Matthew Herbert is no stranger to a high concept project. In fact, his recent albums of “regular” house music, Musca and The Shakes, for example, are more the exceptions than the rule. More than 20 years ago he made albums entirely out of bodily functions or things that could be found around the house, but 2011’s One Pig set the bar even higher as the life and death cycle of an individual pig formed a gloriously messy suite, though it was still discernibly good music despite the parameters of the task.

These ideas are taken even further with The Horse, his latest album (released in May), which doesn’t just utilise the concept of a horse, but actually takes the physical animal as primary force of the musical output. Joined by 12 members of the London Contemporary Orchestra, this world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival is one part performance art and two parts music, but the the magnificent whole shows Herbert to be an artist in a league of his own.

The stage features the carefully displayed bones of a horse. Upon arrival and in darkness, Herbert begins to rummage noisily through them, the beginnings of a percussive background. He’s joined by the various players, handing out instruments like a macabre Santa. The bone flutes are soon employed in a ghostly chorus that eventually swells into full orchestral backing as the group settles in. Not every instrument is fully horse-related, but each member seems to take a turn, be it on a skin drum, bone flute, pelvic bone harp or assorted percussion (sometimes in bubbling water).

The first half of the show is more experimental musically, as things remain largely beatless and acoustic, exploratory with a feeling of improvisation as different bones or instruments are employed as the mood takes. But Herbert and the conductor keep things moving and there’s clearly a careful choreography in place, rather than aimless noodling.

Then comes the introduction of what I can only describe as a bone machine: ribs are attached to a sort of organ grinder’s box, which one person powers with a wheel, while two others place various bones in the path of the ribs to create steady percussion. This is joined by carefully layered beats, live drums, tuba, strings etc., and the carnival of the apocalypse is on its way.

Later, one of the stage hands/multi-instrumentalists/helpers is slowly wound with a rope (reminiscent of those grim donkey rides at the seaside of yesteryear, but surely not the point), before donning a cloak complete with rosettes, such as might be presented after a race. The wind machine is carefully positioned and she preens at the front of the stage while the drums clatter, her “mane” blowing wildly. Herbert completes the image by dropping confetti into the fan in seemingly ironic celebration.

An endurance test of orchestral looping follows that is technically impressive, but mostly results in noise. Then the remaining bones are emptied onto the stage and off the tarpaulin, which one of the helpers remains garbed in, raising the horse’s skull to his face as he completes a lap of the hall as a sort of equestrian grim reaper. The other helper dances wildly in the demonic cacophony of sound that brings the show to a thrilling climax.

After using horses as inspiration, using their bones and mimicking their sounds, the only actual horse noises appear over the quiet finale, as samples wash through the room and the stage descends back to darkness (it was mostly strobe during the wilder moments). Herbert returns to the centre and is slowly surrounded by the musicians. They take a final bow, all 18 of them, and Herbert gestures appreciatively (slightly apologetically it seems) to the horse skull.

The show is a marvel of technical wizardry and artistic vision, a perfect example of concept and execution. It’s unlikely to be performed many times, given the required time and effort, as well as the likely deterioration of the instruments, so don’t miss it if you have the opportunity.