Upcoming Release: The Horse
Challenging his considerable legacy with one of his most extraordinary projects to date, celebrated British artist, producer, composer and experimentalist Matthew Herbert presents “The Horse”. Based around a full-size horse skeleton and working alongside the London Contemporary Orchestra and an expansive cast of special collaborators, this is Herbert in full flight, restlessly curious and culminating in starkly original, ritualistic music loaded with intent.
The project started with a search for the largest possible animal skeleton to explore sonically. More than a raw sound source, the horse skeleton Herbert acquired soon revealed different angles of inspiration. One of the major narrative arcs through the album is its representation of the evolution of human music itself, opening in a compelling, primitive flurry of custom-made flutes from the horse’s thigh bones and bows crafted from ribs and horse hair. By the mid-section you can hear a ritualistic twang of raw string (from a gut string stretched over the pelvis) give way to sustained compositional suites before crescendoing in a fierce electronic-acoustic fusion as grandiose as it is propulsive. The musical range covered on the album speaks to Herbert’s extensive experience across electronic, contemporary classical and jazz – a daring and constantly compelling collection of compositions.
Equally, the subject of the horse itself and its significance in human history became a vital focus for the music. Material came from myriad sources, including site specific work such as recording reverb impulses in front of ancient cave paintings of horses in Northern Spain and capturing sound at the corner of Epsom race course where women’s suffrage activist Emily Davison was trampled by King George V’s racehorse in 1913. Over 6900 horse sounds were taken from the internet, horse skin drums were found and played and a shaker was even fashioned from a mixture of cement and polo horse semen. Instrument makers such as Sam Underwood, Graham Dunning, Henry Dagg and Lee Patterson were commissioned to approach parts of the skeleton in different ways, some creating mechanical percussive instruments and carving out the afore mentioned bone flutes, others blowing tiny air bubbles through the neck vertebrae.
Foto Credits: Eva Vermandel
It’s no stretch to call Matthew Herbert one of the most important British artists of his generation. From the upper echelons of cinematic scoring and avant-garde composition to iconic, leftfield dance floor tracks and remixes, his accomplishments in music and sound are monolithic. Over a career reaching back to the 90s, he’s progressively singled himself out as a relentlessly inventive and driven artist ready to grapple with big ideas and present them in relatable terms. Binding his work together is the idea that any sound can be turned into music – from the complete life of a single farmed pig to a bomb exploding in Libya, one person’s orgasm to a club full of people locked into the joyous unison of a party. His ideas drive many of his most famous projects as an artist, but this is just a snapshot of his myriad achievements.
Comfortably bedded into the world of orchestration and composition, he’s worked on countless award-winning projects across television, film, video games and theatre, and been commissioned by institutions such as the Royal Opera House, Manchester International Festival and Deutsche Grammophon to name just a few. Herbert’s engagement with the arts is extensive and many- sided, taking in commissions for art galleries and festivals, lecturing at universities such as Goldsmiths and Trinity and completing a PhD examining power and meaning in post-concrète music. But it’s his electronic music output which has perhaps the widest reach, from the early days of off-kilter micro house through big band experimentation to production work with artists such as Mica Levi, Roisin Murphy, The Invisible and frequent collaboration with Björk.
Writing books about albums he’ll never make, producing and presenting shows for BBC Radio, directing the New BBC Radiophonic Workshop and establishing the Oram Awards to recognise female and gender minority artists, Herbert embodies the idea of the polymath with head-spinning prolificacy.