A quick chat with Matthew Herbert about the trials and tribulations of recording a naked body…
Your new album, ‘A Nude (The Perfect Body)’, is quite the conversation starter. And also a conversation stopper. It’s basically someone, stark naked, in a room for 24 hours… and you’ve recorded it all?
“In essence, yes. I started the recording process, then handed over control to the person being recorded.”
Now that’s not an idea that suddenly pops into your head. Has it been brewing for a while?
“Despite the modern mainstream assumption that music is primarily a form of temporary decoration, I still believe it is potent stuff, even without words. The ability to turn any sound into music is an amazing gift, so it’s a question of thinking of compelling sounds to work with. I was interested in transgressive noises and the most awful sound I could think of was hearing someone else taking a shit. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it took a few months to realise I was describing a nude.”
So this is in the grand tradition of nude portraiture… in sound?
“Yes, its inspiration is much more in the art world than in music.”
Can you describe the room this person was in? We imagine it’s like a squash court.
“It sounds a little sleazy, but it was a hotel room. I wanted to use a room that was the equivalent of a blank slate. We needed a bed and a bathroom, so a hotel became the obvious choice.”
We initially assumed the person was you. But on listening, it’s not you, is it?
“I don’t think the world needs another portrait of a self-regarding white male. It’s the challenge of listening to another body that is the interesting friction.”
We like the plop in ‘Is Shitting’ very much. What was the most surprising noise the body made, barring the obvious?
“There is the sound of a menstrual cup on ‘Is Hurting’. I think there’s something liberating about hearing a female body in its raw form, not how it has been filtered, misrepresented and abused through the years. She made the recording herself and this was what she chose to record.”
The track titles are very evocative. The eight-minute ‘Is Coming’ made us blush before we’d even heard it.
“Both ‘Is Masturbating’ and ‘Is Wanking’ felt either too squeamish or too prurient. I’m sure it’s not the first orgasm on record, but the end point seemed more important than the getting there when I listened back to the raw material.”
Where do you think your fascination for recording sounds rather than instruments comes from?
“Musical instruments can be wonderful, but they don’t offer a way out of music’s current cul de sac. The world is full of sounds we can harvest.”
We shudder to ask, but what’s next for you?
“A book called ‘The Music’. It describes my next record… a record that I’ll never make.”
‘A Nude (The Perfect Body)’ is out on Accidental