Innovation and ingenuity

About Matthew Herbert

Innovation and ingenuity

27-09-2014 | 12.28

There are few producers today that can match the innovation and ingenuity that Matthew Herbert has displayed over the past twenty years through his various aliases. Herbert has an exceptional talent for spotting a musical quality in sounds that would otherwise pass us by in every day life, and his ability to transform these sounds into engaging pieces is second to none. He has become famous for challenging conventional methods of song writing with his original and innovative production approaches. Having recently resurrected his more dance-focused Herbert moniker with the release of his ‘Part 6’ and ‘Part 7’ EPs, Herbert will join us at Trouw on the 12th of October for what is likely to be a very special night. The enormity of Herbert’s discography can be quite daunting if you have little experience of his music, so here are some insights into the varieties of different music and approaches he might use during that Sunday at Trouw.

Those latest two EPs give a good indication of the types of thing we are likely to hear during his set. The EPs have catchy, authentic rhythms and interesting uses of vocals. Both EPs end in a universe totally apart from where they begin. The opener to 6, ‘One two three’, is a subtle, catchy track with a husky female vocal that follows a predictable structure (as the name suggests), but by the time the ender ‘Grab the bottle’ is upon us, dark vocal edits, distortion and mechanical sounds have taken over. This is a testimony to the way Herbert works; there is always a strong sense of progression to his dance music, whether it’s from within a track or throughout an album. Similarly, ‘Part 7’ starts and ends in totally opposing places. The opener ‘Bumps’, like ‘One two three’ is a vocal track with a conventional structure and a clear message; “we cannot have it all”. By the time message fades out chaos begins again, and any form of vocal is totally dehumanised by the time we are at the final track ‘Pretty Daddy’.

The only full-length album under his Herbert alias is ‘Bodily functions’ from 2001, a soft, jazzy album with charming vocal performances and a beautifully organic feel to its production. Like many of his works, this album was approached from a unique direction, this time using contextual-sampling of the noises of the human body. It’s not a surprise that fellow creative DJ Koze took advantage of this distinctive and natural sound, with his impressive remix of ‘It’s only’ in 2012. Likewise, Herbert has made his own mark on some of Koze’s works, like his enchanting 10-minute remix of ‘Magical boy’ last year.

It is not only the music produced as ‘Herbert’ that we may hear at Trouw, there is also a strong rhythmic and club focus in his albums as Wishmountain, his original moniker. The production ranges from samples of Golf commentary on ‘Wishmountainisdead’, to his satirical take on consumerism in the ‘Tesco’ album, which purportedly features only sounds recorded from the 10 best sellers in Tesco, a UK low-cost (almost) monopolising supermarket. I find the idea of a guy buying multiple items on Bonus from Albert Heijn and culminating the sounds of them into an album a little funny, but whatever influence the production methods have on your interpretation of the album, there is undeniably some good, interesting dance music in there.

His most audacious conceptual compositions come under his ‘Matthew Herbert’ alias. Though it’s unlikely that we’ll hear this kind of music at the club, the ‘One trilogy’ provides a good idea of the diversity of his imagination. It includes the provocative ‘One Pig’ album, created using the sampling of noises from a pig’s life, beginning with birth and ending with its eventual death and consumption. The music has a sporadic, chaotic and occasionally shocking quality, and from within that he provocatively conveys the sadness of the fate of the animal. In the track ‘August 2010’, samples of people conversing at the dinner table are soon overpowered by the wailing sounds of the pig, a reminder of how oblivious we are to the cruelty of the industry.

Though his production often involves techniques that are both unique and audacious, he manages to maintain a composed musical quality within his work. He has even approached music in more conventional ways, like his recomposition of Mahler’s symphony X in 2010. Herbert successfully sits back and allows the orchestral beauty of the pieces to shine through, only using electronic and experimental sound sparingly to enhance the power of the piece. The album runs out as if it has been composed for a silent film, utilising silence and texture magnificently throughout. In track 7 of the symphony, a beautifully constructed track waves in and out before reaching a formidable conclusion, and only at this point does he introduce bold electronic sounds to bring about an intense, menacing climax.

If you want to experience Matthew Herbert at the finest level, you should take a look at the song ‘Something isn’t right’ from his ‘Scale’ album in 2006. The carefully considered use of vocals, alongside an orchestral backing track, create a song which demonstrates his ability to push the boundaries of conventional forms of song-writing. The song at first appears to follow the norms of mainstream modern music, but spirals effortlessly into an original, catchy-track with a charming structural progression, including a beautiful call and response section between male and female vocals.

Matthew Herbert is a producer who embraces his surroundings and has a musical vision capable of engaging listeners in new and exciting ways. He has made music of so many different kinds and in so many different ways that it is hard to consider a context in which a piece of his music cannot be played. We can expect his more dance-oriented styles like Herbert and Wishmountain here at Trouw on the 12th: soft, enchanting melodies with fascinating uses of vocals and rhythms…. perfect Sunday night music.

Text: Ben Rogerson