Matthew Herbert’s PCCOM (Personal Contract for the Composition Of Music) includes the following two rules, among others: (1) no replication of traditional acoustic instruments is allowed where the financial and physical possibility of using the real ones exists, and (2) the inclusion, development, propagation, existence, replication, acknowledgement, patterns and beauty of what are commonly known as accidents, is encouraged. Herbert is, in fact, a modern proprietor of musique concrète, the avant-garde movement created by French radio broadcaster Pierre Schaeffer in 1948. Herbert’s new album, the aptly-titled Bodily Functions, is an elegant mélange of acoustic instrumentation and happy accidents, creating what purists will probably denounce and what music enthusiasts of all kinds will likely celebrate.
If it wasn’t for Herbert’s PCCOM rule number nine (disclose all information for every sound recorded), one might never know what they were listening to on Functions. From the real-time sounds of laser eye surgery to a mouse trying to escape from a wastebasket, everyday noises were sampled and looped to create much of the percussion on tracks like “You Saw It All” and “On Reflection.” Similarly, Herbert’s Manifesto of Mistakes allows for the recording studio voices heard on “Foreign Bodies.” The rushing blood sounds of one Martin Schmidt’s veins (originally recorded by electronic act Matmos) can be heard at times throughout the track as well.
Singer Dani Siciliano could be the cyber-Suzanne Vega, lending her lazy-eyed Bourbon Street vocals to most of the album’s tracks. She interprets Herbert’s lyrics with veracity and makes each song her own. “It’s Only” is encased with such instruments as the fugel horn, flute, and trumpet, with Siciliano ruminating: “It’s only you carefully stealing pieces of me…It’s only my opening eyes taking pictures of you.” The stunning “Leave Me Now” reflects dolefully on an ending relationship: “I still don’t know you/Tired shoulders/It feels over/One year later.” Siciliano’s vocal candor amplifies the track’s brutal honesty. The funky final track, “The Audience,” featuring Shingai Shoniwa along with Siciliano on vocals, is easily the most spiritual song on the album. The two singers play off each other fluidly on the metaphysical track: “Move with me/With me removed…We are separate/We are one/The division has begun.”
Functions is an amalgam of styles that could leave your average marketer in quite a lurch. Often jazzy, often housey and sometimes folky, the album rarely misses a beat in any of its assumed genres. Many tracks, like the opening number “You’re Unknown to Me” and “The Last Beat,” pay lovely homage to ‘40s standards, magically transporting the listener and affording Herbert and his album the pseudo-classification of electro-acoustic jazz.