When I put it on the player on Sunday night, I did something I have not done in years: sat there on the floor in front of the stereo mesmerized, turning up the volume, allowing myself to enter immediately the world of the first track, "Same."
(I should note that this was the second of two purchases made at Greenville's most amazing record store. Amazing--I have already started saving pennies for my next trip, which is bound to be expensive, given that I found these two in only 5 minutes.)
Furious also "Likes..." Matthew Herbert--immensely--ever since I came across him by accident twice in one week. The first time was his song "The Audience" which I found in downloadable form on a website, which referred to it as the song we all knew from last summer. I did not, of course, but then Upstate, SC is far far away from the London music scene. I listened to it over and over. Then a friend lent me an old issue of The Wire with a cover story.
I promptly went out and bought every Matthew Herbert album I could get my hands on--Bodily Functions, Goodbye Swingtime (with the Matthew Herbert Big Band), Around the House, Secondhand Sounds (a 2-disc set of remixes).
The PP and I disagree about the genre for Herbert's music--he says jazz, I say electronica, let's call the whole thing off--but it is worth reading along while you listen. The music is great, and I would love it even without the liner notes, but if you can make the venture into the notes--and it is a venture--you learn a lot.
I say it is a venture because for Bodily Functions, for instance, the notes are printed as a graphic of an open eye, with the teeny-tiny text winding around and around to form the lashes, lids, and iris. There you can read, for instance, that on track 14 ("The Audience"), "all percussion up to 4'12" taken from the random contents of Dani's bag on the day of composition." And that track 11 ("Addiction") was
recorded September 00 and re-recorded Jan 01, vocals Dani Siciliano, Piano, Rhodes and bass guitar Matthew Herbert, all percussion sounds taken from bottles recycled behind London Road SE23. The scratchy sound at the beginning is of a mouse trying to get out of a waste bin it had fallen into at the studio. Written according to the rules of PCCOM.
Same thing with Goodbye Swingime. The case for that CD looks like a hardback book with black pages that fan out from the middle to make a little scene of people, trees, and a cityscape. On the backs of those pages are the notes. For instance, for track 4, "The Three W's," it notes that some of the sounds come from "typing of the URL for www.soaw.org, the School of the Americas Watch website detailing American involvement in Latin American military dictatorships, and from printing of pages from the same website." Or track 8, "The Many and the Few," which includes "The International Sounds of Gravity: local phonebooks being dropped on floors by people around the world." And of course the album personnel, like any good big band, include musicians playing trumpets, saxophones, clarinets, trombones, bass, drums, and piano.
But by now you might be wondering what the rules of PCCOM are. Matthew Herbert is a musician fascinated by the capabilities of synthesizers and electronic keyboards, but he was bothered by how slavish many were to the pre-recorded sounds therein. So he wrote his own Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (incorporating the Manifesto of Mistakes), which begins:
1. The use of sounds that exist already is not allowed. Subject to article 2. In particular:
* No drum machines.
* All keyboard sounds must be edited in some way: no factory presets or pre-programmed patches are allowed.
2. Only sounds that are generated at the start of the compositional process or taken from the artist's own previously unused archive are available for sampling. The use of, ordering and manipulation of noise-sound is to be held as the highest priority in composition.
3. The sampling of other people's music is strictly forbidden.
You can read the other nine on the website.
I think this stuff makes Matthew Herbert's music more interesting than a lot of electronica, but it is the music that finally grabs your attention. If you're intrigued, start by listening, maybe to Bodily Functions, which first captivated me. (Or there is a whole discography here.) But give a good listen to Likes..., too, because then you can hear something of how these two musicians interact, but also how they are distinct.