Restless innovator, sampling wizard, classically trained pianist and superstar collaborator, Matthew Herbert is one of electronic music’s most versatile and prolific figureheads.
An alchemist of avant-garde sound in the tradition stretching from Stockhausen to the Aphex Twin, Herbert combines playful pop sensibility with a strictly imposed experimental agenda. In his increasingly conceptual and political albums he has emerged as a unique figure in modern music: a kind of one-man Radiohead, or a Brian Eno for the 21st century.
In 2000, Herbert wrote a manifesto which has defined his compositional methods ever since. It prohibits the use of any pre-recorded musical sources, as well as any synthetic sounds that imitate acoustic instruments. What’s more, accidental sounds or errors should influence the process of his production – mistakes in programming or recording are welcomed as the intervention of random humanity in a sterile world. This is a man, after all, who runs a record label called Accidental.
Herbert’s latest album, Scale, is probably his most pleasingly pop-friendly mellifluous so far. But beneath its deceptively glossy surface sheen of jazz, disco and sensual house rhythms lie quietly anguished meditations on mortality, global suffering and the end of the oil age. Among the 723 objects sampled on these lush tracks are coffins, petrol pumps, meteorites, an RAF Tornado bomber, and somebody being sick outside a banquet for a notorious London arms fair.
Herbert’s endless innovation is never just art for its own sake. His music is always engaged in lively dialogue with the wider world, with the past and future of experimental music, and with its own political and economic origins.
In a word: extraordinary