By Brad Knutson
Legendary English electronic producer and composer Matthew Herbert is back in Chicago this week supporting his latest masterpiece, “Scale.” Released earlier this summer, critics have gushed that it may be Herbert’s most accessible and pop-friendly album to date, while at the same time still furthering his reputation as the master of collage and music concrete. So how does one who samples coffin doors, gas pumps, meteorites and bombing aircraft come up with one of the best dance albums of the year? Newcity recently caught up with Herbert via telephone to pick the brain of this mad genius and explore the depths of meaning behind “Scale.”
So…what has Matthew Herbert been up to lately?
Losing some more hair, gaining a few more pounds… (laughs).
Tell us about your current tour of The States.
Unfortunately it’s just me playing records really. I’d rather come with a band but I’ve got these principles. The problem is that I’m already compromising myself one way by flying to America in the first place. I tried to get there on a boat but it takes quite a long time on a cargo ship and some of the cruise lines aren’t sailing at that time.
Why would you rather take a boat than fly?
I’ve taken so many flights in the past that I’ve think I’ve contributed my fair amount of disaster to the planet. Aircraft fuel isn’t taxed…[so] at the same time I’m contributing to the mess and giving profits to the oil companies… there’s no tax being generated from that for the government to deal with the after-effects. If they start taxing fuel I might consider flying a little more.
Speaking of which, your latest album, “Scale,” is a statement against the oil companies and our relentless pursuit of fossil fuels. It’s a timely subject, but one that the world has been struggling with for quite a while. What made you decide to pursue this topic at this particular moment?
Personally, it was part of my research for “Plat du Jour,” my previous record, which was all about the food industry. I’ve been reading about oil for a long time but went a little further and realized the biggest consumer of oil is the food industry. We associate oil with cars and high prices in our gas tanks, but actually it’s the entire structure of our civilization in the West. I’ve always been aware of it, but it wasn’t until “Plat du Jour” that I realized quite how entirely we rely on it. Then reading further, it seemed we may have actually reached “peak oil,” in which case we’ve got quite a big adjustment immediately ahead of us.
Tell us about your sample sources for “Scale.”
I’ve been a bit coy, not really explaining too much where they come from. They’re based on these things and the idea of distance. Considering a couple more abstract philosophical points like, ‘where does 2006 fit in to the grand scheme of humanity in relation to things like running out of oil?’ Things like the relation to me growing older and thinking about having children. From the enormous to the totally intimate… and thinking of ways to measure that.
The sounds on this record are much more abstract and much more an abstraction of philosophical principles. And in a way they’re much more subtle as well. The point really is that the album on initial hearing might sound like one thing, but actually it’s constructed from something else entirely. So, in a way I kind of think of it as a bit like a mystery. I give you a couple keys, but it’s up to the audience how far they want to go with it. So if they just want to dance to it and enjoy it from that perspective then that’s their decision, but for me… I like to add a bit of depth, you know?
At the very least, no one can accuse you of not putting a lot of thought and effort into your records.
No, well for me, listening to an album is like a hotel. Some people want to just come for an hour and hang out in the bar and drink a couple of cocktails. Other people want to walk around and see what’s in the morgue and what’s in the laundry basket and check out every room. I think it’s important I put something in each of those rooms.
Matthew Herbert DJs SummerDance with Brad Owen at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, on August 21 from 6pm-10pm. No cover, all ages. He also spins at Keine Funk with Common Factor at the Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773) 276-3600 on August 20 at 10pm. $12 cover.