PETA vs Matthew Herbert’s Pig
If you hadn’t heard, UK electro-sculptor, theorist, remixer, and manifesto writer Matthew Herbert (he of the Big Band) is working on an album One Pig that, in his words, “will be made up entirely of sounds made during the life cycle of a pig. I will be there at its birth, during its life, present at its death, and during the butchery process. It’s body will then be given to chefs new and old. There will be a feast and maybe a pair of shoes and a drum from the skin and a toothbrush from its bristles and ink from its blood … It will all be recorded and then turned in to music.” He wasn’t able to find a slaughtering house that would let him show up with his microphones (he should’ve asked Matmos), but otherwise things are going according to plan. Except that PETA caught wind of it and issued a statement:
No one with any true talent or creativity hurts animals to attract attention … Pigs are inquisitive, highly intelligent, sentient animals who become frightened when they are sent to slaughterhouses, where they kick and scream and try to escape the knife. They are far more worthy of respect than Matthew Herbert or anyone else who thinks cruelty is entertainment.
I mentioned Herbert’s also known for his writing and tract-making, so it follows that he responded intelligently and in-depth to PETA’s “knee jerk” diss. Herbert begins by stating that he’s “puzzled” by PETA’s statement because the animal he selected was shown respect by being raised on an open-air family-run farm with its siblings, lots of straw, and “a mix of local cereals grown by a local cooperative,” etc. He notes “it was killed (not by me) along with its family at 25 weeks rather than the usual 20 weeks for an industrially raised animal.” The mention of “industrially raised” animals an important detail in his argument:
The farmer cares deeply for the wellbeing of the animals on his small farm, and members of the community can spend time with the animals by appointment. it is still however a working farm, the pig was always grown for meat by the farmer, not by me and I wasn’t there to change that. I knew very little about the raising of pigs from practical experience and was there to learn, not to preach, prod or adapt the recordings to some hidden agenda. the pig was always going to be killed, and for me to not bear witness to that difficult fact, would have been to cheat myself and the listener from the friction that comes from raising animals for food. i knew about the huge, cruel, intensive pig farms that are the norm in most of the world but i hadn’t got a hope of getting access and doing the project there, so i chose to recognise a better way of raising pigs instead. because of a perverse and secretive food system in the UK, I don’t have the rights to see how my food is kept, killed or prepared and consequently i wasn’t allowed to record the actual death of my pig. I think that this is the real outrage. should it not be a legal right to be allowed to see the conditions in which animals are kept? should it not be a legal right for the public to see what methods are used to grow, harvest and prepare what they put in their bodies?
Herbert continues the piece by discussing his own issues as a meat eater and his belief that as one he has “a responsibility to understand the implications of that decision.” A common enough opinion. This is where he then turns outward, toward PETA:
It seems utterly absurd to me that PETA’s knee jerk reaction is to chastise me in public about the integrity of that process of enquiry without even bothering to ask me about the motivation or history of the project. In an otherwise distant and anonymous food chain, this one pig’s life has been clearly and respectfully acknowledged … PETA have not heard a single note of music made from sounds that I have gathered since I have yet to write it. They appear to have drawn their own conclusions as to what this might all sound like. they have concluded it will be ‘entertainment’.
He then turns from PETA to take a look at the casual cruelty folks who might be shaking their head at his project contribute to regularly — zoos, factory farmed meat (aka “deadly cocktails of miscellaneous body parts of badly treated animals held together with fat sugar and salt…”) — and to that fact that a lot of people in the United States eat like shit: “According to Marion Nestle’s book Food Politics, of the 75,000 chemicals in the US food chain, less than 10% are tested on human health.” Don’t fret America, the UK doesn’t escape his crosshairs either … It’s a well-considered piece, really, that ends with a larger statement about art in general:
I thought art and music was, in part, supposed to endorse the idea of challenge. Isn’t part of its core purpose to struggle in public with the compromises and frictions of its time? The implication of this statement is that PETA would rather artists and musicians stood quietly to one side whilst such a poisonous and corrupt system cheerfully multiplied, unseen, unchallenged, unheard.