There’s a disturbing scene in Food, Inc. depicting pigs queuing up for slaughter. They wait in a metal corral for a trap door to open before filing into a steel box. The magic box turns on, a trap door at the other end opens, and voila – a dead pig rolls out on a conveyer belt, ready to be baconized. It’s never easy to watch an animal being killed, but the real reason the scene is so skin-crawling is how bloodless it is. There isn’t any gore, and you never actually see the pig die. Instead, you get a glimpse of a system we take for granted every day, converting flesh into food without us having to consider the messy details of what that looks like, or just how dehumanizing it really is.
Matthew Herbert is clearly disturbed by the same things. One Pig, the third in a series of albums he’s produced using sounds based around a theme, documents the six-month life of a single pig. It’s a follow-up to One One, consisting of sounds produced entirely by Herbert himself, and One Club, made of recordings made in the course of single night at a German nightclub. To be sure, these aren’t pop albums you’re going to be reaching for on a regular basis, but they’re fascinating as musical experiments. One Pig has the added distinction of following a narrative of sorts, yielding a cinematic feel as the titular pig is brought into the world, raised, killed, and eventually used in a variety of everyday products. In fact, the pig is even “heard” on tracks recorded after its death: a drum was made from its skin, percussion instruments from its bones and a makeshift “organ” was invented by forcing its blood through tuned reeds. The organ, which makes a sound as creepy as it looks, can be seen in a making-of video produced by The Guardian.
Die-hard carnivores needn’t worry about a “Meat is Murder” polemic here, though blood drips, knife scrapes and buzzing saws are certainly part of the sonic landscape. Those sounds are incidental and sort of inevitable when you follow an animal bred and raised to be slaughtered. But first and foremost, One Pig is an exploration of a system, asking questions about where we get the things we use and inviting us to experience a surprising emotional richness along the way. This ultimately shifts the emphasis to being more of an aural wandering than a record you can relax and listen to at home (particularly as dinner music), but enjoyed on its own terms, it’s an engaging, moving piece of art.
The tracks are labeled by month, starting with the pig’s birth in August of 2009. They’re largely ambient and industrial sounding in nature, with lots of pregnant pauses that are often unnerving as you blindly try to imagine, say, the pig nervously grunting in an abattoir. Sometimes the layering of different sounds can be darkly funny, like on “August 2010,” where you can hear grunting interspersed among satisfied munching and glass clinks as Herbert and some friends record themselves eating the actual pig. That track also features the pig’s blood organ, which produces what sounds like mournful wails that are eerily animal-like in nature.
As with most Herbert records, part of the fun is picking out the individual sounds that are collaged into his music. Tractors, cattle, the sound of a metal gate opening – all of these become barely recognizable when they’re cut up and rearranged into songs. Herbert has always been the right artist for anyone who loves to get lost in details, and One Pig is the perfect album to do that. More than anything, his music asks you to lean in and listen more closely. Those that do will get an experience that’s political, musical and tells a story in a way few albums do.
Herbert – One One
Herbert – One Club
Matmos – A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure