Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond’s congenial efforts and world premieres

KRAAK, Ghent’s multifarious platform for all things electronica just celebrated another successful round of Eastern Daze, held at Vooruit over the course of the weekend. Aptly themed The Burning Bliss of Eternal Trance, the fifth edition continues the festival’s excellent investigation of minimal and avant-garde non-Occidental music from around the world. One highlight of this year’s roster was composed of Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond, who presented their works and efforts to the public for the very first time. Made up of Glen Steenkiste, Brecht Ameer, David Edren and Steve Marreyt – four guys from four different cities in Belgium – the new outfit employs the beauty of harmoniums to create a stunning performance. Here, Glen Steenkiste introduces us to the quartet, mapping out the genesis of the group and its collaborative methods.

Can you describe the project, and how it came to be?

Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond is an idea I had in my head for a long time. Solo-wise, I make music as Hellvete, a project where I combine the harmonium, shruti box, pre-recorded 4-tracks and synths to create dense and sustained music. I was getting a bit tired of working with all those machines though, and was wondering how things would sound if I were to replace all the electronics by just four harmoniums. It just remained an idea until KRAAK and Vooruit asked me if I was willing to put a band together to translate the idea to a stage – an opportunity I grabbed with both hands and am very thankful for. They helped me acquire the harmoniums and provided logistic support for rehearsals and recordings. I asked Brecht Ameel (Razen), David Edren (DSR Lines) and Steve Marreyt (Edgar Wappenhalter) to join me in this project. So everything came together slowly, and we were finally ready to present our results for the first time during the fifth edition of the Eastern Daze festival just passed.

How has the collaboration gone so far? Can you describe in a few words the process behind making a piece?

I have worked on music with Brecht, David and Steve in previous bands and settings, so I was already familiar with their approach to music. Our previous encounters proved to be a good base, so we could jump directly into the music without having to explain too much. In the beginning I had some pieces in mind that I had worked out myself, but during the process everybody threw in their own ideas and personalities. In that way the pieces we play now are all collaborative efforts: the compositions are truly the results of the four of us. Everybody has their own approach and that’s what makes the music really come to life.

We know where we are going, but everybody adds his own voice and in that way a new piece appears every time.

When performing, the fact of being a quartet and the harmonium being the instrument at hand, do you offer yourself some space to manoeuvre or do you try to stay as strict and cohesive to each piece that you perform?

The pieces we perfomed at Eastern Daze were compositions we made together during the past months, but that doesn’t mean that everything is completely written down and therefore strict. There’s still room for improvisation within the structure. And working with sustained notes and overtones creates a different way of freedom, which is more situated in manipulating the sound and the airwaves, rather than riffing on the keyboard. We know where we are going, but everybody adds his own voice and in that way a new piece appears every time.

What relationship do you have with minimalist composers, such as Terry Riley for instance? Do you consider yourselves as sharing the same references and influences within the quartet?

I’m a big fan of some of the minimal composers. Artists like Tony Conrad, Yoshi Wada, Phill Niblock and Charlemagne Palestine (although I consider the latter two more as maximalists than minimalists) had a very big influence on me as a musician and even as a person. I learned a lot from listening to and analysing their music, and reading about their ideas, work methods and influences. That’s just my take though – the other members of Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond all have different influences, backgrounds and interests, ranging from classical music and techno to poetry and free-jazz. All those influences are responsible for the music we make together. We do share a common view on drone and minimalist music, I think, but that’s the only commonality.

What do you intend to bring to your audience during a live performance? Do you try to induce a trance-like state, or a therapeutic experience?

My first and main intention is to put up a good concert, in a good setting and with good sound, so that people can listen to it in the best conditions. Besides that, everybody can find in the music what he or she wants. If it put you in a trance, that’s okay. If it has a therapeutic influence on you, that’s also fine. I don’t really make music with these intentions in mind though. I want to make things I hear in my head and try to bring those things to life in the best possible way – that’s my main objective when bringing music to a live setting. All the rest flows from there. We provide the sound and from there everybody can take it any way they want it to.