Metropolis: Matthew Herbert, One Room

One Room
Matthew Herbert
Metropolis New Music Festival
8 April

The Melbourne Recital Centre’s Made of Music commission asks musicians to engage with the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and the hoop pine from which it is made. Using technology developed by the Vienna-based artist Bartholomäus Traubeck, data about the ring width, colour and texture of a slice of hoop pine is given to the composer for sonification. Inspired by the ephemeral nature of live performance, Matthew Herbert’s response to this brief was to sample previous recordings made in the hall and combine them with harmonic material derived from the hoop pine data.

Dressed in white dress shirts and bow ties, Herbert and his four musical helpers triggered fragments of piano, strings and winds with an electronic drum kit, hacked game controller and a contraption using a sprung cord for pitch modulation. The origins of most sounds were obscured by the short sample time and processing, though faint echoes of choirs, traditional Chinese instruments, bells and an infamous cougher from a Ravel concert came through the mix. The ensemble grooved and glitched through a series of percussive and ambient atmospheres before driving to a booming finish with the help of what sounded like a mighty double bass sample. The harmonic material played on a piano melded smoothly into the sometimes late-romantic, sometimes ambient-jazzy soundscape.

One Room is the first and least political of Herbert’s three concerts at the Melbourne Recital Centre. The remaining two, The End of Silence (12 April) and One Pig (13 April) will see similar operations performed upon very different sound sources: Sebastien Meyer’s sound recording of being bombed by a pro-Gaddafi plane in Libya in 2011 and the twenty-week life cycle of a pig. Over the next two days I will be exploring Matthew Herbert’s musical rationale in these pieces and taking a look at his self-restraining “Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (Incorporating the Manifesto of Mistakes).”

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