Art and Music      
Chianciano Biennale


Matthew Herbert’s One Day

SIMON DUFF:  A string and brass section together with drums, woodwind, harp and a grand piano are set up on the left of the stage. Laptops, mixing desks, samplers and keyboards are set towards stage centre. To the right a pile of bricks on a crate will be used to build part of a house. A fully working kitchen set up will cook receipies from The Guardian newspaper cooking section from Saturday 25th September 2010. Completing the line up stage right are the two main vocal positions. One for the singer and one for the narrator. Hanging over the stage a large screen showing the front page of The Guardian from September 25. One Day is ready to recreate a musical media spin version of the 25th September. 

What happened on that day? In the UK people reading The Guardian were busy looking at who was going to be the next leader of the Labour party. They were  checking out a new urban safari idea in the travel section and previwing the football fixtures. Seperate sections neatly neatly slotted into one day. Easy to digest chunks never linked. The autumn weather in the south east was grey and overcast but nontheless mild with the sun gloriously breaking through at times to give glimpses of a golden autumn light.

A good a day as any then to turn it into a music collage. Which is what  restless innovator, sonic artist, classically trained pianist and collaborator Matthew Herbert did for his awe inspiring One Day. Herbert constructed a musical score based on content from the Saturday 25 September edition of The Guardian. Performed by the world-renowned London Sinfonietta together with lightehearted but poignant narration from John O'Farrell. Slow, jazzy, easy tempo silky smooh Cole Porter inspired songs, part Steve Reich American mininalism ideas, combined with hard edged electronically procssed drums, made up the intriguing if sometimes uncomfortably safe musical ingredients. The show was punctuated by three or four songs of statrling beauty and jazz finesse that would have easily beeen the highlight of many a West End musical. However, always offset by hard hitting ideas and political intention forcing the audience to shift expectations. What does it mean to read a newspaper today and just what a huge undertaking is it to produce?

The audience, and a full house, was very much part of the show as each member was given a copy of The Guardian from the 25th September. Instructions were given to read sections and in the end the newspaer itself was turned into a giant misical instrument as the audience created a sonic intervention for the last number. Herbert’s complicated, precise songs and score were dynamically conducted by Baldur Bronnimann. Lead players included Finn Peters on flute/saxophone, Robin Mullarkey on bass,  Nick Ram on piano, Tom Skinner on drums and the powerful but delicate vocals of the remarkable South London singer Eska. Visuals included a series of films projected above the stage were proved by yeast Culture with Sound Intermedia in charge of sound projection.

The Guardian gave Herbert and the Sinfonietta exclusive behind the-scenes access to its editorial and production processes, from attendance at editorial meetings, through to recordings of the actual edition being printed at the Guardian Print Centre in East London, in order to provide context for Herbert’s compositions. The newspaper edition not only acted as the concert’s score, but also as the programme notes. Seeing an edition of the Guardian being brought to life in this extraordinarily creative was a remarkably intriguing event forcing questions as to the validity and future of national newspapers. One Day was not only a compelling evening of new music, but an engaging, interactive spectacle, with plenty of the theatrics and invention for which Herbert's live shows have gained such a strong reputation. Matthew Herbert stated: “Musicians have long served a function as storytellers. Yet the biggest stories, the ones that often have a direct impact on our lives, are rarely retold in contemporary music. By choosing one edition of a national paper as both score and subject matter, I'm forced to confront this paradox head on.”

Recording under his own name as well as Doctor Rockit, Wishmountain, Radio Boy and others, Herbert has also produced and remixed artists as diverse as Björk, REM, John Cale, Roisin Murphy, Yoko Ono, Ennio Morricone, Dizzee Rascal and Serge Gainsbourg. 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 his 2005 manifesto Herbert declared a series of rules that he had to adhere to when making his own music. It is a brief list that includes banning the use of drum machines. It continues by saying that all keyboard sounds must be edited in some way: no factory presets or pre-programmed patches are allowed. Only sounds that are generated at the start of the compositional process or taken from the artist's own previously unused archive are available for sampling. The sampling of other people's music is strictly forbidden.

As music strives for new meaning in our oversaturated culture Herbert’s determination to discover a new context and new politics for music is hugely admirable. One Day and indeed much of Herbert’s work including the sonic reworking and exploration of Mahler’s Symphony X for Deutsche Grammophon in 2010 are bold, adventurous and exciting. Music must find a new importance and political resonance and Herbert is doing fantastic work to try and make this happen again.


Saturday 20 November 2010.

Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall. London.





sharon Wales
2010-12-20 22:04:21
Excellent review. Very insightful I enjoyed reading this very much.

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