The Slaughterhouse | David Michael
In rural Alabama, about an hour outside of Birmingham is a slaughterhouse. It’s a family operation where meat is processed one animal at a time by hand. Mostly custom jobs. A man and his son run the place. They handle most aspects of the daily operations from customer relations to animal processing.
I first visited on a Friday with my wife. We hung out while they cut and packaged a side of beef. They said I could come back on Monday to record the whole process, which I did. On the day I recorded, they processed a head of beef and a young buffalo.
Slaughter is an intensely visual process. Hearing only the sound of the slaughter leaves the mind to fill in almost everything, biased with our own beliefs and preconceptions. While I had intended to make the cow the subject of the recording, it is the young butcher, his father, and the patrons of the slaughterhouse who are at the center of the sound stage.
01 Early morning, outside
03 Go on and record the shot
04 Prepping the cutting room
05 The man with the buffalo arrives
06 A story
09 Hogs arrive
10 The head comes off, then innards come out
11 The saw
12 The buffalo gets shot
12 Tracks (58′15″)
CD (500 copies)
Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Germany / 2012 / Gruen 104 / LC 09488 / GEMA / EAN: 4050486070703
David Michael | The Slaughterhouse @ The Wire
Derek Walmsley: The Field Recordist As Obsessive
Russell Cuzner | Musique Machine
‚The Slaughterhouse‘ is like no other release found on the pages of this site. The clues we’re initially presented with (its title and label) inspire presumptions that suggest it’s a field recording that, like many works in this area, highlights some aural properties of found sounds that would otherwise be filtered out without us being persuaded to listen in a suitably focussed way by lovely labels such as Gruenrekorder.
And, while it certainly is a field recording – and a
downright grim one at that – it is far from those audio documentaries that present their gatherings as sensual, immersive sound objects that convey hidden musical properties of their subjects or artfully contrast tones and textures in time. Indeed, even its author, David Michael, has gone on record to say he „find[s] it surprising that anyone would listen to it at all“!
Michael, by day a computer programmer residing in New York, with his MSc in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems, was perhaps interested in the more anthropological aspects of documenting the sound of a slaughterhouse from his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. If so, he certainly got it, for here we are presented with a day-in-the-life of a small family business as a man and his son ‚process‘ meat by hand.
It starts and ends like many of the more palatable field
recording-based releases with birdsong and footsteps, as the sound artist arrives and departs. But in between there is little to marvel at, largely consisting of a grey, lightly electrical ambience over which sparse conversation is scattered.
Of course, there is the occasional, revolting sound event that signifies slaughter, such as the brief gunshot that steals the life of a female cow (or ‚beef‘ as the young butcher puts it) or the sloshing of water that follows as the resultant bloody mess is hosed down. But for the most part the focus seems to be on the absence of sounds, an aspect that chillingly emphasises death – the absence of life.
For those with the stomach for such a presentation, it is recommended to listen to the CD while reading the sleevenotes that simply detail the activities accompanying each track. Here, instead of bringing to your attention certain sounds (or lack of them), you find yourself in an unbiased, fly-on-the-wall documentary that’s as much about the personalities involved as it is a test on how we feel about what they do. We find out about things like the proprietors‘ sensitivities, firstly towards the actual recording process where it is suggested Michael stops the tape should the first shot at the cow be unsuccessful, or later when the young butcher talks about his religious beliefs.
It’s difficult to put a value on the release, though. The subject matter was always going to be upsetting, but what does it mean to merely listen to a document of death-as-commerce as opposed to watching it on TV or even witnessing it first hand? The soundsencourage us to imagine the accompanying visuals, and in doing so, inspired initially anger in this listener, followed by questions about what is sound art and field recording, especially when they seem to be wholly documentary in nature and less about the sounds themselves (perhaps, mercifully so in this case). And, ultimately, I guess that’s what this document does – it poses questions for each individual to answer for themselves.
Curt Cuisine | skug – Journal für Musik
This is field recordings pur. Wobei … wenn wir das jetzt verraten, müsste es beim Titel der CD eigentlich »Klick« machen, oder? Der Amerikaner David Michael exerziert auf »The Slaughterhouse« in gewisser Weise den Einserschmäh des Genres durch. Er ist mit seinem Mikro in ein, richtig, Schlachthaus gegangen. Ein Schlachthaus in Birmingham, Alabama. Und wir hören eine knappe Stunde lang, was sich da rein akustisch so tut. Der Witz an der Sache wird klarer, wenn Michael im Booklet davon schreibt, dass eigentlich nur das Geräusch des Schlachtschussapparates auf die Tötung hinweist, ansonsten geht es in diesem Schlachthaus erstaunlich vielgestaltig und dementsprechend interpretationsoffen zu. Dass uns Michael zu jedem Track eine inhaltliche Deutung präsentiert, untergräbt aber diesen Reiz des Unbestimmten. Es wird noch schlimmer, wenn er beschreibt, wie er den Sound des verendenden Tiers einzufangen versuchte, aber entdecken musste: »there is nothing really to hear«. Man weiß nicht recht, ob er das bedauert oder umso geiler findet. Immerhin diese Deutungsoffenheit gönnt er uns, obwohl wir eher von letzterem ausgehen dürfen, schließlich hören wir in weiterer Folge das Herausnehmen der Eingeweide oder das Zersägen der Knochen. Hm. Was man »The Slaughterhouse« jedenfalls nicht absprechen kann, ist, dass man während des Anhörens ganz schön ins Grübeln kommt, etwa darüber, welchen Sinn solche Aufnahmen machen, und ob es tatsächlich etwas zu bedeuten hat, dass der Tod in akustischer Hinsicht zumindest ziemlich langweilig ist.
Héctor Cabrero | Le son du grisli
Enregistrer dans un abattoir de l’Alabama rurale, c’est l’idée qu’a eue David Michael. L’Amérique des rednecks comme si vous y étiez ? Pas aussi simple…
Il faut d’abord à Michael arriver jusqu’à l’abattoir. Sur le chemin des oiseaux sifflent, des insectes bourdonnent, on entend le trafic routier au loin, un transformateur, deux hommes qui parlent fort. Le micro de Michael ne lâchera plus sa proie : l’abatteur à l’ancienne, c’est-à-dire à la dure (qui confiera un peu plus loin, je traduis : « C’est pas un boulot pour les peureux ou les lâches. »). L’Amérique rurale au micro de l’Amérique… éclairée ?
La question se pose car on ne sait pas au fond ce que Michael tient à exprimer : qu’il existe encore chez lui des rustres ? des pratiques violentes et même peut-être d’un autre temps ? Aux employés de la maison familiale, il pose des questions faussement ingénues sur l’existence de dieu ou celle de l’âme pour les animaux, puis il tend sa perche au dessus d’un troupeau qui arrive ou d’une scie en train de découper… Après, David Michael lance à la cantonnade « Au fait, moi c’est David ! ». Mais dans ces mots on comprend « Allez, bon vent les ploucs ! » La qualité de juge que l’Américain éclairé a cru bon revêtir a peut être entaché le document…
Darby Mullins | DARBY’S CHRONICS
Gruenrekorder Special Focus…
A special focus about the great job of Gruenrekorder. Thanks to artists to doing this.
The sound speaks better than words; but ….
One : the sound design was removed of our living space, and we know so well how each new manufactured objects sounds like shit. Is there any escape from the noise ?
Two : the living sounds are removed from the earth, and we also know how each new products of intensive productivity killing life. Is this the sound of silence ?
ANGUS CARYLE & RUPERT COX | AIR PRESSURE
Recorded in Japan, „air pressure“ it’s a tearing sky by airplane reactors. This project is conducted with great intelligence, and technique quality, put the relationships between sounds scales or how articulate gurgling and air traffic.
ARTIFICIAL MEMORY TRACE | ULTREALITH
Is the sounds that men don’t hear, don’t exist ? From the deaf vibrations taken with some very special microphones (infra/ultra) Artificial Memory Trace (aka Slavek Kwi) forges a new environment where micro-sounds become the center of the listening.
DAVID MICHAEL | THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE
High fidelity ! A sound environment very tiring, where liquids and electricity stand alongside noise of machines, roar of animals…. „Everything have soul, everything“ said the man…..We have the knowledge; and lost the application.
IAIN ARMSTRONG | SACRED & PROFANE
For closed this short selection, the last release (that I received this morning) seems really appropriate….With the injection of sacred, the sound design is bring at the high level. A point out of what humanity can create and thinking for communicate with itself (dead and alive), gods, and nature. How the sound is thinking for pass through a country, space, or matter. How it can drive different kind of informations (like bells for example).
Another idea could be the thinking of survives and the modifactions of things in time ; like the evolution of the manufacture of the coin : shape, sound, light, and weight.
Guillermo Escudero | Loop
Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, David Michael is a sound recordist who works in the fields of biology and technology.
In 2005, he earned a Master in evolutionary and adaptive systems from the University of Sussex, and later began working with simulated bioacoustics and field recordings.
Outside of Alabama, about an hour from Birmingham there is a slaughterhouse. It is a family business where the meat is processed on a small scale, one animal at a time. They are custom jobs. A man and his son managed the place. They handle most of the daily operations, from customer relations to processing animal.
Despite being a slaughterhouse, the chosen place of David Michael, fortunately there are no screamming of animals, but sounds of tools, the parent-child dialogue and Michael himself, water as a way of cleaning, and some noises as the saw machines, among others.
David Michael not assigned a political message to this recording, or judgments for this work, but he only shows the daily operations in a 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.”
Interview with David Michael / By Chris Whitehead | The Field Reporter
‘The slaughter house’ is a controversial phonographic release composed by sound artist David Michael and published by german label Gruenrekorder. On this work the artist captured sounds on a slaughterhouse in Alabama which on an initial sight could be a rather difficult subject to address in terms of the ethical and moral aspects involved. Intrigued by this release, our editor Chris Whitehead interviewed the artist about this work and here we have the answers. [Read more]
Tina Manske | CULTurMAG
Vogelzwitschern und Bolzenschuss
(TM) Diese Feldaufnahmen gehören zu denjenigen, die ich, ein bekennender Fan von Feldaufnahmen, mir nicht anhören kann. Denn zu hören ist genau das, was der Titel ‘verspricht’: ein Tag im Schlachthof. Allerdings nicht in einem der berüchtigten industriellen Großkomplexe, sondern in einem idyllisch gelegenen, familiär betriebenen Hof in Alabama. David Michael hat dort einen Tag verbracht und rigoros hingehört – vom friedlichen Vogelzwitschern am Morgen bis hin zum Rindertod durch Bolzenschuss, dem Abziehen der Haut, dem Abschneiden der Vorderläufe etc. pp. ist alles dabei.
Wie gesagt: ich konnte mir das nicht ganz anhören. Hab‘s versucht, aber sein gelassen, als ich das erste nervöse Scharren von Hufen auf dem Boden hörte. Ehrlich gesagt stellt sich mir die Frage der Intention eines solchen Unterfangens: politischer Aktivismus zugunsten von Tieren wird es nicht sein, denn dann hätte Michael eine der unzähligen factory farms aussuchen müssen, wo es weit weniger gemächlich zugeht. Es sei denn, es handelt sich bei den Aufnahmen um politischen Aktivismus der anderen Seite, um ein Plädoyer für den ehrlichen butcher: dafür würde sprechen, dass Michael als Protagonisten nicht das Tier, sondern die handelnden Menschen wählt und sie auch brav zu Wort kommen lässt. Aber all das entnehme ich nur dem Booklet und nicht eigener Anschauung.
Idwal Fisher | IDWAL FISHER
Those of you expecting to be traumatized by David Michael’s ‘The Slaughter House’ will be relieved to hear that this was and never will be PETA fodder or a campaigning hammer for animal activists. Mainly because for the most part, this is two people going about their job as hired slaughtermen, in a very matter of fact way, with very little in the way of histrionics or uneasiness.
The slaughter house in question is a father and son business run out of Birmingham Alabama in which animals are slaughtered one at a time to order, via a single gunshot between the eyes. Hysterical screaming and the sadistic sounds of knackers being kicked there is none. There is though the sounds of hydraulic lifts, water splashing on tiles, hand saws, electric saws, pig squeals and most importantly the dialogue that runs between father and son and recordist David Michaels who obviously knows his place and answers questions from the pair with direct and swift ‘yes sirs’ and ‘no sirs’ and if I was sharing a room with two men with guns and lots of blood and meat floating about I’d do the same.
These men obviously know their job and take great pride in their work, the father ushers in a beast with a series of ‘c’mon girl, c’mon girl’ and after a few minutes of ushering there’s the sound of a single shot. Several beasts are slaughtered during the course of this release none of them being dispatched with anything near the calamity that many people assume comes as standard in such places. But as interesting as all this is the actual sounds generated [the reason we’re all here I assume?] are hardly riveting. Whilst ‘Head Comes Off, Innards Come Out’ may lead you to believe that for the next twelve minutes you’re going to be subjected to some kind of disturbing sonic extremity the reality is anything but; two men sawing through bones and chatting as a fan buzzes merrily away. And whilst sawing and swilling and chatting are OK the real joy comes from the banter found between father, son and Michael’s whose demeanor throughout is deferential and whose voice fails to hide a slightly nervous disposition. After a pig has been dispatched in ‘Hogs Arrived’ the son solemnly asks Michael’s ‘are you alright?’ It can’t have been easy for any of them. […]
Jack Chuter | ATTN:Magazine
The Slaughterhouse isn’t the tirade of rattling cages and screaming animals that I anticipated it to be. Of course, David Michael could have chosen to have focused solely on the gorier, more blatantly harrowing processes that occur in a working slaughterhouse (admittedly, I came into the work expecting an hour of torturous machinery and severed flesh), but his decision to patiently document the happenings of an entire day arguably renders the experience even more disturbing. With David’s binaural recording techniques doing an impeccable job of restoring the placement of each voice and clatter, headphones are less of an enhancement and more of an imperative; the listener is David Michael, and while the entire experience takes place exclusively through audio, the level of immersion means that touch and smell take on a potent illusionary presence.
The mental images are set to work right from the opening birdcalls and soft crunch of grass as David approaches the slaughterhouse by foot. A murky whirr of machinery surges ominously into view like a sudden spate of dark clouds blotting out the sun – the short introductory burst of quiet and open air become the stark point of contrast for the listener’s environment from here on in, which is thick in the buzz of refrigeration and the dull echo of chains and winches. As David notes himself, the personnel of the slaughterhouse play a surprisingly prominent role: describing the process in unflinching detail, exchanging mundane conversations, and sometimes even dictating as to where David may stand and when he should cease recording. While the sounds of the slaughter process are incredibly evocative – the squelch of meat being sliced off of the carcass and the sawing off of the animal’s front feet are two particularly unnerving moments – David is keen to emphasise and gently interrogate the human aspect of the slaughter process, querying the butchers on their spiritual and ethical beliefs as life is turned matter-of-factly into meat.
Frans de Waard | VITAL WEEKLY
‚The Slaughterhouse‘ is not the name of gruesome venue for harsh noise festivals, but, in fact, a slaughterhouse, in rural Alabama, just outside of Birmingham. Its run by a man and his son, processing meat of one animal at a time. David Micheal went there one day to record the day’s proceedings, and this is what is documented on ‚The Slaughterhouse‘. From the early morning outside waiting, the actual shot, skin separation, cutting off various body parts of the buffalo and all such like, until the next animal comes in and gets shot. As far as I can judge this is not the work of political activism, not trying to convince us of becoming vegetarians, but a mere, honest documentation of all the action that takes place. Sometimes we hear talking between the two butchers and David Micheal, which makes it all the more interesting. Not much screaming of animals and not a lot of mechanical sounds, so it all sounds rather pre-industrial. I am not sure if this is something you’d stick on easily as a piece of music, but I thought it sounded rather fascinating.