Matthew Herbert – The End Of Silence (2013)
In 2011, war photographer Sebastian Meyer took this photo. He also recorded the sound of that bomb, dropped in Libya by a pro-Gaddafi plane, as he fled from the scene.
“There is something terrifying in the sound, that the photograph just can’t capture. There is no composition to the sound. No thought. Just the raw noise of a bomb falling and exploding.” he wrote of the experience.
This is where Matthew Herbert steps in. British electronic musician and soundscape artist used as a source material a 10-second excerpt of that raw noise and created this album, The End Of Silence. Through digital manipulation, the entirety of this album captures this one act, in the midst of war, and allows the listener to be enveloped by it. “I wanted to freeze history, press pause, wander around inside the sound” Herbert states.
This is, on the whole, an experimental album, dark dangerous but intriguing and beautiful soundscapes are presented and we are left exploring this act, an act with deadly intent.
Part 1 is mostly very quiet and foreboding, starting with the raw sound before entering a subtle loop sounding like minimalist glitch, that, by repetition, begins to sound rhythmic. The atmosphere creaks and the manipulation of the clip gives rise to roars sounding like the wind in the desert. Further manipulation and the hint of melody appears, distorts and then goes. Distorted screeches break the reverie and the track builds in intensity, as the roars become more regular and more intense. Parts of the soundscape take on an almost science fiction-like tone and another clearer bomb sound is heard, before a bassline emerges, sounding like a processed synth of some kind and the track begins to take on a more musical sound. The music stops and the samples are almost imperceptible before winds and cattle seem evident, a repeating bassy hum becomes more and more incessant, until a vague rhythm is settled upon, like a distant drum beat of an enemy marching forward. Gentle chords are discovered within the frequencies and masterfully brought to the fore by Herbert. But even this beauty found deep within the clip is fighting against the onset of destruction, as the melody finds a bassline and walks a precipitous and dangerous path, and you fear that it could be expunged at any moment. The bomb crunches down again and the melody is more frenetic, ringing distortion infects the rhythm before it finally finds it feet again, marching forward with intensity. Wailing and whistling lead back into a bomb blast resetting the palette once more. Laboured angry metallic sounds come to the front, sounding like a semi-broken klaxon, reminding us of the danger this track portrays. The bomb blast once again hits, but this time, instead of destruction, there is creation, a quirky alien rhythm is discovered and nurtured like new life as the track fades out. It is a dark and frightening track, made even more grave by the subject matter, but Herbert’s treatment is so engaging and at times so intense that the deeper you listen, the more you get back out of it.
Part 2 starts by expanding the moment of impact out, drawing it apart and replaying sections over and again, like some some time-travelling scientist investigating the minutiae of the blast. An industrial, breakcore/glitchcore beat picks up the pieces and the track is thumping onwards. Where Part 1 was an exploration of the sounds, Part 2 uses them to create a more traditionally musical piece. The hard-hitting nature of the act isn’t lost, as the track is intense industrial, evoking Throbbing Gristle or Whitehouse. This is dangerous music and you should never forget it.
Part 3 is again more musical, but where Part 2 was more about the beat, Part 3 is about the melody. Herbert once again delivers, as, from the guts of the sample he forges a haunting whistling melody, something akin to whale song or a train whistle; but, the whole thing is tragically unstable and delicate as it is, it falters, like a newborn animal. But in a fight of strength, it finds itself once more and the haunting melody re-emerges. It is lost once again in the cross fire, as the blast is once again dissected. Like a phoenix from the ashes, a bassline emerges with an almost free jazz organ feel about it. The sweeps and explosions give way to a rhythm until the whole thing falters once more, as if digitally consumed, until two notes of the melody are stuck in a repeating loop and the world is destroyed around them. Electronic plucking appears from nowhere and attempts to pull the sound this way and that, but the blasts put up a fight, until the intensity increases and the haunting whale song is back, stronger than ever, caught in a fierce aural battle, as if at first underestimated and finally carrying the entire force of the universe against an unknown attacker. Intense stuff made more intense as we are ripped from this fantastical battle scene into real life as the raw sample is once again played to close out the album, reminding us that while we dream of where the treated sound takes us, it is still rooted in an horrific act of war, and that this war is real, with real death and real pain and real suffering.
Herbert has a habit of taking environmental sounds and creating music with it. The second part of his One trilogy, One Club (2010), took field recordings from a Berlin nightclub to create an album of original material, through manipulation, while the third part, One Pig (2011), documented the life of a pig from birth to slaughter.
Herbert is a visionary, an aural auteur and an artist. He reaches into the sound and pulls from it the gushing insides and presents them on a platter for your perusal. Seemingly he doesn’t care if you like it, or if it offends you; he isn’t looking for approval, he cares only that you have explored what he has to offer. Mesmerising; both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Spotify link: Matthew Herbert – The End Of Silence