On his new album One Pig, London musician and producer Matthew Herbert
documents the life of a pig from birth to plate. This has generated a great deal of criticism
from animal rights organisation Peta, especially since Herbert ate parts of the pig and
converted its remains into musical instruments. VISIONS brings Herbert and Jobst
Eggert, editor in chief of Peta Germany, to the same table.
Jobst Eggert: I have to admit that I appreciate the idea behind “one pig”, which is focusing
on the life of an animal that usually no one really cares about. Obviously I do not agree with
the killing animals – neither for people’s appetite, nor for art. Murder is murder – no matter
Matthew Herbert: It seems a very unhelpfully black and white position to state that murder
is murder. After all, other animals kill each other all the time. even in my project, the mother
of my pig, killed one of her piglets by throwing it across the sty, breaking its jaw and leaving
it unable to feed. Are you also saying that that pig is a murderer, or are you making a claim
that humans are a separate component of the natural kingdom?
Eggert: What divides humans from other animals is that they have a mind to think and that
we are not solely driven by instinct. A pig mother that kills its piglet is not responsible for her
actions, but a human that has a free will to choose to kill does.
Herbert: It seems to me incredibly presumptuous to state categorically that humans are
the only animals that have a ‘mind to think’ or that the rest of the natural world is only
driven by ‘instinct’. I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of human superiority, of our
separateness, of our unquestionably special status, since it creates division when what is
needed is harmonisation. So many of the problems we are faced with today stem from our
turning away from the notion that we share a finite planet and are part of a multitudinous
Eggert: Matthew, I have a hard time with sentences like “I am fundamentally opposed to the
idea of human superiority“ or “what is needed is harmonization” from someone who has no
problem in participating in the killing, consumption and usage, or the exploitation of a living
being for the sake of art, food and music. You use big words, but obviously don’t see your
responsibility for the life of the pig that you slaughtered, cut apart and used for your album.
I already mentioned that I appreciate the idea behind “one pig”, but at the same time I am
disgusted by it. As an animal rights supporter I believe that your work on this album is truly
Herbert: I simply didn’t slaughter or cut apart a pig for the sake of art, food or music. I
observed someone else doing it. I did however eat part of the pig and i can remember every
mouthful. Your whole point seems to simply end up being reduced to the fact that you are
annoyed that I ate the pig. Is that really where this conversation stops? Can you only see this
whole project through the prism of strict vegetarianism?
Eggert: No, the whole point is that you disrespectfully used an animal and are not even aware
of the disrespect that this usage was.
Herbert: It’s only disrespectful by your definition. For most people, with less extreme views,
the careful preservation of the memory of one otherwise anonymous pig through using every
part of a body that would normally have been thrown in landfill and forgotten, is an act of
respect. I’m not here to simply debate the ethics of eating meat or wearing leather, particularly
as we need to see this pig as more than just meat. Wouldn’t it be more inclusive, less
aggressive to state that as a society we should eat be eating much less meat, and we should be
treating the meat we do eat with much greater respect? At least we could move beyond this
point in our discussion and start to talk about the relationship between music and activism,
between art and protest, between noise and silence.
Eggert: Let’s talk about the thing that puzzles me most about “one pig”, then. I can’t
understand how little empathy you must have to follow a living being’s life until its barbaric,
violent and unnecessary death in a slaughterhouse and still be able to butcher it, eat it, even
make instrument from this being’s skin and record every single step of this for a “piece of
Herbert: I have eaten many pigs before this and wanted to understand the consequences
of that. I simply wanted to a) create as little waste as possible and b) remember the pig
through sound. We are, after all, still talking and examining this pig’s life two years since
it was born. The charge of a lack of empathy is, curiously, a violent one. after all, I stepped
out of my studio to engage directly with the world and tried to sympathetically reveal
what I had discovered. If you want to claim such an absurd thing (and I would never be
so presumptuous), shouldn’t your charge of lack of empathy be instead against musicians
who haven’t made a record out of a farm animal? Why, in this instance, does Peta have this
impulse to advocate silence over engagement?
Eggert: Because “one pig” is not only documentation, it is also using the animal. Using it to
create music from its sound, using it to make food of its flesh and using it to make instruments
of its blood. Would you do the same with a human being?
Herbert: This is an inappropriate comparison. my pig only ever existed because it was grown
for meat and thus was not destined to live beyond 24 weeks. What human can you name
who was born to be raised for meat to be knowingly killed at 24 weeks? Whatever you think
of the ethics that got us to that point, that was the pig’s life. As i have said before, I was not
there to intervene. I only took delivery of the pig once it was killed. The normal course of
action would have been: dismembered, distributed, eaten, disposed of. my pig was butchered,
cooked and eaten in public. There were many witnesses to what happened next, not just me
and now thousands more will become witness to that process. instead of it happening behind
closed doors and the body been tossed in the back of trucks, it was, and will forever continue
to be, visible at all times. I think there’s something uncomfortable, yes, dark yes, but also
quite magical to take blood that would have just been poured down the drain and making
it ‘sing’. I would have no hesitation in turning another human’s skin and blood in to music
if the rest of its body had been eaten and the remains chucked in a bin and forgotten. We
use organs from dead humans to keep other humans alive. Since the skin is an organ, using
the pig’s skin to make a drum and keep the memory of that pig alive seems a respectful and
reasonable thing to do.
Eggert: One basic rule of communication, however, is understanding that the message is not
only what you want it to be, but also what listeners understand it to be. And to me, you just
don’t respect a living being when you make music instruments out of it.
Herbert: I don’t need to be lectured about the rules of communication by an organisation
that has publicly accused me of torture and cruelty without either investigating properly first
how the project was made or bothering to speak to me first. Since you clearly don’t agree
with my vision of what function music can serve in society, maybe we should widen this out
and talk about the kind of music that Peta does approve of. Top of the list is clearly Moby,
Peta’s favourite vegan. Moby’s play album was licensed out more than 900 times. There is
clearly an explicit relationship between a consumerist society and the over-consumption of
the world’s resources, including animals. Moby’s music provided a soundtrack for an orgy of
consumption. Why is Peta comfortable with music serving that kind of function and not one
of investigation like mine?
Eggert: Peta’s goal is to give the rights of animals a voice. If a celebrity and outspoken vegan
like Moby speaks out for the rights of animals, more people will listen. That’s how mass information through mass media works. And the very simple and basic concept is: The more people will hear about animal rights, the better it is for the animals-
Herbert: Do you not see the irony of the phrase “Peta’s goal is to give the rights of animals a
voice?” I’m a musician that has done exactly that: given an animal a voice and yet you wish to
Eggert: I find it more ironic that you out criticism of your album on the same level with
attempts of silencing you. I haven’t tried to do that. And you’re not giving a voice to animals,
you’re speaking about them or through them. We, on the other hand, always speak for