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Matthew Herbert - One Pig

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Artist: Matthew Herbert

Album: One Pig

Label: Accidental

Review date: Jan. 4, 2012

After the first two rounds of One Club and One One, Matthew Herbert wrapped up his recent trilogy with something of a curveball, if such a thing exists for the man. The final installment, One Pig, follows (you guessed it) the life of one pig from birth to table. Settling in with monthly installations throughout the fall of 09, then returning occasionally in 2010 and finally dropping by for that last meal in 2011, it’s an audio diary/tone poem/sound piece and OST all mixed up in one. If that sounds terrible, I’m sorry to say you’re outta luck, haters because, against all odds, One Pig is great.

The basic technique, as I can deduce it, seems to be a combination of hyper-edited farm, nature and pig sounds spliced all over the mix and set against Herbert’s deft, unique melodies and beats. The former give you the titular pig, while the latter give you the structure and shape. "September," for example, has a dancing, ghostly synth line and some bubbling drums, but the main motif that grabs your ear is a particularly hair-raising squeal that he isolates and returns to again and again. Who knows what was happening when he recorded it, but it sounds like our pig’s getting ripped limb from limb. It makes for a particularly unsettling listen, but not only because of that. Metallic clangs, spectral chords and other animal sounds divebomb all over the place, giving a claustrophobic, disorienting sense of space and place.

This physical quality, rather transporting, is bolstered by some seriously attuned sound design. Listening on headphones, Herbert will drop a chuckle-like snort right up in your left ear, startling and more intimate than expected. Ditto for the way looped sounds may fade not just in and out but also forward and back into the distance, becoming more muffled and buried or foregrounded. You can tell a lot of thought went into every grunt and squeal; even if it’s difficult to discern a particular motivation on a micro level, the listener is immersed in a living world that goes far beyond "song" or "track."

The bulk of the record leans to the intense side, so this immersive quality can be taxing if you’re not in the mood. Thankfully, there is some give and take, especially in "October." A beautiful, sorta-trance, sorta-Boards of Canada vibe dominates, and is perfectly augmented by the animal sounds. The whole track blossoms with life without pandering or using obvious synth-plus-animal BS.

Obviously, more than the somewhat morbid subject of the record, it’s the abundance of pig sounds that will turn some people away. To be blunt, the pig sounds piggish and he’s all over the place on this record. On one song, he gets the AutoTune treatment, but otherwise this is far afield from a catchy YouTube remix. My first listen through, I was struggling a bit, but at a certain point you just have to let go and sink into a work like this or turn it off. It’s an electronic song cycle/composition that follows the life of a pig, so I’m not sure what I really expected. Well actually, I know I expected it to be weird (check), kinda boring (nope), really political and heavy handed (nope), maybe techno (well.. sorta) and probably laughable. Sure, it’s laughable because it’s ridiculous, because it’s singular and certainly does not conform. But it’s also quite beautiful, intense, affecting and fascinating. I never thought I would recommend taking a tour of the farm with Herbert, but then again I never thought anyone would make a record with a pig.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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