Review: David Michael – The Slaughterhouse

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.