Matthew Herbert is one of the most versatile, experimental and prolific artists in the electronic music scene. He is a classically trained pianist, high profile remixer (REM, Björk, and John Cale among others) and records his own material under the several aliases besides Matthew Herbert including Doctor Rockit, Wishmountain and Radio Boy. His output can swing between catchy pop and experimental electronica and he has been variously described as a ‘one-man Radiohead’ or a ‘Brian Eno for the 21st Century’!
He is also known as a sampling wizard, indeed his first public performance utilized just a sampler and a bag of crisps! One of his earliest recordings, Around The House on the legendary !K7 Records collected domestic sounds together (washing machines, toothbrushes and so on) as its backdrop. He continued this ‘real sound’ theme with the extraordinary Bodily Functions album in 2001 which drew sounds from the human body. Recording with Jazz musicians for 2003’s Goodbye Swingtime album could have been considered fairly mainstream after Herbert’s early works but he still imposed some fairly esoteric rules on the recording called P.C.C.O.M (Personal Contract For The Composition Of Music). 2004’s Plat Du Jour reached something of a peak in terms of experimentalism using food and packaging as the target samples. 2006’s Scale was mainstream in comparison and won him critical and commercial success in the electronic charts. Herbert has also produced some very high profile acts including Moloko singer Roisin Murphy, programmed for Björk and produced tracks for movies like Human Traffic.
That’s quite a varied and interesting career in anyone’s book and throughout it, Matthew has kept abreast with all technological developments. His live shows have obviously been quite demanding and controlling those sounds a major priority. Fortunately Matthew has been working closely with JazzMutant over the years and has become a fan of the company’s Lemur control surface.
“We had some personal contact with the designers of the Lemur back in 2005,” he recalls. “We were excited to see a controller that could be personalised for our live shows. The possibility of having the hardware change to fit our technical requirements rather than the other way round was a revolutionary one.”
He cites the simple fact that he can turn the Lemur to any task as its main draw – “I can customise it all,” he says. In fact Herbert has been so taken by the Lemur’s unique way of operating that he has totally embraced it as a performance tool.
“I now use it in every live show,” he reveals. “We have it synced to Ableton Live in order to use the sampling capabilities. I was kindly built specific Max MSP programs that allowed me to sample in real time, apply different effects to those samples and loop/edit/chop up the same samples, all without once touching the computer.”
“It has given me much quicker and more radical access to sampling possibilities on stage,” Herbert continues, before concluding: “Best of all, it has done that without me having to stare into a bloody laptop!”
Matthew is currently working on a film with Etienne Chatilliez, a guitar album with The Invisible, as well as a new big band album, and also, believe it or not, planning a holiday !