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features /  music feature
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matthew herbert
matthew herbert's plat du jour challenge
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Food for thought.

Matthew Herbert is in a position many would envy. Having grown out of the house music movement where he made his name in the 90s, he’s now become a sought-after producer with a unique contemporary style. The constant demand for his remix and production duties has allowed him the freedom to start his own label (Accidental Records) and pursue his own, more political, projects.

The most recent of these, Goodbye Swingtime, saw him persuade a “big band” of notable jazz musicians to bang on printers and fire extinguishers (as well as their usual instruments) in protest at the war on Iraq. For his latest, Plat Du Jour, he’s turned his attention to the wrong-doings and deception of the food industry. “It’s about trying to make informed choices and trying to limit the impact you have on yourself and the environment” he says. “Whilst you think that you might be buying something healthy, locally produced and organic, you might actually be supporting companies responsible for making the world a more polluted and uninspiring place. It’s a deception, a magic trick.”

Esme's organic grocery in Brixton, London.

As an instrumental electronic artist, Matthew gets his message across by highlighting the sources of the sounds used in the music. His approach is forensic; for Plat Du Jour he spent 18 months researching the issues and collating sounds. Each track focuses on a specific food or situation and is made up exclusively of sounds associated with it. For instance, Sugar is made entirely from sounds generated from a can of Coke (each can contains ten tea spoonfuls of it), while The Final Meal Of Stacey Lawton is made from the sound of his pal, Heston Blumenthal, recreating the last meal of a death row prisoner (a jar of pickles) in his own inimitable style (pickle ice cream anyone?).

Matthew refuses a hamburger, makes a track from our shopping.

The fact that the origin of each sound is recorded in detail on the sleeve notes is indicative. For Matthew, the stories behind the music are almost more important than the music itself. “It’s the difference between art and entertainment,” he muses. “A Britney Spears song is just exactly that. There’s no other story to tell... Compare that to an artwork in the Tate Modern of the world’s flags made out of sand, with lines all over it [Pacific by Yukinori Yanagi, 1996], and then you find out that the lines were made by 1000s of ants burrowing through the sand - that story adds something to it. What excites me is that with a sampler there is the possibility of imbuing the music with these kinds of stories.”

This compulsion to retain the integrity of his stories can come at a cost however. “There have been times when the music has suffered because I am limiting myself,” he concedes. “Things are against you when you’re trying to make a coffee jar expressive in emotional ways.”

Alastair Lee 19 August 05
Matthew Herbert – Plat Du Jour, out now on Accidental Records. See Plat Du Jour live at The Barbican in London, 03 October 05.

Recipe for Esme’s Waltz
by Matthew Herbert

- Dry coconut (origin unknown)
- Eden organic grape juice in a glass bottle (Germany)
- Organic peanuts in a plastic bag (origin unknown)
- Mount Hagen decaffeinated, organic coffee in a glass jar with a plastic top (Germany)
- Two out-of-season apples (origin unknown)
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