For this latest instalment of The Maker, Andrew Heath joins the conversation. Andrew has been featured in a number of interviews here: firstly, answering questions for The Maker #13 around the time of his album with Anne Chris Bakker was released on RTR in 2019; secondly, taking part in the Music in a time of Global Crisis #12 last year. This time, Andrew joins in anticipation of Konstruct’s ‘Three (squared)’ (RTR041), currently available to pre-order, to be released in full this Bank Holiday Monday. The album is a collaboration with fellow Stroud-based musicians Simon McCorry and Phonsonic (Alexander Caminada). The album explores creative limitations, with each artist contributing three sets of three short sounds that would then be manipulated and processed to create the album in its entirety. In addition to releasing on RTR, Andrew’s work is on the rosters of Whitelabrecs and White Paddy Mountain (both in collaboration with Anne Chris Bakker), Elm Records, and Disco Gecko. Andrew has also released a significant amount of work independent of label which will linked embedded throughout this feature.
Today, Andrew talks about his early experiences with ambient music, finding inspiration through process, layering field recordings and processing field recordings, and the physicality of tape. Andrew’s also signposted a couple of important releases from the past twelve months, one of which comes from RTR regular, James Osland!
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
Strangely and quite possibly through the work of a sculptor. When I was a young boy, I remember seeing a documentary about a sculptor who had created a very large installation that comprised of recycled blocks of wood, metal sheets and many other objects which were suspended within a large building. Moving one piece would then set up a cascade of random movement and noise. This one single moment has stayed with me and explains my fascination with serendipity and ‘found chance’ within music.
However, in terms of a musical introduction, I’ve always been interested in early electronic music such as Kraftwerk and was fascinated by The Radiophonic Workshop. The chance discovery of early Tangerine Dream was also one of those ‘turning on’ moments. I’ve always produced my own music however, and a key component to taking my work in a more experimental direction was the gift of an old Sony reel to reel tape recorder from my father. You must remember that at this time, machines like this were being thrown into skips as quickly as possible! I was fascinated by the result of recording a household object and then slowing it down or reversing it… basic stuff nowadays, but to someone of my age (about 17 then) it was a revelation!
Many years later I became close friends with a wonderful visual and sound artist, Peter Maynard. It was very much his music that enabled me to find my ‘voice’ and he also introduced me to the work of some fantastic artists that work within the ambient, drone and experimental music arena.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
Anything and everything! Not a very helpful answer but it’s difficult to pull out any single thing that I find inspires me to create. I’m very much a ‘process led’ artist by which I mean that my work is a journey through working with the tools I have in my studio. I find landscape and weather patterns a great stimulus to creativity. I also find the work of other artists inspiring, preferring the music of smaller, more DIY artists who often create their work using a minimal amount of equipment. I love to collaborate… the process of working with others is both a great discipline and a path to a new freedom of approach. The act of sharing a creative time can be wonderfully positive and it always brings about something new which in turn feeds back into your own work.
I walk in the countryside around me often and find that if you seek solitude or quiet, it creates a space within you that allows a small spark of an idea or even just a feeling or emotion that can then take shape later in the studio.
Life events also feed creation and not only the nice ones. Over the last few years, I’ve found the act of creation quite compelling and something that feel I have to do. Creating new work can be incredibly cathartic and healing.
How do you approach working on a new release?
When I’m working, I can start with field recordings and often layer many things, all processed of course before improvising with the piano. I feel I can express myself more through this instrument than any other although I’d never call myself a real player.
I’m lucky enough to have a small space within my house that I use as a studio. It’s really more of a writing room than a studio though and pay more attention to surrounding myself with little personal objects than acoustics or anything like that! Being always available to me means that I am constantly working on new material. Between trying to balance all the nice things in life with the things I have to do to pay the bills, I try to maximize my use of time to create and to stay focused. So, I always have at any one time a body of work that I’m constantly finessing. Working towards a new release has meant finding an order to this material but more recently, I’ve become aware of different aspects within the work I produce. This has allowed me to start grouping my work in order to establish a theme or underlying emotion to a release.
Interestingly, I’ve always been aware of a similar pattern or process as I create new material. I become excited by the direction of a piece and start putting in more and more to the point where suddenly, I feel unhappy with it. I’ll then leave it – step away, but always keep thinking about it – and then return and start taking elements away until it reaches an equilibrium. Then I know it’s nearly finished.
The work of my wife (an artist) is very important to me, and we often talk the same language – she in visual terms and me in sound terms but it’s the same language we use and as a project progresses, I’ll start to explore how it might inhabit a visual and sonic world and how they might harmonize.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
Can I be difficult and mention two? Both are fairly new discoveries to me, and both are just sublime pieces of work. The first is by the artist, Jens Pauly and his album ‘Below’. A wonderful example of texture and tonality. It just drifts and settles effortlessly. The other artist is James Osland and his album ‘Almond Drive’ which is so light filled and simply beautiful. These two are my most listened to works at the moment and are having a huge influence on my current output.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
I have always been fascinated with tape. The idea that you can record music to this narrow band of magnetic stuff! In my early teens I experimented with electric guitar and tape echo (WEM Copycat anyone?) – synthesisers were impossibly expensive then. My wonderful old Sony reel to reel tape machine just cemented that connection between music, sound and technology. This machine had three speeds and I experimented with the sounds of many household things reversed and slowed right down.
Tape allows the user to create their own music, something that in my younger days wasn’t possible at all in any other way. So, it encouraged this DIY approach and allowed a real democratisation or creativity. I like the fact that it is a linear medium and that allows the artist to take the listener of a journey as one piece unfolds into another. Of course, we all now have access to very high-quality digital recording, but the cassette medium still has its place as a physical object that holds music and that’s an increasingly rare thing.
Konstruct – ‘Three (squared)’ (RTR041) is available to pre-order now on cassette and as a digital download. The album will be released in full Monday 31st May.