Matthew Herbert Monument-National, Montreal QC, May 29

Matthew Herbert Monument-National, Montreal QC, May 29
Photo: Vincent Pollard
Following the first audiovisual piece of this year's MUTEK – wherein filmmaker Dan Browne presented the world premiere of Memento Mori, his surprisingly palatable and life-affirming meditation on death – Matthew Herbert continued the theme with his conceptual work on the life cycle of a pig. The North American premiere of his One Pig project finds Herbert telling the story of a pig's life from birth to plate, based on field recordings that the musician recorded himself.

Five (mostly-bearded) guys dressed in white farmer's coats walked onstage toward some kind of pigsty, tables of electronics, keyboards and an electronic drum pad surrounded by bales of straw for the first of three Matthew Herbert performances at this year's festival. The 'sty' is in fact a styHarp designed by Herbert collaborator Yann Seznec. The wires of it are attached to sensors repurposed from Gametrak controllers so they can be used to trigger the pig samples, which were played rhythmically and expertly by Seznec himself. The album has a few digestible moments, such as on "September," but the music is mostly atonal, highly rhythmic and far from typical song structure or melody.

The performance aspect of the live show elevated the work dramatically, managing to make the point clearer while being more musical and less abrasive than the recorded version. Seznec donned a new farmer's coat for every track with the corresponding month/track name abbreviated on its back. By the end of "December" the sound grew into a cacophony. For "January," Seznec's coat had a blood-red one underneath (you can see where this is going) and one by one the other players came into the styHarp, including Herbert himself. A chef entered the rear of the stage and started cooking some kind of pork-based dish while Seznec sawed on a bone and the sampled sound of liquid (Dripping blood? Simmering water?) became the dominant sound... until the beat came in for the upbeat techno of "February."

Even from the back of the auditorium, the faint smell of bacon or pork could be smelled cooking. The music receded to allow the close-mic'ed sound of frying to be the only audible sound then bringing the set back up to a rousing crescendo of aroma, sound and concept as the chef laid out five bowls of food (Penne arrabiata? Pork chops?) for the band. A solo piano version of "May 2011" closed the set and with its conceptually pertinent lyrical whimsy it added a welcome touch of Monty Python to the proceedings.