It can be difficult to approach a record divorced from its context, especially when it’s one as politically loaded as Matthew Herbert’s ‘The End of Silence’. Based around a recording of a bomb being dropped in Libya from a pro-Gadaffi plane during 2011’s Arab Spring, the piece, which is as much sound art as it is electronic composition, bases itself around these mere seconds of audio, dissected, extrapolated and extended to nearly an hour.
As an artist probably better known outside of the cultural institution for his work uncovering and exposing the likes of London’s Micachu and The Invisible through his own Accidental Records, Herbert’s approach is much more jazz oriented and less explicitly “pop” than that of his protégés. Following his ‘One’ series (‘One One’, ‘One Club’ and ‘One Pig’) Herbert carries on with the idea of drawing from a single sound source and applying his rhythmic musique concrète aesthetic to what is essentially a field recording of his band playing inside a barn in the English countryside. Improvising around the piece, Yann Seznec, Tom Skinner and Sam Beste performed with microphones set up outside the Hay-on-Wye space and recorded in real time. By placing his listener inside the terrifying moment of impact through composition, while taking the actual recording process outside of the action, Herbert is essentially drawing attention to the duality of modern existence. That is, an environment where innovative means of communication can put us right in the centre of conflict, while maintaining a safe distance and detachment from the horrors of civil war.
You can hear it in the growing anxiety of the whole piece, as TEOS – Part 1 lurches out of from the first air assault, developing into a muted, underlying melody; a repetitious beat and cadenced radio interference expressing our clueless disconnection from unrest, a growing sense of its magnitude feeding through the channels of information made available to us. These anaesthetising, often misleading, modes of communication are numbed by the incidental sounds of the English countryside; dogs barking and a looping bird call drawing further attention to our physical and emotional distance from someone else’s war. The occasional interruption of the full recording tears through the poignant contemplation of social injustice, as a looping sample of gunfire in TEOS – Part 2 brings the anxiety to a crescendo before dropping back out into the eerie aftermath of an echoing synth line.
An experimental epithet to a world in crisis, ‘The End of Silence’ asks: if divorced from its context, how can I truly understand the magnitude of any given event? That question works on multiple levels, from the recording itself to the Arab Spring, where captions and commentaries of news coverage, footage, sounds and imagery narrate, filter and manipulate our perceptions. In ‘The End of Silence’ Herbert tries to avoid that interference, bringing the raw reality of war to his audience, while lightly pointing them to their destructive apathy in the face of it. Because, in finishing as it began, with the unfiltered sound of a bomb tearing through time and space, ‘The End of Silence’ is an illustration of the fragile balance between chaos and order, war and peace, in an existence that is always on the brink.