Matthew Herbert's One Pig project

Matthew Herbert serves up his political ideologies on a pork-shaped plate with his latest One Pig project – an album telling the story of a farm animal from birth to death and beyond. April Welsh speaks to the ‘super producer’.

Matthew Herbert is at the mercy of fate. He’s a chancer, a risk taker and a man who sees creative potential in the everyday, the banal and the fundamentally brutal. Taking the world around us and immortalising it in song, he strongly maintains the need for accidental occurrences within the realm of music making – often likened to the theory of aleatoricism – largely as a riposte to the repetitious nature of capitalism and the damning perfection of the modern studio which seeks to disassociate sounds from their physical origin.

The primary concern of this avant-garde conceptualist is with the ‘real’; acquiring found sounds from a disparate array of sources and bringing them to the forefront of our collective consciousness in an intelligent way that has deservedly earned him his status as a pioneering electronic musician. The ideological bases of his work vary from political and social commentary to self-reflective contemplation – from Herbert’s 2001 ‘Bodily Functions’ LP, which features audio snippets of laser eye surgery, brushing hair and chattering teeth – to The Matthew Herbert Big Band’s 2008 ‘There’s Me and There’s You’ – a hypermodern incarnation of the protest album which uses the sound of Palestinians being shot by the Israeli defence force in Ramallah to articulate a vehement point about the bloody consequences of war.

And it is the idea of consequence which resonates throughout Herbert’s latest work, the ‘One Pig’ project, a concept album about the life-cycle of a pig, from birth to death, and beyond. Naturally, the record has courted a fair deal of controversy from the outset (PETA tried to have the whole thing shut down), but Herbert fervently dismisses any claims of cruelty, instead defending his long-held belief that we should treat animals with the utmost respect. Using this project to convey a profound political message about the way we perceive and consume meat, he blames supermarkets for feeding us a constant barrage of misinformation when it comes to food labelling but also berates our own shirking of responsibility and the cowardly way in which many of us eat meat but fail to question where it came from. For, as the age old adage goes, ‘ignorance is bliss’ and we are often guilty of hiding behind the unknown. “We don’t see the immigrants picking our fruit, we don’t see the conditions that animals are kept in and we don’t get to see how they’re killed,” says Herbert. “We’re just kept entirely separate from the consequences of our actions and that’s an incredibly dangerous position for us to be in.” Herbert praises The Meat License Proposal, an organisation working towards developing a new kind of law which requires restaurant customers to have experienced killing an animal in order to purchase anything meat-related from the menu and this desire for illumination pervades the ‘One Pig’ record.

Flicking through the hefty canon of conceptual music – from the inward-looking musings of ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘The Wall’ to the fictional characters of ‘Tommy’ and ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ – what binds them all together is the underlying principle of narrative. And that’s exactly what ‘One Pig’ is; an aural biography about a creature whose fated existence would otherwise have gone untold. It’s the third instalment of Herbert’s ‘One Trilogy’ of albums, although quite distinct from his two previous efforts ‘One One’ and ‘One Club’, is still thematically linked. “I wanted to make an album out of one thing but I couldn’t decide what that thing was going to be,” he explains. “For me what links these three albums together is the unknown – the first record was about me and the second one was about strangers but this feels like the most important one because it has the most risk attached to it.”

The nine tracks on ‘One Pig’ coincide with the pig’s fleeting 24-week life-cycle, beginning with its birth in ‘August 2009’, an almost picturesque scene of countryside tranquillity, mostly silent apart from the sound of heavy breathing, the rustling of hay and the distant tweeting of birds. Subdued pig squeals emerge by the end of the track, to a backdrop of fluttering electronic bloops, but by ‘September’ things have got ugly, as Herbert’s uneasy oscillations and urgent, plodding synths are pitted against more perturbing, violent grunts. He recollects: “It was a pretty visceral experience; a weird juxtaposition of utter calm and utter violence. The sow was really freaked out about what was going on because she hadn’t given birth before and so became really aggressive towards her piglets. She bit one on its rump and there was a whole piece of his skin missing. She flung another one across the room and broke its jaw – it died because it couldn’t feed.”

Herbert was not permitted to record the pig being killed due to legal constraints and although he says that this may have taken away some potentially explicit friction from the record, he doesn’t believe that it diminished its impact. “I think the killing would have been overstepping the line slightly and could also have proved to detract from the overall shape and story of the piece,” he says. “If anything, it just highlights the stupidity of our food system where everything is almost hidden from us.” But he does record the process of the butchery itself, in particular track ‘February’, where you can hear the ominous sharpening of a knife.

‘August 2010’ is composed of sounds from his One Pig Feast, where various chefs including Jason Atherton and Kitty Travers were invited to cook a meal using every edible part of the animal. Herbert wanted “every bite to count” and the elaborate banquet was intended to be a celebration of the pig’s life. In addition to this, Herbert commissioned several artists to create instruments from the pig by-products, including a pig skin drum by Stephen Calcutt and a pig blood organ by Henry Dagg, which acquires its pitch by forcing blood up through tuned reeds. Played by Sam Beste, this off-kilter sound can be heard predominantly on the ‘August 2010’ composition.

But one of the most ambitious aspects of the project is the introduction of a brand new instrument - the so-called musical pig sty – which will feature as the centre piece for the live ‘One Pig’ show, taking place on September 2nd at the Royal Opera House as part of Mike Figgis’s Tell The Truth festival. The pig drum will also be used on stage, with a drummer playing samples of the pig’s life, and hay will help to give the illusion of a barn, with pig fat candles and a pig trotter candelabra created to ensure that every part of the animal is put to use. There will a chef cooking live on stage, various looping and electronics and a piano player playing samples again of the pig’s life, but manipulated into something more tuneful. Herbert himself will be playing melody lines as well as sampling what everyone else is doing. “If we do it properly then people should be able to have a multi-sensory experience and immerse themselves fully into a condensed life, until death,” he says. “I would like the show to be a chance to reflect on the pig’s life but I would also like it essentially to be music and to be emotional and moving in some way.”

Herbert was at the whim of nature throughout and in relinquishing control left any preconceived ideas at the barn door. “You simply can’t make it into what you want it to be,” he stresses. “For example, I assumed that the labour process would be a very noisy affair but it was in fact very quiet and peaceful. You can’t think – ‘I’m going to make a rock and roll track out of this pig’s birth’ –because you’re there to tell a story so you have to listen and amplify what you hear, rather than coming to it with an agenda.” On ‘May 2011’, Herbert sings a pastoral lament to the pig and he went back to the barn to record this track. “It didn’t feel right recording it in the studio so we went back to the sty, but when we got there we found out that a pig had just given birth,” he says. “It was incredibly peaceful, serene and a great privilege to be there and it felt like the cycle was starting up again.”

It ends on a poignant and surreal note. “For me, the music is the afterlife; the fact that we’re still talking about it,” says Herbert. “That pig would just have ended up as a meal but I believe that this album has imbued it with a much more physical and tangible end.”

To buy tickets for the ‘One Pig’ live show, go to

Suggested Topics
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower