Track Premiere: Martyn Heyne (Efterklang)
“In my mind a composition is never finished because nothing keeps me from playing it differently next time.”
‘Shady & Light’ is the debut solo release from renowned German musician Martyn Heyne. Born in Hamburg, the Berlin-based composer studied at Holland’s Conservatorium van Amsterdam. His home studio, Lichte – based next to Berlin’s Tempelhof (former) airport has been the chosen recording space for artists including The National, Nils Frahm, Lubomyr Melnyk, Peter Broderick and Efterklang. In addition, Heyne was a touring member with Danish group Efterklang during their 2013 ‘Piramida’ tour (and parts of their final album was worked on in Lichte).
The album opener ‘Telepath’ flickers with golden dawn’s glistening rays as soothing guitar tones meld effortlessly with luminous beats, conjuring up the timeless sound of Finnish duo The Gentleman Losers and Keith Kenniff’s Helios project. The master composer crafts such singular melodies with meticulous detail buried deep within the sonic terrain of ambient-infused-modern classical flourishes. The sparse lament of ‘Sparks’ proves another defining moment, in which radiant waves of nostalgia seeps into the forefront of the mix. ‘Sparks’ belongs in a stratosphere whose axis points between Keith Jarrett’s live solo recordings and the collaborative works of Tape & Bill Wells.
A glorious rise of ambient flourishes permeates the krautrock-tinged ‘Brandung’ with scintillating synthesizer passages and meditative electric guitar pulses. ‘The Gathering’ – despite its short length – exudes a wall of emotion that echoes the ambient works of Harold Budd with pristine reverberated guitar tones fading onto the sun-lit horizon. The album’s towering penultimate track ‘Monoment’ somehow transposes Nils Frahm’s piano to the guitar instrument: the transcendent sound world of synthesizers, drum machines and guitar fuse together, evoking the ‘Spaces’ live document of Heyne’s close colleague.
‘Shady & Light’ will be exclusively available from martynheyne.com from 27th May 2016.
Interview with Martyn Heyne.
Congratulations on the truly gorgeous debut mini album, ‘Shady & Light’. I would love to gain an insight into your compositional approach when creating these intricately beautiful guitar-based pieces?
Martyn Heyne: Thank you very much! As you say, each piece is centred around a single electric guitar performance – that’s my compositional frame work. From there I add all the other things because I love sounds and finding spaces for them! I tend to have the musical idea in the master take and then base the arrangement on sonics. The instrumentation is often part of the Mix too. For example, when high frequencies are lacking I might add a cymbal rather than use EQ.
Your sonic canvas of guitar, synthesizers and a drum machine is a joy to savour. In terms of the instrumentation, would many of these tracks originate from a guitar-based improvisation? As this is a debut solo EP –although of course you have a significant body of work behind you among the many wonderful and diverse collaborative projects in the past– do these musical compositions all originate from the same space in time?
MH: Yes, the compositions are usually distilled improvisations on guitar or piano. Even when I start on one instrument I will bounce over to the other for a moment just to see what that might say about the music. In my mind a composition is never finished because nothing keeps me from playing it differently next time. I try to listen to where it wants to go until I have a real favourite route through the music. So yes, the simmering nudges details into place.
Can you please recount your memories of composing ‘Sparks’, Martyn? This is the piece we are honoured to premiere on our site. The delicacy of the piece immediately strikes you and indeed the gracefulness of this divine sonic canvas that gradually unfolds.
MH: Thank you very much! With this track I applied the approach of my classical studies to the electric guitar. I love how a more classical technique allows the guitar to be like a vibraphone or any keyboard instrument. Chord and melody, notes attacking at the same time (as opposed to strummed), countering bass lines – those are the gaps I’m forever trying to bridge. By the way, the original title of this one was the smell of campfire in our sweaters.
The Lichte studio is steeped in history with such an inspiring array of musicians and close collaborators of yours all recording here over the years. I would love for you to discuss this particular space, Martyn and explain the reasons as to why (or perhaps how!) the acoustics and sound world captured in these walls are so special? Please talk me through the studio techniques you have developed and processes you favour when it comes to making/recording music in the Lichte studio?
MH: One thing I can think of is that the studio is very informal, as it’s located in my flat, and maybe more neat and calm than studios generally are. Many of the common recording pressures don’t apply to a session here which can make all the difference. My main focus is always on performance and content because they translate most through all kinds of listening environments. I am surprised how often people sing into a 10k microphone with a crackling distorted Behringer headphone sound. It brings uneasiness to the performance. In my philosophy the monitoring situation is just as important as the recording chain because the take will shine through more than the mic.
My current favourite is the penultimate track, ‘Monoment’. As the sound world of synthesizers and guitar meld effortlessly together, I feel a perfect symmetry exists alongside the works of Nils Frahm, (more particularly your guitar becomes a mirror of Nils’s piano, creating such moving and enveloping sounds!) I also love the sequencing of ‘Shady & Light’, where the more synth/drum machines come to the fore during the final section after beginning with fragile and barer guitar instrumentation.
MH: Thank you so much! In ‘Monoment’ I operate the drum machine in between playing the guitar, which allows me to change the arrangement on the go in a live performance. On top of that I use automation software to create what I call Random Auto Dub (yes, that’s RAD) which sends the drum machine signal kind of randomly into a spring reverb, amp, or tape delays. That way it always does things I don’t expect and I have something to react to on stage which makes the whole thing way more exciting for me!
My friend Anne Braun shot a great video of a concert where you can see how that works (https://youtu.be/AIQ1K537enM). Incidentally, the title Monoment is based on the track being recorded, just like almost all of Shady & Light, in mono.
Your life is steeped in music. Please take me back to your earliest musical memories? What defining moments occurred during your musical upbringing that you feel helped carve out this particular musical path for you, Martyn? Also, please mention any records that provided huge inspiration for you, over the years?
MH: As a young child I just experimented on my mother’s piano using two chromatic modes, symmetrically based around the Ab or the D. When I eventually got lessons, C major came as a real surprise!
I was lucky to be born in the time where people started buying CD’s, so vinyl and record players were up for grabs and became kids’ toys. I got to play the obsolete space wasters in my room while everyone was busy trying to get their cherished CD’s out of the plastic wrapper! That way I had a record collection all my life, and it still includes my parents’ original Beatles red and blue albums as well as Abbey Road which is possibly my most played record. Other favourites include:
Miles Davis and Portishead. Both masters at getting such direct beauty out of things that are pretty rough around the edges. Also both masters of the band concept and especially the drums in it!
The Gentleman Losers, the first album. Their sonic vision makes me so happy! My favourite record for after sundown.
Oasis, Definitely Maybe. The beginning of my lifelong obsession with tape delays, compression and distortion. Unfortunately, the sound of this record also probably started the loudness war because so many that came after didn’t understand that it only works the first time.
Keith Jarrett, Vienna Concert. This, even more than other solo concerts of him, shows where you can go musically when you go alone. The mobility of it makes it so enticing to me!
Richard Wagner, all the overtures. I imagine, after Paul McCartney walks offstage another 80k capacity stadium, shakes the President’s hand and makes for his limo through a vast sea of picture taking admirers and he’s beginning to worry it might all go to his head a bit – then all it takes is for him to go home and quietly listen through the opening of Lohengrin to firmly place his feet back on the ground.
Lastly, if you’re DJing at a party, forget all of what I just said and put on Solange’s True EP!
‘Shady & Light’ will be exclusively available from martynheyne.com from 27th May 2016.