Shred a tabloid, make music
Can a jazz big band be political? In the hands of the
UK electronica scenes most controversial figure it can.
Metropolis gets the skinny direct from the source when Matthew
Herbert drops in to Tokyo to boost his new album, Goodbye
The sampling element seems diminished on the new album...
MH: I think its right up there but its done
in a much more subtle way. Every single noise thats
not the band playing is a sample: its a sample of books
or political texts or all the other sounds Ive chosen
to produce. Trying to combine a strident acoustic sound with
electronics is quite a challenge, so consequently its
much more subtle. But there are still something like 2000
samples in there.
Will the record find a home within the electronica scene?
Im sure Im going to lose a lot of people along
the way, but on the other hand my work has never really followed
any particular pattern anyways. Some of the people into my
electronic stuff might be surprised by all the acoustic stuff
on it, but I think that in places like England, my music will
get heard in jazz circles simply because of the fact that
Im using well-known English players.
You must be a record execs nightmare. How do they
Well, I am the executive, and Im not really into
marketing anyway, I dont believe in it. I do interviews
largely because people are interested, and its nice
to talk about something that youve spent a year working
on, and get some feedback and criticism as well. Marketing
the record is just a question of making it available, and
people will either buy it or they wont. I think word
of mouth is far more useful and gratifying than full-page
A number of groups are now merging jazz and electronica.
Are you thinking along similar lines?
There is a common logical point with electronic music
where it cant be just a selfish kind of pursuit. What
was once revolutionarythe fact that you could do it
in your bedroomweve had that for 20 years so thats
now the norm. So the reaction to that is to start combining
it with real players and real instruments. Likewise for live
music and bands. Its been boring for a long time. Till
it actually absorbs some of the expressions of electronic
music and the software revolution thats gone on, they
are going to be left behind as well.
Is there an inevitable confluence between live
and electronic music?
I wouldnt assume that anything is inevitable in
the music industry. Everything seems to take longer than I
would expect. The biggest thing in the UK music industry right
now is guitar bands that play the same three or four chords.
You listen to Velvet Underground and you think, shouldnt
something have changed? But it hasnt.
Recording a big band album must have been expensive...
It was expensive, but when you consider that a day in
the studio costs as much as getting a remix or two by one
of my contemporaries, and that includes recording with 17
people...we put the money into recording instead, and when
it comes to a live show, were still less than a big
name Detroit DJ, and we have 20 people on stage.
When you played Liquid Room last fall, you began the set
by sampling and looping the sound of the band tearing newspapers
into their microphones. I thought I might call this article,
Shred a newspaper, make music
Yeah, I wanted to use some pro-war tabloids, like the
Sun, and get a bunch of copies to tear up on stage. Its
kind of a basic statement, but when youre on stage the
statements need to be a little bolder.
Will this found sound approach at a certain
point exhaust its possibilities?
Never. Its like being a photographer and saying
you will run out of things to take photos of. Everything makes
a sound, and you can take one minute in one day wherever you
are, and you have enough sound in that one minute to keep
you interested and original for the rest of your life. Im
not interested in listening to a drum machine that Ive
heard in all its combinations in the last 20 years, Im
interested in hearing someone drop a pencil on a table and
finding out where its come from and why its there,
why they live there, what country it is, what their opinions
are...whatever it might be and whatever it might tell you.
Did you consider using non-Western instrumentation?
No I didnt. Simply because of the fact that I dont
know enough about it, and Im not a fan of cultural shopping.
Its very easy to go around Thailand for a bit, and record
some sounds and not understand what they mean or their cultural
significance. Im much more interested in going to the
Philippines and recording the sounds of people making Nike
trainers. To me that has a lot more potency.
The sound of corporate exploitation?
Yeah, exactly. To me thats gonna have much wider
resonance with a non-Western audience, and besides I would
like to manipulate it or chop it up or reevaluate it somehow.
Coming into someone elses culture, its not necessarily
cool to mess with things that you dont understand. If
a song is about, like, people that were lost in the Vietnam
War, and you chop it up for musical ends, its not very
Do Japanese get your message?
Its not clear. In interviews I always talk about
politics, and I make it pretty clear on the records and in
the liner notes, and in performances where I can.
How exactly did you use the books mentioned in your liner
Some of them are being read while the music is going on,
and a lot of the sounds are of the books being flipped through,
or rubbed, or getting whatever kinds of sounds I can get from
them. In my earlier work I used the sounds simply for the
quality of the sounds, whereas now Im much more interested
in the context.
Now that were on the verge of war with Iraq, do
you have any thoughts about how to approach that in your music?
Well the whole album is about that. Lyrically its about
that. The last three sounds that you hear on the whole album
are the sounds of books detailing American injustices, so
if people are like, whats that noise in the last piece,
then maybe they can read the liner notes. One of the London
protests is also built into one of the pieces, so its
woven into the whole thing.
Are you a bit of a lightning rod? Or do you feel like
youre preaching to the converted?
I think its a simple question of, you know weve
reached a crucial moral turning point in the world, and if
you dont say something youre complicit, and its
just a question of me having to say something.
Are you pacifist?
I wouldnt say that. I think to rule out war completely
doesnt seem to make a lot of sense, because they are
the sorts of issues I feel very strongly about. They are the
sort of issues I would be prepared to die for, they wouldnt
be issues that I would necessarily be prepared to kill for.
Goodbye Swingtime will be released
April 26 by Accidental Records and is distributed in Japan
by Ultra-Vybe. Some of the books that can be heard on the
album are: Rogue States, by Noam Chomsky; The New Rulers of
the World, by John Pilger; Stupid White Men, by Michael Moore;
and War Plan Iraq, by Milan Rai.
credit: Ali Mahdavi