Bye And Bye I'm Going To See The King . Heaven And
2010. cd . dl . lp
Heaven And's second album simply cannot be attributed to any genre. Earthy bottleneck guitar licks or wailing lap steel harmonies are occasional references to folk and blues, yet they're only an acoustic sheet lightning on a heaven in which - occasionally - violins play on cloud nine. But the delicately tared string quartet does not emanate an acoustic cotton wool cloud cosiness. Rather, it's a precisely accentuated "European" counterpoint to those seemingly primeval American motifs. A similar ying and yang is evident in the sometimes deliberately jarring, then again almost seamless juxtaposition of acoustic and programmed sounds. From the hovering clouds and walls of sound generated by keyboards or an organ unexpectedly emerges a percussive pulse. Digital sizzling, throbbing and clicking stand in contrast to melodic guitar mantras. Monolithic bass patterns mutate into thunderous noise attacks. Electronic tweeting reminds one of flicking across the dial of an analogue radio. Massive layers of chords develop the sinister and gorgeous force of a stream of lava. Dark drum patterns, ritualistic trance grooves or the evident use of snare drum and cymbals are proof of drummers Tony Buck and Steve Heather sure feeling for magic rhythms and associative counterpoints. In other passages, the band goes without beats - which gives the music a more cinematic feel.
The suggestive quality of music is something that the distinguished instrumentalists of Heaven And have been aware of for years. For example, Martin Siewert has worked with director Gustav Deutsch, while bassist zeitblom developed several projects for radio with author and director Michael Farin. He also composed for Jiri Bartovanec, a dancer from the ensemble of Sasha Waltz. A radio production for the WDR about pop icon Aleister Crowley turned out to be the starting point for the band. zeitblom had worked with all three musicians before, yet never as a quartet.
For the Crowley radio play, he brought the musicians together as a band for the first time. "It was fascinating seeing how the drummers hit it off from the first", zeitblom remembers the essential success of the freshly founded band. In addition to the music for the radio play, the band also forged their debut album "Sweeter As The Years Roll By" (staubgold 87 CD/DL/LP) from sketches and live sessions in 2008.
For the album "Bye And Bye I’m Going To See The King" once again live improvisations were used as basis. In contrast to the debut album, these were processed and edited more thoroughly. Siewert and zeitblom meticulously honed these recordings into an album with a most singular aesthetic over a period of one and a half years. Among other things, they used manual processes employed by the pioneers of dub reggae. Some passages were skeletonised; single sound fragments were then mysteriously redyed by means of computer based sound processing or augmented with newly played overdubs. Says Siewert: "We regard the interventions in the studio not only as a legitimate but in some instances downright creative means in the creation of a well moulded album." With this statement, Siewert also defines a clear dividing line between the detailed production of an album and the music's spontaneous and raw presentation on stage. Compared to the debut, the rhythms of this second session were a lot more varied even in their basic form. Nevertheless, on some tracks Siewert and zeitblom heavily manipulated the drum tracks and then asked Tony Buck and Steve Heather to overdub additional percussive motifs. "Some passages sounded quite good but were eliminated in the process of the production in order to keep the music alive and not to make it too condensed", explains zeitblom.
After all this processing and editing, all six tracks on the album now develop sublime arcs of suspense, sudden changes in dynamic and an intensity which at times almost assaults the listener. "We wanted to add distinctive melodies to the prominent grooves" explains Siewert. "Apart from that we wanted to intersperse the subtly nuanced passages with clear-cut, palpable statements." Guest pianist Ali N. Askin (who has been vitally involved in the Ensemble Modern's Zappa projects) arranged the string quartet, trumpet maverick Franz Hautzinger contributed abstract sounds, while Michael Weilacher completed the rhythmic structures with additional marimba or vibraphone patterns.
Towards the end of a long journey, one starts to look forward to coming home. A similar feeling might be experienced by musicians who have spent years engaging themselves in artistic utopias, explored new fusion styles and investigated modern production tools and found themselves glued to a computer in the process. After all these years, these musicians might have developed a certain craving to once more play in a sturdy, sweaty, hands-on live band (with a keen drive to create something new, of course).
"Heaven And is a band which does not recoil from obvious musical references", guitarist Martin Siewert remarks. "It's this approach alone that distinguishes us from the majority of projects in the field of improvised music." Siewert's partner in production and bass player zeitblom adds: "To let our joint musical backgrounds flow into this music is a vital part of the concept. Thus, ideas from archaic blues, psychedelic rock, Sun Ra's Arkestra and Miles Davis' electric jazz are fused. We have isolated the individual influences from their original context and put them into a new musical environment." The bold play with homages and codes is very risky, but then the individualists who make up Heaven And are experienced enough to dodge all snares and springs of the bland musical quotation.
On stage, Heaven And play as a quartet - without guests or sounds from computer or sampler. Only analogue electronics such as ring modulators, feedback generators, oscillators or loop machines will be employed to augment the original sounds of guitars, bass, drums and percussion. In comparison with the album, this live sound can be a lot coarser and more ferocious. "Usually we play a high level programme with excessive improvisations", promises Siewert.
In contrast to his work with the band Trapist (where he plays with Martin Brandlmayr and Joe Williamson), in Heaven And Martin Siewert deliberately flirts with cross-references from the history of (popular) music - and not just in his playing: "Both albums are named after songs by Blind Willie Johnson." This relatively obscure bluesman wrote the legendary slide guitar composition "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground", which Ry Cooder chose as his leitmotif for the soundtrack to Wim Wenders' movie "Paris-Texas". Decades ago, NASA chose the song as the representative of popular music of the 20th century for a record which was included on board the Voyager spacecraft. "But ultimately, our music reminds me more of Haitian voodoo masses than of classic blues from Texas", muses Siewert. "In any case, it reminds me of an archaic spirit and unadulterated, transcendental energy."