Amongst the pictures from Martyn Heyne’s childhood that you’ll find in his parents’ photo collection is one of him, aged two, strumming a canoe paddle like a guitar. If ever there were proof of the man’s natural born urge to make music, it’s this. Heyne’s approach to his art has always remained idiosyncratic, too: when he began teaching himself the piano, he developed a system based around the symmetry of the keyboard rather than its scales. Even his first band was unusual: having finally received music lessons, he began travelling from village fairs to sports halls to play shows with his brother and other friends. He was just ten. “Our tininess was well-received,” Heyne recalls fondly.
The release of Heyne’s debut mini-album confirms he’s maintained his unusual, distinctive approach to music ever since. Working mainly with guitar, synthesisers and a drum machine – each enhanced by his trademark, vintage studio trickery – the composer has crafted six delicate pieces that are as moving as they are intricate. Whether it’s ‘Sparks’’ graceful melody, the lithe, rippling ‘Brandung’, or the gentle tremble of ‘Monoment’, their magical appeal lies not only in their detailed precision, but also in the rare serenity they afford their audience. He credits this plaintive, pastoral and evocative quality to a diverse range of influences, including Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Portishead, Boards of Canada and Krautrock.
Heyne calls the mini album Shady & Light, but not for obvious reasons. “It’s important to me to have some kind of emotional juxtaposition in a track,” he reveals. “Sad and sweet usually does more than just sad or just sweet. But it’s not meant in the same way as ‘Light and Shade’. Instead it’s shady as in ‘improper or incorrect’, and light as the opposite of ‘serious’. I like to add improper things on purpose, like hiss and distortion. I’m not interested in the ‘certified’, ‘official’ way.”
Apart from a year in Cork, Ireland, Heyne, who was born in Hamburg, spent his schooldays in Germany, but afterwards went on to study at Holland’s Conservatorium van Amsterdam. Since then he’s made quite a name for himself, though normally in the company of others. One reason for this is his studio, Lichte, based right next to Berlin’s huge Tempelhof (former) airport. Originally intended exclusively as a space in which he could work, Lichte has become a place favoured by artists including The National, Nils Frahm, Lubomyr Melnyk, Peter Broderick and Efterklang. “I tend to get asked for a particular kind of sonic cookery that can be added at many stages in a production,” Heyne explains. “Some methods here are unorthodox!”
Heyne’s influence has extended beyond those four walls, however: he worked with Dustin O’Halloran on the Emmy Award winning Transparent soundtrack, and, having worked with Efterklang at Lichte on parts of their final album, Piramida, also replaced Peter Broderick as a full time touring member of the Danish band, travelling relentlessly with them throughout 2013. He performs, too, with celebrated Swiss clarinetist Claudio Puntin as part of a duo, Set Aglow. “I saw Claudio play in 2007,” Heyne recalls, “and had some of his ECM records. In 2012, I accidentally met him when I bought his piano, and we got on well and played together. Everything is completely improvised, but we always magically agree on where to go in the music. Last year we toured the EU, Turkey, and even Iran!“
Now, however, it’s time for Heyne to take centre stage, and his confidence is fully justified. So here, at last, is Shady & Light, as distinctive as you’d expect. It’s taken a while, but ever since Heyne picked up that canoe paddle, this is where he’s been headed.
source: lichte studio
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