Tuesday, March 4, 2008

HERBERT, Let's All Make Mistakes (Tresor)
Uncut, 2000

by Simon Reynolds

British house's great eccentric, Matthew Herbert made the album I've listened to
more than any other these past two years: 1998's Around The House, a voluptuous amalgam of the innovations of US auteur-producers like Mood II Swing and Deep Dish, infused with a quirky charm that's uniquely English. Plugging the gap
until that long overdue sequel arrives, here's Herbert's superb mix-CD Let's All
Make Mistakes
. It's oddly titled, not least because it's the most seamless mix
I've ever heard on disc. Not in the tedious sense you'd associate with, say
progressive trance DJs like John Digweed---who typically holds two equally
characterless tracks in the mix so long you don't notice the transition. No, on
Mistakes, each tune sounds singular and discrete, but it's meshed with its
predecessor and successor in such an intimately entangled, organic manner that
the result recalls the chimera of ancient myth (a creature formed out of body
parts belonging to different animals).

If anything unites Herbert's 22 selections, it's that same uncanny blend of
supple and rigid that characterizes his own music (of which you get six examples
here). On a typical track, crisp, dry, just-this-side-of-grating textures enfold
little internal oases of lush loveliness. Herbert's own "Tasteful Dub Mix" of
Moloko's "Sing It Back" is plain lovely, a spongy groove that emits a soothing
amniotic glow. Other parts of Mistakes, like the sequence that runs
Pantytec/Errorsmith/DBX, strip away song-flesh to reveal house music's inner
organs, the grotesque gurgles and base bubblings generated by its
gastro-intestinal plumbing. This kind of ultra-minimal house has a lot in common
with experimental electronica, especially "glitch" with its aestheticized
mistakes and malfunctions. In both styles, the musique-concrete-like timbres
create a cornucopia of sounds that can only be evoked by onomatopoeia: ploots,
crickles, schlaaps, grunks, etc . But unlike glitch-techno, Herbert-style house
always keeps the groove pumping. Even at its most tic-riddled and tourettic,
there's an unmistakable wiggle to its walk, a hint of bump'n'grind.

HERBERT, Bodily Functions
Spin, 2001

by Simon Reynolds

Is this a trend or what? Swiftly following Matmos's cosmetic-surgery-sampling A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, here's British producer Matthew Herbert with his own album of glitchy, off-kilter house built from sounds of the human organism. Not only do both records feature tracks using laser eye surgery noises, but Matmos's Martin Schmidt actually makes a cameo appearance on Bodily Functions as a sample source. Herbert's no trend-jumping opportunist, though--if anything, he built this particular bandwagon. His last album, 1998's Around The House, subtly wove domestic found-sounds into its voluptuously textured grooves, and in his more avant-garde alter-egos like Doctor Rockit and Wishmountain he's been messing with musique concrete for years.

Pushing vocalist Dani Siciliano's smoky croon into the spotlight and weaving in vintage-jazz acoustic instruments like horns and double bass, Bodily Functions is more languid and torch-songy than Around The House. It's not quite as instantly ear-grabbing either, but it does represent a definite advance in terms of production finesse. You'll need headphones to really revel in the obsessively micro-managed arrangements on tunes like "Suddenly"---an intricate honeycomb of chambers-within-chambers and muezzin-riffs that writhe in spidery spirals. As accomplished at piano as he is at Pro-Tools, Herbert has pulled off an exquisite merger between traditional manual musicianship and today's digital virtuosity. On "I Know", for instance, the jazz drummer's repertoire of rimshots, drags, flams, and cymbal splashes mesh imperceptibly with radical processing and computer editing.

Herbert is one of house music's most visual-sounding producers---his music seems to make you listen with your eyes, or peer with your ears. Gurgling and
gelatinous-sounding, "Foreign Bodies"--the track featuring the pulsing blood-flow of Matmos's Schmidt--fits the album concept: you feel like you're travelling in a microscopic submarine through the arterial system, dodging flotillas of white corpuscles, virus shoals, and treacherous clumps of chloresterol. Mostly, though, it's kinda irrelevant how Herbert procured his sounds. Because effects are dance music's primary instrument, it's doesn't really matter if the hi-hats are "really" scrunched-up chip packets, or just hi-hats treated to sound like someone crumpling a Doritos bag. What does count is Herbert's flair for marshalling his menagerie of creaks, crinkles, burps, scrapes, rustles, and hiccups into sensuous grooves. The result is house music sublimely poised between ungainliness and elegance.

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