The Click: Matthew Herbert
In his own words, Matthew Herbert recalls a sampling experiment that spurred on an existential epiphany about our interconnectedness.
When I was young, I saved up from my Saturday job and bought a sampler. Suddenly the walls came tumbling down. It was like, ‘Oh, wow, everything can become music.’ That was an extraordinary moment. It’s a bit like being an artist, and up until then you’ve been working with crayons, and then being given a video recorder. Suddenly music can be documentary and not just abstraction. That’s a completely profound shift in the materials of music, and one that I still don’t think is properly discussed.
In 2005, I made an album about the food industry called Plat du Jour. I made a track called An Apple a Day. I wanted to tell the story of British apples. I was really excited by the possibilities that the sampling could allow for storytelling, and the story I wanted to tell was that Britain is the best place in the world to grow apples – there’s somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 varieties available in this country. So that was my idea for the piece, I’d record 365 different types of apples, eaten by 365 different types of people.
We had our first gig before the record was finished. So I was like, well, look, there were like 300 people in the audience, let’s give them all an apple and record them there. We gave them all to the audience, and then put a microphone on the audience. I thought it would be a really incredible sound. Actually, it was not a very satisfying noise. It was a sort of wet, lip-smacking noise.
“But then it made me think about God, because I thought, well, if God exists, or if aliens are listening to us, there are ways of listening to us as a collective”
I think it’s such a gorgeous metaphor for how the things we think are valuable and important and engaging to us are actually quite small and meek to somebody else. Then we had another show. So I was like, well, let’s do it again. In the end, we ended up with 3,500 people biting an apple at the same time. And then because the album came out, we went on tour and we still did it abroad, we ended up with 10,000 people. This sort of I guess became the pivotal moment when I was in the studio, and layered them all up at the same time.
I realised that I was possibly the first ever person to have heard that, unless there was a medieval apple eating competition that we don’t know about. I can remember everything about that moment of being the first human to have experienced something, you suddenly feel like an adventurer. But then it made me think about God, because I thought, well, if God exists, or if aliens are listening to us, there are ways of listening to us as a collective. You think of how many people are biting an apple right now across the whole world, you know, maybe it’s a quarter of a million. If we can detach our ears from our head and send them up to space and listen down, and can hear everything at once, maybe there are patterns.
If you’re listening to Britain, then you’ll hear an awful lot of teeth cleaning between about five and nine in the morning, then you’ll hear a lot of typing and phone calls, then you’ll hear lunch being prepared. So maybe we’re living in a giant piece of music.
Around the House and Bodily Functions are due for vinyl reissue on 9 July via Accidental