Socialist Worker

Matthew Herbert: a sonic food fight is on the menu

Leading composer Matthew Herbert spoke to Martin Smith about his new album, Plat du Jour

Issue No. 1969

Tell me about your new album, Plat du Jour

I create music from samples and unusual sounds. It took me a while to realise that everything that I thought was wrong with the world also made a sound. Donald Rumsfeld made noises, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers and McDonalds’ packaging also created sounds.

With the new record I wanted to look at how our lifestyle is utterly unsustainable. We have handed over local food production and distribution to multinationals and countries we have no control over.

This album looks at various aspects of food production and tries to tell a story through instrumental music.

I was looking for a way to illustrate musically how food is used to represent power. That in turn led me to look at the relationship between food and war. I remembered this dinner that Nigella Lawson cooked for George Bush when he came over to thank Blair for his help in the war against Iraq.

We took the best possible ingredients and recreated the dinner she cooked for Bush — ham, seasonable vegetables, feta salad and roast pumpkin.

We took it all to a field in Cornwall and laid out a nice picnic. We managed to hire a 1969 Chieftain tank and drove over it and recorded it.

What do you think the alternative is to the globalised food industry?

The whole of modern capitalist society is being run entirely for the benefit of a few people at the top.

We should be eating healthy, seasonal food that is grown locally, in harmony with the terrain, the environment and that keeps alive local traditions.

Because of the massive growth in population and the way society is organised through cheap oil, if we did switch to local agriculture overnight we would all starve to death.

So there needs to be all sorts of changes. Most importantly the government needs to take a lead. At the moment the government subsidises huge agri-businesses and globalised food corporations. Instead it needs to subsidise organic and healthy food.

People also need to change their shopping habits, so instead of going to the Tesco’s superstore they support their local shops or they search out a farmers’ market.

I also think we need to bring back fish rationing. Cod and anchovy are being fished into extinction.

In October you are performing Plat du Jour at the Barbican. What can readers of Socialist Worker expect from the show?

When it comes to the live performance I have more possibilities to get over my message. I have the music but I also have visuals, and smells!

So for instance if I am doing a song about the coffee trade I can show visuals of the coffee industry, use samples from the coffee industry and have a chef on stage brewing up coffee.

You are hearing, seeing and smelling coffee. The effect is like lots of people whispering “coffee, coffee, coffee” in your ears. It is far more effective than me shouting at the top of my voice from the stage, “Starbucks is shit.”


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Sat 24 Sep 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1969
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