|5th Nov 2012, 15:41||#1|
Once known as Blixa
takes it to extremes
Matthew Herbert's One Pig
If you were to hear the One Pig album without the experience of seeing it performed, then you'll experience a disconnect between what it seeks to convey and how it is conveyed. Alone, it may just sound like a bunch of oinks and snorts set to music, but there's more to this than meets the ear. Indeed, this disconnect may well parallel that of the bacon rasher on the supermarket shelf. Bacon, ham, pork, call it what you will. That meat was once a living, breathing animal. That meat was once a pig.
Matthew Herbert's One Pig is a challenge for us to respect the life of the pig that ends on our plate. In 2009 he began following the life of the eponymous pig, visiting each month, and recording the noises it made and those of its surroundings. From these sounds the entire album has been made, with some electrical trickery thrown in, and the first six tracks Aug 2009, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec, and Jan cataloguing the pig from birth through its twenty-four week life span. Beyond that there's the inevitable slaughter, butchery, cooking, and consumption of the animal, ending with a lullaby to the pig, but whose message seems farther-reaching to life in general.
Live, it's a different prospect. The stage is set as we enter Glasgow's Tramway. Straw bales sit up front, with a makeshift sty the centre of attention, each of its four posts holding a white lab coat. Around this are spots for the band to perform. Behind it all there's raised stage with a makeshift kitchen and a table set for four. The lights dim, there's a muffled applause, and the band walk out one by one to set the scene.
First, there's the taking of the straw and rubbing it before a microphone, the magnified grind looped and forming an ambient background to the human interpretations of pig sounds that will follow as the remaining band members - Herbert included - make their contribution. The sty becomes strewn with straw, and finally the pig - Yann Seznec - arrives and takes centre stage. The pig sounds grow, the unease builds, and the white coats are donned. The pig is born, and August 2009 is over.
The sty, incidentally, is also a musical instrument, of sorts. Dubbed the Sty Harp, its strings are hooked up to a visible Apple MacBook and the sounds they produce - whether pulled, pushed, plucked, raised, or lowered - play samples of pig noises, manipulating their sounds in all manner of ways based on the movements. Seznac bounces around this sty, grinning as he plays, perhaps half portraying the innocence of the animal and half enjoying himself. With each track, he dons a new coat, the back printed with the month we are now in.
After experiencing the pig's life, in the music we hear - from intense industrial poundings to more relaxed affairs - there's a climactic moment where the band abandon their instruments and take their place inside the sty, also playing its strings, creating a wall of sound like no other. Seznac's latest white coat is removed, leaving a red one underneath. There's no doubting the symbolism here: this is the pig in the abbatoir, going toward its inevitable death. (All that's missing is the sound of its slaughter, something Herbert was prevented from recording.)
As hacksaw cuts bone against microphone, the pig is still anything but a memory. Sound samples of its blood dripping cascade around with all the other sounds of butchery. A chef comes onto the raised stage and begins cooking some rashers in a pan of oil, adding potatoes, herbs and seasonings. A microphone catches the oil sizzling, phase effects make a hypnotic whoosh of every scrape against the pan. Smoke billows up and out over the crowd, carrying the satisfying scent of cooking bacon. It's not to everyone's tastes, however, as a few leave the auditorium. Then, the cooking complete, the portions are distributed to the plates, and Herbert closes with his lullaby, thanking the members of his band.
The applause is loud as the band take their bows and leave the stage. But the show is not over yet as to leave it there would be to disrespect the pig. Therefore the band return, grab the four plates and hand them out to the audience, who reach in with eager hands and pick at the offerings.
However, are we, the audience, as we tuck in any wiser about appreciating where our food comes from? If anything, One Pig shines a light on something we ordinarily take for granted, challenging us to consider all that goes into just one element of modern food manufacturing. It makes industrial music of an industry, but gives it character, remaining tasteful...and tasty.
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