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Step Right Up: Martyn Heyne

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“…recording doesn’t capture music; recording creates a recording.”

—Martyn Heyne

Words: Mark Carry

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Transcendence fills the space of Hamburg-born Martyn Heyne’s singular guitar-based compositions. The remarkable debut solo album ‘Electric Intervals’ – and follow-up to 2016’s achingly beautiful mini-album ‘Shady & Light’ – gently unleashes a hypnotic spell with each swirling ambient pulse and divine tones of piano and guitar.

Glorious album opener – and lead single – ‘Carry’ orbits the ether of faded dreams as sublime electric guitar soundscapes reverberate the human heart. Only mere moments into the German composer’s full-length, it is as if we are plunged into an ‘in between’ state, somehow capturing the quiet bliss of this universe that surrounds us. As the title suggests, Heyne’s echo drenched guitar tones transport you to the furthest reaches of one’s inner self, feeling beautifully lost in the pools of your mind.

Dawn light gradually fades in throughout the windswept beauty of sparse piano lament ‘Luxury’. The reflective piano notes unfolds a deeply immersive experience. The striking intimacy of ‘Patina’ with its magical tapestry of electric guitar tones radiates a shimmering warmth, particularly on the piece’s heavenly rise. ‘Faro’s soft beat and drifting guitar patterns serves one of the album’s defining moments. Magical guitar lines that belong at once to age-old folk song cycles or future post- classical overtures. The lyrical quality of a guitar melody such as this illustrates just how unique the sound world captured on ‘Electric Intervals’ truly is.

A Piano Day highlight from last year, ‘2400’ is built upon joyously uplifting piano motifs that meld together effortlessly, emitting a catharsis within the ambient swells. The album’s mystical centrepiece. The dynamics change on the luminescent beats of ‘Come On’ with a seductive guitar groove that inhabits a minimal wave sphere of enchanting sounds. Heavenly sustained piano chords of ‘Wilde Wide’ navigates the human space before the epic album closer ‘Curium’ dazzles with a flurry of delay, drum machines and invigorating guitar lines. The horizon is upon us.

Electric Intervals’ is a truly remarkable debut album from a gifted composer whose musical path is only just beginning.

‘Electric Intervals’ is out now on 7K! Records.

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Interview with Martyn Heyne.

 

Congratulations on your debut solo album ‘Electric Intervals’; it’s a very special experience. I’d love for you to go back to the making of the album itself? In line with the gorgeous debut ‘Shady & Light’, some of these songs were probably in your head for a long time?

Martyn Heyne: It is true that the ‘Shady & Light’ material and this material overlap a little bit in time, like some of the pieces on this one like ‘Faro’ and ‘Afar’ I’ve been playing them in concerts for a very long time and some are totally new like ‘Carry’ and ‘Come On’. And it’s just a mix of what I’ve gotten around to producing or what I wanted to make fresh. So in a way, I always have a big bucket of stuff that’s either an idea or it’s composed or I have some recordings and when I wanted to make the record I just started producing some things and making recordings of things I had. At the end, you look at the lot and think well, I love this composition but I don’t think it came out right so I don’t use that one or other stuff where you feel like I always thought this was never going to make it but now when it’s compared to everything, it fits just right in so I’ll pick that one.

And it’s quite surprising what takes and what compositions eventually I thought fitting for the record. Like for example this piece ‘Wilde Wide’ is one where I got up one morning – like often when I have the time after I get up I just play the piano for a little bit, just to have the first thing in the day to put you on track for the day – and that’s one of those things, I never really thought anything about it because there’s barely any musical content or anything in that piece but somehow it always remained something that I can relate to and that fits the narrative of the album very well (like at a certain position where it is now). I just watch myself from the outside a little bit when I decide what goes on the album and what I sequence so there’s a mix of stuff that’s maybe eight years old compositionally and stuff that was brand new at the time (like just made for this album).

I love how the piano pieces are interspersed among the guitar instrumentals. It works very well and as you say, the placing of certain pieces really compliment each other too or the contrasts to one another too.

MH: Well thank you. I guess I don’t really make any distinction between the piano or the guitar pieces, it’s just going from vibes, like the track ‘Carry’ is very long and then it’s nice to have something short afterwards and so forth. I think it’s easy to simplify why you do things when you try to explain the length or the instrument (or whatever), I just look at it and see and try to find a narrative so that it feels nice to listen through the whole thing as an album. It’s very much sequenced just as an album rather than a collection of pieces.

With the whole production element and your home studio and being involved with so many great records, would you have certain philosophies or your approach to sound as a whole?

MH: What I thought was interesting with this album, looking back is I didn’t really set out to make an album and then thought I’m going to write some pieces for it and then I’m going to produce them in such and such a way and so forth; I didn’t really have a master plan for it from that perspective at all. But rather, like I said I looked a little bit into the bucket of music that was there and developed some things and then saw what came out of it. And surprisingly to me, a lot of these pieces that end up on the album are recorded to cassette tape – most of them – and in a pretty lo-fi sound almost which is really OK for electric guitar and drum machines because they are not particularly fussy instruments to start with (they’re not very pristine, an electric guitar is not a harp). I’m surprised when I read reviews like it’s this pristine sound and very much figured out and people have different ideas about what eventually comes out of the sound but it rather just happens. Like the second song ‘Luxury’ I just read that it has beats or something but it’s just a piano take and it’s one microphone and that’s all there is and it’s just recorded to a really lousy mono joop recorder, you know that made it sound that way and I liked it and I kept it that way. Like I said, I probably tried to re-record it in a pristine and nice way but then eventually somehow this take was the one that I liked best. And a lot of the pieces are like that.

Also, for example the last track ‘Curium’ – the very long one – is always recorded on cassette tape, all running live through a mixing desk so I had the drum machine set up and I play them next to playing the guitar (so every once in a while I would just reach over and like add a snare drum or change the beat a little or put a delay with it or something) and play the guitar next to it. And all the beats, it had six tape echoes running and amplifiers for the guitar and drum machines and just everything went to a board and the reverb’s running and the whole thing of balancing and juggling it live, it just goes into a cassette tape recorder [laughs]. And then this two-track cassette tape (that’s what I used for the whole production) so then I put that into the computer and I edited it down a little bit because it was even longer when I made it. And then I took this down edit into a church and played it back there to record more reverb and make it more pristine and I overdubbed the rhodes on it. It’s almost anti-production in a way. I certainly wasn’t looking for the pristine sound or for the best way to do it but somehow these versions are the ones that were to me the most convincing. I know for example from ‘Curium’ doing like a proper studio production where everything sounds proper and it just couldn’t beat this one somehow and that’s how it goes sometimes.

And maybe also interestingly with the first track ‘Carry’ that’s also just one electric guitar so it’s just a guitar and there’s an echo (and that’s all that’s playing). But I think I must have recorded about a hundred takes of it over a period of about half a year and I just recorded it over and over again, mostly to a quarter-inch tape machine with the reverb and everything going. At the end of that time, I just picked my favourite version so the arrangement changed and the sound changed and it was different every time. So, instead of recording it once or three times and then just working on that sound, I just recorded it over and over again – they were all different – and then I just took one at the end that I liked the best. It’s not my philosophy but that’s how this album happened.

I love how ‘Curium’ has that live performance feel where you feel like you’re in the room as you listen to it.

MH: There is just a bunch of delay pedals that run after the drum machine and this electro part in the middle is just playing with delay machines and making it crazy. And again, I think the original version must have been something like twenty-five minutes so I cut out a huge guitar solo and probably some of the delay dubbing but it’s all from that one performance (it’s not from several takes). The craziness and the distortion and the congruence of it somehow at the end won over [laughs] the technical perfections that are clearly there.

I’m always fascinated when a musician has so many takes – and as you say how each one is different – would you feel a certain fear or anxiety that you are going to pick the right one in the sense that you have so many moments to choose from?

MH: That’s an interesting point that you mention because that is actually something that is part of my recording philosophy or maybe something that I learned about recording that is always very difficult to pass onto the people who I work with especially when they are working on like their first or second album when they have little experience is that people tend to finish a record and after they are done, there’s a few aspects of it that they don’t really like or they wish that they could change. And this is inevitable in a way, this is one of the things that is inherent in recording because I think this is one of the things that many people don’t understand about recording: recording doesn’t capture music, recording creates a recording. If I had a piece of music (like a composition) and I play it for you now ; it’s sunshine and it’s the afternoon and I’ll play it in a certain way. And if I played it to you at one o’ clock in the night chances are I’ll play it in a slower tempo, maybe with a different timbre and if I played it to you at seven in the morning it would again be different. If it’s the summertime I would play it different and if it’s the wintertime I would play it different, you know what I mean. So, things make sense differently in different circumstances. If you play it in front of fifty people you’ll play it in a more intimate fashion than if you play it in front of five thousand and so forth.

Therefore, when you listen to music or when you perform music or when music is just music, this stuff always just falls into place by itself because it is part of how the performer feels and part of how the audience feels just by itself so they don’t really recognize that they are making these choices. But then in a recording these things are trapped, the microphone is the point where this stuff gets lost. So, it’s simply impossible to pick the right tempo for a recording or to pick the right mood for a recording, rather I advise people to say to find a moment in your life when you’re not too drunk or you’re not too tired and not too angry – or maybe completely tired, drunk and angry – and then you make a decision of the moment that you are convinced that it is a good decision and that is your recording, regardless of what you record later on, in a different day time, in a different mindset, you will want to change things, always forever (that’s just how it is). That doesn’t mean that in the later stage you’re smarter than before or more musical or you have a better view on it, it simply doesn’t mean that, it’s just one of the shortcomings of recording. Recording is not a recording of music; it is a recording. It’s a different animal and therefore this feeling of not having captured everything that the song means to a listener or a performer is inevitable and everybody with every production has to live with this. But this is very difficult to tell people and it’s often the reason why once a mix or a master is done people will call you up every day and want minute changes, hoping to chase this little thing that they want to get perfect, which is simply not possible. So, I love the take that is the take, I play it different now but that’s what it is.

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One of my favourite pieces is ‘Faro’ with its beautiful melody but also how the rise comes in, and the way it’s melded with a soft beat as well.

MH: Again with that one, this is a take that I recorded I think in 2013 really shortly between Efterklang tours so I was just home for a few days and I had this piece that I’ve been already performing in 2012 when I was touring with Nils Frahm I played this piece. And then for the first time in between these tour breaks I played it on electric guitar and I thought this sounds crazy, this is cool so I just quickly recorded a demo take of it to remember what it sounds like on an electric guitar so then I would remember that is an option with this piece. And then later for this record I tried to produce it and make a ton of recordings of it and none of them sounded like this one (so I kept this one). It’s the same story basically. So, this is the original demo of it.

What are your memories of music as you were growing up or even at point did you start recording like that first moment when you discovered recording sounds yourself?I presume you started playing the guitar and piano from a young age?

MH: To be honest I played for much longer than I started to record. I only started to record like for fun when I was fourteen or something (I didn’t really do that before). By that time I had already played for much much longer so that came as a second idea and maybe that’s also what shapes my views so much on it that a recording is not a recording of what happens when you play but it is the production of something else entirely. And when you start out with cassette tape – and as I did also by the way with the Atari computer – then it’s much more obvious that what you capture is something very different and you start to play with that. You see like if I put this in this is what comes out so if I change what I put in, regardless of how that sounds, what comes out? What is it that then comes out? I think I was always very aware that they are different animals.

The guitar itself and the sounds you create it has a whole world of sound that you are able to create with this instrument. I can imagine there’s been different sorts of experiments that are ongoing with you and the guitar?

MH: Absolutely, I think that the guitar is in an unusual position among instruments in that it came very late. I’m talking about electric and electric sounds now although it’s not much difficult with classical because that’s not much older and it has a similar problem (but slightly different). The electric guitar came about in the 50’s and then there’s 60’s and 70’s rock and it kind of stops. Even today, a lot of people when they play the guitar they learn that music that’s been played in that time and try to recreate that sound that’s been done in that time. And similarly on classical guitar people play Villa_Lobos or Bach and try to do it in the sound of these handful – and really a handful – of guitarists that popularised the original classical guitar sound. I don’t know, I feel like the attempt to move it away from that are not too many or not too successful in comparison to I find much broader scope of other instruments. I don’t know if that’s the reason but I could imagine the reason is that it’s simply a pretty recent, pretty young thing, you know and it just doesn’t have the same kind of history as orchestral music or keyboard-based music or vocal music. For me it’s always been a very odd aspect of composing and playing and find sounds that are really exciting and it’s great to crank up a loud amplifier and play a Led Zeppelin riff but it doesn’t provide any of the electricity to me that I get when I find a sound that I feel a personal connection with becauseit’s coming from my own world.

Your voice is heard in so many great records of so many people’s music. You have worked with many musicians on different albums, I wonder how does the collaborative process work for you?

MH: I work with many people but I wouldn’t say I collaborate. I have to say there’s barely any collaboration going on. Most of the time I work to facilitate their music. When I work in my studio with other people it’s mostly about seeing what they want to achieve and hearing what they want to achieve and seeing what they have done and helping them to move that further to a more finished place basically. In that capacity, that’s different from a collaboration where I would at some point say no but I want it like this, let’s go there and that’s sometimes not so clear for people to see maybe where the cut-off is between what I do as a studio job with my studio and my own music. For my own stuff basically so far you can only get these two albums. Of course in Efterklang I was also pretty much left to my own devices as to what I do with the music and stuff but that’s different. Studio work for me is really studio work. I am very honoured and happy that many people come to the studio because they like sounds of what they’ve heard or stuff that I have made and they say like ‘oh can you make it sound a little bit like that?’ or ‘how did you get that sound?’ or we come with such and such with certain reference. That’s the only reason why people come I guess, I only get requests based on other work that I’ve done before basically. But still I don’t  interfere with what they’re trying to do, I just try to give them some of what they’re looking for if I can. And for that reason also sometimes I get requests for studio stuff where people ask for something and I don’t think I can give them or I just have no clue what they’re on about [laughs] and I just say sorry I can’t help you there.

You have a big European tour coming up. This must be exciting to see how the songs change and mutate depending on location and time and different things like that? And also how these songs off the latest album are translated to the live setting?

MH: Absolutely, I’m curious to find out about that too. I’m very happy on this tour that Balmorhea are taking me with them and I’m opening for them every night and they are a great band, I’m sure you know that because I think that they play for an audience who could be interested in the general field of music that I’m also involved with and their last record ‘Clear Language’ is really fantastic so I’m looking very much forward to that tour. It’s four weeks of shows. Playing shows for me is one of the best things of the whole job you know. I think it’s almost a bit underrated how important concerts are for this kind of music and I’m very happy to be able to do some. I will play some from ‘Electric Intervals’ of course and also from ‘Shady & Light’ and also some new things and so I think it will be a good mix and we’ll see how some of them will change over the course of the tour.The last concert fortunately is in Berlin so at the moment that it is most mixed up it is nice to do a home show at the very end.

In contrast to playing as a duo or in groups, playing solo must be like a completely different beast?

MH: Performing solo is very different from playing with a group, it has advantages and disadvantages. The great thing is that you can change direction on the go whenever you feel like it and you can switch the set-list around, you can play songs longer and shorter, you can change the mood and the vibe and take a turn at any point. And it’s also not too complicated a set-up so that is all great. Sometimes it’s a little less fun because if you go onstage with a band you have these moments where you can just sit back and watch what people are doing; what the other people in the band are doing and the audience and you can take a little bit of a break whereas as a solo performer you are always the thing, the entire time, you have to stay on the ball much more. From that perspective it can be a lot of fun to play with a band too and you share a bit more but luckily in this case I am also touring with Balmorhea the whole time so they are six people and then we’ll have a great team for technical side of things so I think it will be much more fun altogether than if I was actually on my own (which I will be only on the stage).

Are there certain albums you’ve been listening to a lot lately?

MH: The Bill Callahan ‘Apocalypse’ record. I started listening to it when it came out maybe four years ago and it just gets better, I really like that one. And also recently I very much enjoyed listening – maybe because it’s winter – to Wagner opera overtures. I’m not so into the singing bits but the orchestral beginnings I think it’s really worthwhile to give that a spin as well.

‘Electric Intervals’ is out now on 7K! Records.

https://www.facebook.com/everynoteisapillow/

https://www.facebook.com/7Klassik/

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March 20, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Track Premiere: Martyn Heyne (Efterklang)

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In my mind a composition is never finished because nothing keeps me from playing it differently next time.

Martyn Heyne

 

 

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.

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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.

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Written by admin

May 17, 2016 at 5:37 pm