Spotlight: Nicola Hein

You could say Nicola Hein is a musical descendant of Derek Bailey and Fred Frith, not because he sounds like either, but because like them, he is exploring his own musical language. As a student of both philosophy and music, he comes well equipped to talk about it.

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

I played Metal for about two years (a lot of Slayer). At 17 years old I found out about John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker etc. and started to play free improvised music with friends in Düsseldorf (which is where I am from). After that I started to also play more traditional forms of jazz etc.

What led you to create more experimental (non-mainstream) music?

I am following the intuition that I had when I first touched a guitar. That intuition led to dealing with free improvised music, extended sonic qualities and soundart. For me, from the beginning, the guitar was a sound generator and an instrument of philosophy. Every other music I played was seen from this locus. When playing Jazz, Metal, Blues, Contemporary Classical etc., I tried to transcend the context in a way that would allow me to follow this basic intuition in the straightest way possible. Of course, I don’t exclude “traditional” forms of playing and think it is very important to also embrace them in an “experimental” context, but I always try to approach playing music from an intuitive position and embed everything else in there. Subscribing to another persons/groups, ideas/genres has never worked for me for that reason.

Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.

Many different musicians, but not only music. In a way, everything that one hears is helping to form an individual world picture of music and of life as a whole (where music has its space). When I was 16 or 17, I started to spend a lot of time with philosophy. Later on, I studied philosophy as well as music in university. I felt I had to learn about philosophy to understand more about music. Philosophers such as Wittgenstein or Rorty were as important to developing my idea of music as were Coltrane or Bailey.

How did you get better at your current style?

I try to refine and better understand my intuitions every day. I try to be very precise about what I think, and about the formulation and the development of sonic paradogma. I try to become more precise and differentiated about my musical utterances. Playing guitar is only one of the things I do. Working in soundart and in philosophy are the other two things that I am busy with and they all inform each other—actually they are all one thing. Aside from that: Listening and reading.

What are you trying convey with your music?

Good question and the major one. I would like to answer in the spirit of Socrates: the aim of discussion is discussion or, another way of putting it, skeptic socialism.

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music?

I use a volume pedal, eq, compressor; sometimes other effects but mostly not. The pedals are only to bring out the sound that is already there, they amplify the physical event; it is all about transmitting the energy of the event. I use preparations that have very specific functions or a set of functions to realize a musical ontology, which is prior to them. The instrument also plays the mind—what Evan Parker calls Biofeedback—so the ideas also arise from the objects (I guess every preparing guitarist knows that).

I think you can break down my ontology of improvised music to: white/breath noise, multiphonics, percussive hits, glissandi, clusters, sheets of sound, quasi-false-fingering-playing, sustained notes, sustained chords, bell sounds, and drones. Every preparation helps me realize several of those, so you get a field of interacting sound paradigms that can be articulated with different tools, which generate different forms of focalizations on individual ideas.

The objects are: Motor, file, bottle-neck (attached to the right hand with a strap), a rubber/metal object that was once a brush, two pieces of metal, steel wool, two metal springs, and a screw.

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

Playing live. I think the interaction between a musician and an audience is an act of mutual becoming, where, in the sense of Hegel’s theory of recognition, one becomes somebody else through the “other.” Of course this form of interaction is also happening between musicians, if that was not the case, one could not explain how musicians learn from each other. But there is another intensity and quality of becoming with an audience.

How many times has one become a different person on stage because of the intense listening of the audience? The audience helps me become who I would like to be and vice versa. How often did we go to concerts and became different than we were before?

How have you built up an audience for your music?

I don’t know if I have done do so yet, but I hope there is something I have to say that will make it possible to build an audience for it.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

A lot of people I know and a lot of people I don’t know. In general any artist or philosopher, who helps me grow and carry on thinking, while producing an end result that one can identify with, and who is taking my art a step further.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

There are many musical things on the way right now: Releases with my bands ROTOZAZA (w/ Rudi Mahall-bass clarinet, Christian Lillinger-drums, Adam Pultz Melbye-bass; 7000 Eichen (w/Matthias Muche-trombone; Limen (w/ Simon Rose-alt/baritone sax); Schick/Hein/Lillinger (w/ Ignaz Schick-turntables, Christian Lillinger-drums); Rave/Hein/De Joode (w/ Ada Rave-tenor sax, Wilbert de Joode-bass); Delius/Hein/Wandt (w/ Tobias Delius-tenor sax, Niklas Wandt-drums); Heenan / Hein / Narvesen (w/ Chris Heenan-alto sax, Dag Magnus Narvesen-drums).

There will also be a duo with Nate Wooley (trumpet) coming out soon, and I will release a solo album in the coming months which will feature two different live recordings with electric guitar and one with an orchestra of 16 prepared fans and 12 prepared solenoids. The orchestra tries to spatialize the material logic of my approach to the electric guitar. All three recordings show different perspectives on the same question: Is there such a thing as a skeptic aesthetic?

Here you can see the instrument:

Aside from that I am doing a lot of different of soundart projects this year, which revolve around different questions about the nature of space, semantics and (sonic) sculptures.

All information about the releases and coming up projects can be found on my website. 


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