Once a year Manchester plays host to some of the most amazing talent in the modern world. Future Everything is a yearly festival that brings together those that take the strange and represent it in unique ways. And this year has been no different. Matthew Herbert is an electronic artist who specialises in the usage of those sounds most of us forget. On 18th May he provided just that with his performance of One Pig at the Royal Northern College of Music.
One Pig is a pretty unique piece. Composed of sounds taken throughout the life of one anonymous pig. As you entered the theatre, something struck you. A strange item was set up in the middle of the stage. Resembling something between a boxing ring, pen and electric fence the devices true nature only becomes apparent once it’s designer. Yann Seznec steps into his ‘styharp’ and firstly spreads a nice comfortable layer of straw before tugging at the wires. With a tug of each wire, a sound is emitted and affected. Squeals of a pig and the sounds of it’s movement. It isn’t long before you realise how wonderful this device is. It’s player slowly gets into his place in this performance. The pig in the sty. With every jump, push and tug on the ropes, he becomes the very embodiment of the pigs emotions. No device on earth could have produced the emotion this device did.
Yann is soon joined onstage by Matthew Herbert on synths, Tom Skinner on percussion (including a drum made from the pigs skin), Sam Beste on keyboards and Rosie Sykes as chef. CHEF?!?! Not only did we experience the life of this pig. We also heard sounds from it’s death and the happenings afterwards. Every single emotion of this pigs life was captured. From the first squeals of birth to it’s playing in the sty to it’s final moments to the sounds of it’s cooking and consumption. Every single emotion captured before your very ears. The sight of Yann in the styharp. The sound produced by the musicians. The smells from the frying pan. An emotional experience that wrapped around your whole body.
This all sounds very macabre. And you’re probably almost certainly asking why on earth someone would create a piece such as this. I certainly was when traveling to the event. I have to admit I was half expecting a horror show presented in musical form. But I couldn’t have been further from wrong. Through tonight’s performance, I experienced every moment of that pigs life. Every emotion. When Matthew set out to create One Pig, he set out to do something no other had with a pig before. To remember it. He has done just that. When creating this piece, Matthew used every part of the pig. The sounds of it’s life. It’s meat for food. It’s bones and skin for instruments. And even its memory for the very concept. Not a single part of this pig was wasted. Now you may call it sick or grotesque. But tonight I experienced every part of that pig for what it is. An animal. A living thing. Not ingredients on my plate. Not material for shoes. But something which had a life. Matthew certainly managed what he set out to do. Next time I eat a bacon sandwich I will still think of how good it tastes, but I will also think of the life that pig had. Everything it went through. I will take every opportunity to use those parts that would normally be thrown away. When Herbert first produced his piece, he was accused by a member of PETA of disrespecting the animal. But how many animals are remembered? How many animals are used in their entirety when so much would normally go to waste? What Herbert has created is the ultimate respect for a pig.
Tonight I experienced something like nothing I ever have before. If Matthew Herbert is ever in your area, I plea that you go and watch him perform. If you’re vegetarian, pescatarian or a plain old meat eater, you will leave that room with a completely different outlook. One word describes this performance. Respect. Total and utter respect.