David Michael: The Slaughterhouse
Let's be honest: it was only a matter of time before a field recordings-based set materialized based on what goes on inside a slaughterhouse. To his credit, Tarrytown, New York-based David Michael adopts a documentarian's MO and resists exploiting the material in any overly macabre manner. And certainly there's no reason why a field recordings release must always be something on the order of species' sounds captured along the Amazon River or from deep within a South American forest. Having said that, The Slaughterhouse's material in its presented form can't help but disturb, given the subject matter involved.
The fact that the project is issued on the well-regarded Gruenrekorder label already lends it credibility and ensures that it will be taken seriously and not dismissed outright as a calculated act of provocation. Interestingly, Michael's educational background isn't, in fact, primarily in music but in biology, specifically in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems, which he studied at the University of Sussex. It was around that time that he began working with simulated bioacoustics and making field recordings.
The hour-long recording begins bucolically enough in “Early Morning, Outside” with Michael arriving at the rural Alabama slaughterhouse, located about an hour outside of Birmingham, to meet up with the man and son who run the family business. The mood quickly turns, however, when the peaceful sounds of birds chirping are replaced by guns being checked and loaded (“Thirty-Thirty”). During the self-explanatory “Go On and Record the Shot,” one braces oneself for the gunshot one knows is coming—and it's chilling when it does. Thereafter the cutting room is prepared, and chains are fastened around the now-dead cow's body. Not surprisingly, industrial sounds are plentiful, giving the mechanical nature of many of the processes involved, but non-industrial sounds of skinning and hand-sawing appear, too.
Though Michael initially had envisioned the project to be one focusing on the slaughter operation, it expanded during the recording process to include conversations between the father, son, Michael, and a client who had brought a young buffalo to the slaughterhouse. Ruminations on the soul and God emerge as the workers go about their business and Michael looks on, absorbing the day's events.It hardly needs be said that The Slaughterhouse gives new meaning to the term uneasy listening. As even more unpleasant as it would be to see the work being executed, the soundtrack alone proves unsettling, given that the listener conjures a visual for the sound in question. Detailed liner notes fill in the picture to a degree that, in places, might upset those of an overly sensitive disposition. If there's any doubt as to what stage of the process currently is being documented, Michael helpfully gives the pieces titles like “Skinning,” “The Saw,” and “The Head Comes Off, Then Innards Come Out.”