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Matthew Herbert - Score

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Artist: Matthew Herbert

Album: Score

Label: !K7

Review date: May. 24, 2007

Matthew Herbert’s latest work, Score, covers 10 years of musical activity from the wryly political house-concrete producer. In keeping with its name, all of these pieces – with the exception of “Rendezvous,” a composition done for a dance company – were commissioned for various European films.

A score like Eduard Artemiev’s work for Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi film Stalker, encountered in the context of that film’s peripatetic philosophical exchanges and langorous shifts into and out of color, requires several viewings before emerging as a distinctly articulated part of the film. We’re confronted with the opposite situation here. Like most American listeners, I haven’t seen any of the films these tracks are pulled from; nevertheless, they manage to be as accessible and demanding as anything released under the Herbert moniker. Orchestral openers “Funeral” and “End,” from Vida Y Color, are limpid, rhythmic takes on musical Impressionism, with a faint electronic imprint and even fainter whimsy that makes Elfman, Mothersbaugh, et al. seem a little hamfisted.

While for most musicians, the idea of an unknown filmic context mediating the listener’s access to the composer’s ideas would offer a dull experience at best—the familiar sensation of bearing witness to a stopgap/vanity project – Herbert’s working methods are well-suited to film collaborations. As Score bears out, this kind of collaboration has less to do with rounding down sharp edges than adding another parameter to his rigorous “Personal Contract for the Composition of Music,” which famously bars, among others, the use of drum machines and keyboard presets. Although demanding in terms of sourcing and sequencing sounds, PCCOM really has nothing to do with genre. Indeed, Herbert’s program has never involved questioning genre: for him, the parameters of any given idiom serve as source material on par with the found sounds he coaxes into his sinuous, brassy take on house.

In keeping with his previous work, it proves a fertile approach: in the space of 17 tracks, Herbert covers more stylistic territory than on any other release.

There are few artists working today as concerned with the mode of production – in all its implications – as Matthew Herbert. Like Andreas Gursky’s photographs, Herbert’s work achieves balance between the intimate and the panoramic – poles illustrated by Bodily Functions’ microhouse and the full-throated nostalgia of The Matthew Herbert Big Band’s Goodbye Swingtime. Though nothing here is house, Herbert revisits big band territory with his score for 2001’s Le Défi, which includes a circuit-bent take on “Singing in The Rain.” While that piece is less radical than its description would suggest, two rejected tracks from Manolete – chopped and screwed takes on Cooderized flamenco guitar—modestly fill the void. The 10-minute “Rendezvous” is the collection’s high point, a dance piece based around choir and locked-in glitch that’s about a million miles sideways from the Pärt-Glass diptych that structures much of the work in this area.

The absence of musique concrete here suggests Herbert’s skills derive not so much from imposing order on the chaotic, imperceptible sounds of daily modernity, but on discerning the order proper to entropy itself and using his source materials to suture the Real to reality. Sewn with fissures yet superbly realized, Herbert’s work has been establishing a new framework for the discussion of politics and culture that is more relevant with every release. While lyric-less, taken in the context of his career, Score is a worthy addition to Herbert’s catalog of anti-quietist sentiment.

By Brandon Bussolini

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