Andrew Heath joins the conversation for this instalment of Music in a time of Global Crisis. Based in Stroud, UK, Andrew specializes in quiet, lower-case music using a combination of piano, synthesizers, guitar, and found sound. First appearing on RTR as part of the Sampler Vol. 2 with an excerpt from a collaboration with Anne Chris Bakker, the duo released the album ‘a gift for the Ephemerist’ (RTR021) in October of last year. This album became the first RTR release to include deluxe edition physical items and coincided with the first RTR live event at IKLECTIK, London. More recently, Andrew’s latest album, ‘A Trace of Phosphor’was released as a special art edition, including a soft ground etched print and eight-page booklet detailing the background of the album. To celebrate the album’s release, Andrew performed a live stream via Facebook which can be viewed here.
In this feature, Andrew discusses the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on his music making, including the negative effects of venue closures and event cancellations, but also positive appreciation for a widespread sense of quiet. Andrew describes allowing the sounds around us to become the music we listen to, the new opportunities offered through live streaming from home, and the importance of art and music’s survival.
How have the widespread lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 crisis affected your music making?
The lockdown has affected my own musical activity in two ways. From a practical point of view, it affected me before it had even officially started by way of a cancelled live event that the organisers quite rightly, had taken the decision to cancel as a precaution to what we all knew was coming. More generally it has meant finding new ways to collaborate remotely and, in some cases, not being able to collaborate because a particular musician and poet, needed to be able to use my studio facilities. File exchanges can work at one level – but my staple use of improvisation cannot take place over the internet for example. On a positive level and partly as a reaction to this, myself and two other musicians decided to create a project based purely on a generative, file exchange idea, which would not have happened had it not been for the restrictions in place.
From an emotional and more creative point of view, I have found this time to be a wonderful absence of so much. Noise and general activity have been lower than I have ever known leading to the emergence of simple things – more prominent birdsong for example. Like many others, I have walked for England during this time and have discovered areas of countryside near to me that are simply beautiful. There has been an unhurried feel to this time with less distraction. ‘Don’t listen to the siren’s call’ I think Harold Budd once said, and that’s something that resonates deeply with me at the moment.
Having said that, after an initial flurry of new work that culminated in the release of an EP celebrating the optimistic feeling towards this new found peaceful time, I’ve not actually felt stimulated to produce much more new work, rather, I have spent the time planning and learning about all sorts of new things such as live streaming.
What music, new or old, have you been listening to lately, and have your listening habits changed as a result of the current situation?
A great deal of my day to day listening has been focused on my own projects as this whole time has coincided with finishing the mixing and mastering of some long-term collaborating projects. However, sadly, my listening environment at home is woefully inadequate! This certainly hasn’t changed during this time which is something that I find very frustrating. Interestingly, I have been listening to a number of compilation albums as a way of introducing me to new work and through this, I have discovered the work of many new artists, Mi Cosa de Resistance (Fernando Perales) being one for example, and I have a few ‘book-marks’ on Bandcamp to take advantage of when the next ‘no fees’ day comes along.
Listening habits haven’t really changed though and in some way, because of the general quiet around us, it has felt wrong to break into it. Sometimes it is enough to allow the sounds around us to become the music we listen to.
Consequence of Sound reported the worst week of album sales since the 1960s (28th March 2020). Do you think the coronavirus outbreak will have a lasting negative effect on the music industry?
I certainly think that it will affect musicians’ ability to perform for a very long time to come. But also, it will significantly reduce the opportunities for musicians to get together in the same place. Studios, rehearsal spaces, bars and cafés that have live performance areas are all going to be negatively impacted. I’ve noticed that posting items has been difficult and I think one consequence of this time will be both the rising of postage costs and the lowering of postal services which will obviously affect physical sales. Streaming will inevitably continue to grow and maybe this is the time for legislation that will ensure musicians are paid fairly for this service. Musicians aren’t the only group of creative people that face these dilemmas however, artists and writers are finding a similar and parallel problem and it will be interesting how the delivery of creative work to the individual develops over the next few years.
With more musicians live streaming from their homes than ever before, do you think this trend will continue once things improve?
Undoubtably. One thing that is a very noticeable change is the prevalence of live streaming. Musicians are suddenly becoming broadcasters. I see this as a very positive development. I don’t see it in any way replacing live performance but actually a new way of performing. The two will go hand in hand and I expect to see as we come out of this that venues will live stream the performances that take place further increasing the audience. As a way of musicians reaching out to their audience on a very personal and intimate way, I think this development is hugely significant and beneficial. One of the problems however, is how to make money from live streaming and this is something that I feel we will see develop as time goes on, either through special offers that exist only during streaming or by way of selling the live stream content at a later point.
What do you think we as music makers can be doing to create positivity right now?
I’m not sure it is up to musicians to create positivity. Music and Art reflect personal experience and that is as diverse as the human race can be. What I do think we can be doing is to help fellow musicians promote their work. Some artist friends of mine have involved in the artist purchase pledge scheme, whereby after a certain level of sales, they then commit to purchasing for a minimum amount, another artist’s work. Whether something along those lines can be developed for musicians remains to be seen and on a smaller scale, I would love to see Bandcamp’s idea of ‘no fee’ days extended and shared by other outlets. I also think that collaborating is important. Many of us musicians work as solitary animals and sometimes that’s good and sometimes not so. It is certainly something that I would like to develop myself over the next year.
I think culture and the arts in general are in for a very bumpy ride over the next few years – possibly even longer. State funding will inevitably reduce and possibly quite considerably. However, music will survive as it’s a fundamental part of being human. We need to ensure however, that it is musicians rather than the state or large multinational organisations that create a road map to wherever we are going next.