Matthew Herbert: One Pig - Tramway, Glasgow, Sat 3 Nov 2012
An unusual though certainly intriguing sound performance exploring the life of a pig
Initially gaining recognition for his mid-90s forays into deep house, Matthew Herbert has long since favoured more experimental musical endeavours. Whether recording as Wishmountain, Radio Boy, Matthew Herbert Big Band or under his own name, there's always a common thread though; an ever-imaginative approach to sampling has become a hallmark of his work, with artistic use of sources as varied as the inside of the Houses of Parliament and the destruction of McDonalds’ packaging.
Continuing this theme, One Pig is the final album in his One series and follows the intimate, whispered vocals of Herbert’s entirely solo work, One One, and One Club, constructed from sounds he captured during a night in Frankfurt’s Robert Johnson nightclub. Seemingly a comment on human consumption, it draws from recordings Herbert made of one anonymous farm animal’s short life, from birth to plate.
This appearance at the Tramway sees the producer take to the stage in a white butcher’s coat with three other similarly attired performers, each stepping behind small, individual banks of equipment. The final member of the evening’s quintet soon joins them, positioning himself in a square pen formed by four separate, surrounding wires; he is Edinburgh-based experimental musician Yann Seznec and this, it quickly becomes apparent, is his ‘sty harp’.
Conceived and built especially for Herbert’s project, it forms the centrepiece of tonight’s performance as Seznec grabs, pulls and twists varying combinations of the pen’s wires, to trigger and manipulate different recorded samples of the pig; each month in its short life signified by a change in his butcher’s coat and the differing musical accompaniment provided by Herbert and the three other players.
The month of September is represented by an upbeat, almost frenetic combination of tones and beats while October’s equivalent offering feels more sombre and thoughtful. November eases into December with increasingly more percussive elements introduced; a bongo made from the pig’s skin is played, as the animal’s snuffles merge with sounds of it eating to create an inventive audio palette.
However, it is the climax of the pig’s life and subsequent noise of its meat being prepared and cooked that proves to be most engaging section of the evening’s proceedings. We hear sounds of it being transported to an abattoir, then later, its joints being cut by a butcher, drips of blood and sawing of bone combined to create a forceful, bass-heavy, almost techno-like workout. All the while, a chef cooks at the back of the stage, the smell of it gradually becoming stronger as sounds of bacon sizzling and crackling are looped and toyed with by Herbert and his band to create a kind of culinary jazz-funk. Finally, the food is served onto plates and then a table as Matthew Herbert is joined by tonight’s other performers, he offers a softly sung, seemingly elegiac ode to the deceased pig which gives way to noises of eating in the midst of a busy restaurant to culminate an unusual, though certainly intriguing hour of entertainment.