I finally met the musician Andrew Heath in 2017 at the launch of my book Imperfect having previously written a few poems inspired by his third album Europa. His music talks in a quiet, subtle voice about the changing world around us, it points out the fine details of a moment of silent reflection, a moment which only requires one to be still and to observe. The colours, the speed, the flight, the descent, the little fragments of life.
Andrew Heath has spent over twenty years producing and composing experimental music. He has collaborated with Peter Maynard (Dust and Threshold, 2016, Disco Gecko Recordings, UK), the legendary musician Hans-Joachim Roedelius and the composer Christopher Chaplin (Triptych in Blue, 2017, Disco Gecko Recordings, UK), the Dutch guitarist Anne Chris Bakker (Lichtzen, 2017, White Paddy Mountain, Japan) and he is currently working on a joint project with the Mercury Award nominated Toby Marks (Banco de Gaia).
A few months ago, Andrew invited me to collaborate towards his fifth solo album Evenfall due to be released later on this year. Several weeks after we completed the recording, inspired by the subtlety of his new album, I went back to his studio in Stroud and invited him to talk about his fascination with silences and with pauses. Over many cups of freshly brewed coffee we talked about the way we experience the world, through rhythm and speed, but Andrew explained how one could transform a world with only one sound.
Recording the scissors
MS: Would you place your music within the limits of a particular genre?
AH: As my music has developed, it seems to occupy different spaces. There are many names for this musical area I feel drawn to. Some call it ‘ambient’ but this is quite a broad term. I prefer to use words like ‘lower-case’, ‘quiet’, music without beats and without words and, I know people would then ask what is left but of course to me, the answer is, everything is left.
I became aware of music through listening to the world around me as a very young boy and one of my prized memories and an important formative sound moment in my life, was when my father came home from work with an old reel-to-reel tape machine. I was intrigued to discover I could record sounds on it and play them at different speeds, or turn the tape over and play it backwards. I had a microphone which I’d started using and I remember recording the sound of a pair of dressmaking scissors my mother had. When I played the recording back and slowed it right down it sounded like somebody had drawn a sword. From that moment, recording and transforming sound was something I would be constantly drawn to.
MS: In terms of influences and directions…?
AH: Many things but certainly other musicians and their work. I am inspired by the American pianist Harold Budd, who worked with Brian Eno. I love his sense of timing. His playing is like notes falling downstairs, they just cascade in a beautifully ad-hoc way. I’m very interested in other experimental musicians like Roedelius and the Japanese sound artist, Sawako. An exciting recent discovery for me is German YouTuber, Hainbach who works a great deal with tape, and due to his music, I’ve begun using dictaphones which is an interesting new development for me. However, I think the biggest influence is the environment. The sound around us is music. It could be the song of a bird, which is very beautiful, but for me it can also be planes, my fridge makes amazing sounds. Any noises from our inside or outside spaces.
MS: Are you trying to make people aware of what surrounds us or is your music a product of your own reflection about the world and the passing of time?
AH: I am not trying to educate an audience but this is very personal music. Like an artist who is process lead, I am very interested in taking ‘found’ raw material from the environment around me and then processing and ‘treating’ these recordings building layer upon layer of sound. In my case, the pigments that I use are the piano, guitar and ‘found’ sounds. Where an artist will choose a brush, a pencil or a knife, I will use computers, software and tape.
Spaces between notes
MS: You use ‘found’ sounds as you call them, ‘raw materials’ from nature, being open to the randomness around you, but then you process it using technology.
AH: Yes, true, but I am being selective on the technology I use though or approve of. For me, the fascination of transforming, changing, processing sounds is all consuming and you can’t do that without technology – typically very modern technology. I start with just a few sounds, listen to the interaction between them, go down the rabbit hole and realise suddenly, I have the beginnings of an idea.
In my sound world, I try to find and then follow a path, as I go along, I become a collector of things. It could be a piece of wood, a stick, a stone and put them in my imaginary backpack. But then, as I build it up and up and up I realise that it becomes heavy and I leave stuff behind. I leave spaces between notes to reach an equilibrium.
MS: I understand that when you start to work on an album it can begin with something random. What inspired the album Evenfall?
AH: I was deep in the Norfolk countryside – a real wilderness area with little woods and lakes. I was interested in making longer field recordings. I stood there recording in one place for about two hours. And it got darker and darker and darker. It started to rain. It was a magic moment of stillness that really informed the music on Evenfall.
To add to the magic, I must mention the amazing contribution from the young musician Lydia Kenny, Gloucestershire Young Musician of the Year 2018 who so kindly gifted me such beautiful soprano saxophone lines on the title track, ‘The Still of Evenfall’.
MS: When will the album be available and what follows for you this year?
AH: The album will be launched by Disco Gecko Recordings on 21st September 2018 at The Old Church, London and it will be available on ITunes, Spotify, Amazon as well as in CD format. Prior to this, I will be performing with Toby Marks at Extreme Chill Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland, 6-9 September 2018.
©Maria Stadnicka, 2018
‘The Unmoving is a dark and delicious exploration of post war landscape.
Maria Stadnicka’s beautifully crafted lines cut like a knife,
her poems come to the page like water from a deep well, only the well has been poisoned. Masterfully succinct and shrouded in Stadnicka’s trademark sense of mystery,
The Unmoving is as vivid a poetry chapbook as you’re ever likely to read.’ (Broken Sleep Books, 2018)
Photography: ©John Stadnicki, 2018
There is no way one can observe the social transformations within a community and society without resorting to strong political clues in order to understand the sources of those transformations. And clearly, when things go wrong, we blame the politics, the legislators, the government. But when the political sphere moves away from the reality of the working and the middle classes, the laws and the policies have no real impact on the wide majority. The decision-making groups have little will to support change and the economic downturn Britain has been experiencing for over a decade seems to move towards a silent collapse. And nobody appears to take responsibility. The blame placed on the government rules like a shadow, hiding underneath the roots of bad financial decisions, personal greed and managerial incompetence.
Let’s consider the situation the art sector is in at the moment. The issue came into focus with the news of the devastating fire which, this second time, damaged the Glasgow School of Art beyond repair. There you have £35m down the drain, or rather turned to ashes, and everybody is powerlessly looking at the building asking, with disbelief, ‘how could this be possible’. The fate of the Glasgow School of Art seems, for now at least, sealed by confusion and uncertainty. Who is to blame this time?
Extrapolating the Glasgow tragedy, who is to blame for the uncertain fate of hundreds of art schools across the country slowly but surely decapitated by unachievable targets and percentages? We are looking at another type of devastating fire slowly cooking to ashes the art sector, in general, and the art education, in particular. The drive to achieve the funding targets, the attendance and the achievement rates, the literacy and the numeracy benchmarks. What do they all mean? Certainly, they mean nothing to those involved in the art sector (students, artists, writers, musicians, teachers) but mean everything to those in charge to justify the bureaucracy which supports their livelihoods and to satisfy the pleiades of regulators and inspectors. The focus of this type of education is not the youth’s creativity but to produce a nation of self-absorbed adults ready to slot into whatever social square has been allocated to them as soon as they joined the education system.
And here we face again another type of politics. The ‘politics of inevitability’ as Snyder eloquently describes it, which makes the art education vulnerable and a victim of the constantly expanding globalisation. Since the mid ‘80s, the way we talk about art has fundamentally changed as well as the way the education system works to serve the economy, under the bright colours of neoliberalism. And, one would say, what is the problem with that? The education and the arts remain the essential social institutions within a healthy society and preserve what we call our ‘decency’. They remain our ‘sane barometer’ if you like, which support the configuration of our future and the values this future will act upon.
I remember a recent conversation I had with a head of school who recognised that things have taken a turn for the worse, with the Brexit uncertainty looming, but, as he said, ‘what can one do against a whole government, with a mortgage to pay?’ And here we are again in the blaming game equation. The well-suited head back in his leather chair, the young artist back revising for another maths test. New financial cuts are drowning the hope of an economic recovery and the silence of those suffering its effects sounds more and more like a resigned agreement. Not once we feel that the history allows us to see patterns and to understand that action is a possibility. History permits us, ‘to be responsible; not for everything, but for something’ as the poet Czeslaw Milosz said. This responsibility has always worked against loneliness and indifference.
©Maria Stadnicka, June 2018, Gloucestershire, UK
‘It is unfortunately hard to recall our quasi-permanent concern with the future, for on our return from a place, perhaps the first thing to disappear from memory is just how much of the past we spent dwelling on what was to come; how much of it, that is, we spent somewhere other than where we were.’ (de Botton, 2002)
Photography: ©John Stadnicki, 2018