Matthew Herbert ~ The Horse

To quote the press release, Matthew Herbert’s latest is an album “based around a full-size horse skeleton”.

This is a statement that prompts questions.

One such question is “why?” Is it for shock value? He’s certainly unafraid of controversy, as he proved with his album The State Between Us, which outraged the Daily Mail by being markedly anti-Brexit and also funded by the state (admittedly, annoying the reactionaries at the Mail is so easily done as to barely be mention-worthy). Perhaps he is trying to make vegans queasy? His album One Pig, a portrayal of the life of a pig from conception to the dinner plate, drew criticism from PETA (he dismissed their reaction as “utterly absurd”). But the idea of using a horse’s cadaver as an instrument, while superficially macabre, is as ancient as music itself. Bone and skin have long been fashioned into instruments—we call the surfaces of drums “skins” for a reason.  Archaeological finds attest that music has been part of human rituals for thousands of years. Perhaps he’s taking it a bit far with the sperm, though?

A more pertinent question is “is it any good?” and here we can be unequivocal: yes. The album is structured from ancient to modern, so the early tracks sound the most primitive. They include tracks titled “The Horses Bones are in a Cave”, “The Horse’s Hair and Skin are Stretched”, “The Horse’s Bones are Flutes”, and “The Horse’s Pelvis is a Lyre”. If you’re not into experimental music these tracks may test your patience, but hold on because in the fifth track “The Horse is Prepared” and from here on we find ourselves in a more familiar sound-world. The eighth track, “The Horse is put to Work”, starts slow but turns into an absolute dance banger, only to be followed by another, the tenth, “The Horse Has A Voice”, which is truly irresistible. Penultimate track “The Horse is Close” deliberately offers an uncomfortable listening experience with field recordings from the corner of the Epsom racecourse where suffragette Emily Davison was trampled to death by the King’s horse. However, the breaths, snorts and whinneys in album closer “The Horse is Here” are utterly captivating. The horse is no longer disassembled; Herbert has brought it back to life.

With its potential for dramatic spectacle and an enormous cast of performers, including the London Contemporary Orchestra, Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross, Evan Parker, Danilo Pérez, Polar Bear’s Seb Rochford and Edward Wakili-Hick, one imagines this might be an album best experienced live. Herbert has gigs scheduled in Edinburgh, London, Hamburg and Berlin this year. (Garreth Brooke)

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