit. And Matthew, who is not a vegetarian, snapped back at these hoards of complaints by declaring he wants his music to encourage people to ‘listen more carefully to the world.’ He said: ‘I do think we should eat less meat and care a great deal more for the animals we do eat. The vast majority of pigs after all are treated very badly.’

Indeed a full listen of the album – in all its pig grunting and menacing electro swirling glory – is a haunting and, at times, a challenging experience that typifies the mistreatment of these pigs . But Matthew argues that attentively preserving the memory of one otherwise anonymous pig via recycling its by-products that are usually thrown in landfill is an act of reverence. ‘I wanted to remember the pig through sound and instead of the body being tossed in the back of trucks, it will forever continue to be visible at all times. I think there’s something uncomfortable, yes, dark, yes, but also quite magical to take blood that would have just been poured down the drain and making it sing.’

And boy does Matthew’s otherworldly artistic vision know no bounds when it comes to making animals ‘sing’. Because for his live performances of ‘One Pig’, Matthew has only gone and built a musical pig sty that triggers memories/recordings of the pig when you lean on its bars. Now that would surely make for one hell’uva momentous ticket stump for the memory box.

Having now added ‘pig’ to his repertoire of sampling farm animal sounds like chickens and pigs, as well as humans for his unparalleled sonic, perhaps his next foray into album making will feature our milk producing friend the cow? ‘I’m not ruling it out, but have no plans at the moment,’ says Matthew. Probably for the best though eh?  There’s only so much chewing, snorting and grunting you can endure for 40-odd consecutive minutes – ahem.

- Caroline Jackson

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