- Matthew Herbert has described his recent recordings as attempts to "tell stories through sound." Like an ageing author casting about for universal truths, his stories have been getting ever more grand and serious lately. 2013's The End Of Silence was made out of a five-second recording of a bomb being dropped in Libya in 2011. The music—slight, cool and abstract—buckled under the weight of its implied themes: liberal interventionism, war reporting in the internet age, the ethics of sampling and so on. His latest, following a steam-letting pop-house album under his Herbert alias, is equally stern. There's more musical substance to back up its concept, but it remains questionable whether the two really hang together.
"The nude has been a primary form of expression for visual art for centuries. However, there has never been a musical nude in its purest form," declares the press release for A Nude. To right this wrong, Herbert recorded "the sounds of a naked body in a room for 24 hours"—capturing the full range of bodily processes—and then "condensed and organised" them into eight tracks. The album's subtitle is "The Perfect Body," the idea being that this is a universal body we're hearing, unplaceable in age, race, etc. Unfortunately, there are strong suggestions that Herbert's subject is a woman. When placed in a long lineage of male artists depicting the female form, the album's candidness suddenly seems a bit less groundbreaking. (Recordings of Herbert's own body might have made for a richer concept, though you can understand why he might not want thousands of people hearing the sound of his ejaculation.)
Beyond this, Herbert seems to have conflicting ideas about how to make a musical nude. At one end of the spectrum, opener "Is Sleeping" is a seemingly untreated hour-long recording of close-miked snoring. Familiar sounds—the grainy rasp of each breath, the micro-variations in rhythm—start to seem new and strange, and time slows down such that non-events like a shift in body position take on a musical quality. At the other end of the spectrum, Herbert is a more active interpreter. On "Is Hurting," looped gasps and ghostly, Lee Gamble-like pads are punctured by visceral percussion blasts. It's hard to tell how he derived these sounds from the source material, but the effect is dramatic.
Elsewhere, everyday sounds are stitched into complex mosaics, ambiguous in tone but engrossing. "Is Eating" and "Is Moving" are strong, if not exactly mind-blowing. Herbert saves the more shocking stuff until the end, and with it the subtlety of his approach tails off. "Is Coming" is pretty much exactly what you'd imagine: a slow ascent with a sudden head-spinning climax. Once the voyeuristic thrill has worn off there's little else to it. On "Is Shitting," thoroughly disgusting samples of close-miked gasses and solids are sculpted into a perky glitch rhythm. This is possibly the oldest trick in the Herbert playbook, and once he's performed it he doesn't seem to know what to do next. The whole thing splats and farts along for another few minutes, but the concept has already left the building.
01. is sleeping
02. is awake
03. is grooming
04. is hurting
05. is eating
06. is moving
07. is coming
08. is shitting