Object #1. A war sample from Matthew Herbert’s The End of Silence28 March 2017
By Richard McReynolds, PhD student (Composition).
As a composer who deals with electronics and studio-based composition, I believe that using real-world sounds produces powerful artistic statements about the world. In my view, sampling greatly adds to the meaning of music, providing composers with a conceptual tool that is stronger than the organisation of pitches and structures scored for traditional instruments. This is even more true in today’s world, where digital media has such an active impact on our day-to-day lives. In order to highlight this, I have chosen a sample from Matthew Herbert’s record, The End of Silence.
Released in 2013 the album is created from one five-second sound source. According to the sleeve notes, the story goes that Matthew was emailed a recording made by photographer Sebastian Meyer during the battle of Ras Lanuf in Libya on 11th March 2011. In the brief recording, a pro-Gadaffi plane can be heard approaching, a whistled warning, a shout and then, as if from nowhere, a bomb. It is this recording that makes up the entirety of this record.
Before even considering the music, the act of choosing this sound source as the main material of a piece is a strong statement in itself. Is it morally right to use a sample of someone else’s suffering in order to create your artwork? Or is this just reflecting the way in which we consume stories in the news media? In my opinion, the sample strengthens the discourse surrounding the music, making it a successful artwork.
The first five seconds of music provide the recording in an unaltered state, then the album is performed as an improvisation between Matthew and three other musicians playing a variety of electronic instruments. The usual warping of sounds such as time-stretching and looping can all be heard, but, despite the transformations, a semblance of the original material remains. This means that the weight that comes from the knowledge of the source continues throughout the music. The exploration of the sound over the course of the album creates a haunting meditation on the act of violence. Every quiet moment is filled with the uneasy expectation of a reappearance of the bomb’s aggressive interruption. Perhaps this is a musical statement that mimics the thoughts of those who live in war-torn cities.
It is this quotation of sounds of life and the ability to explore it musically that strongly appeals to me with audio recording. Each quotation provides a temporal photograph teeming with semiotic meanings, providing incredibly rich source material as inspiration for musical pieces which strongly reflect the world we live in.