Exclusive Interview with Ernst Horn about HELIUM VOLA
Colour-Ize: We are all looking forward to your new studio-album HELIUM VOLA with great excitement. Of course, we are very interested in what this title really means, what it is all about!
Ernst Horn: Good question. I used to think of “Helium” as name from the outset. That was actually the very first idea for the name ever. I do not know why …. a noble gas that wants to escape into the air. It was just such a technical feeling on the one hand, but high-flying on the other.
Colour-Ize: Does it have anything to do with the record itself that you have chosen a title that has something “rising into the air”?
Ernst Horn: Well…..There is such a sentence, I think that it is by Leonardo da Vinci, which says: ”Tie your cart to a star”. I wrote this down at home. When a friend visited me, he said: Did someone stick this to your car because of false parking? (laughs) Yes, it has something to do with flying high, maybe also with the whole situation in which I started it. But I do not want to go into the details about this here.
Colour-Ize: How long have you been working on HELIUM VOLA?
Ernst Horn: Oh, like forever. The first sketches, the first thoughts I have had for over two years. Due to the split from Qntal – that was about a year ago, when I decided not to participate anymore – it became of course very tangible. However, I worked on many things simultaneously in 2000, both the next Lakaien as well as HELIUM VOLA, and another project that is not yet right at the start. It just turned into a date thing; I was looking for singers, especially a female singer, who was supposed to do more or less the main work on the thing. And when I found her, it just happened automatically, also because of all the scheduling difficulties that I just had to do it right away. And since last fall, I am really intensely on it in the studio.
Colour-Ize: You just mentioned the split from Qntal. What were the reasons?
Ernst Horn: Well, this is difficult. Actually, it has always been such a thing that Michael and Sigi were not completely satisfied with the way I work. I sit in my studio and do some work and it is sometimes a bit difficult for other people to have the influence that they should expect if they understand themselves as a band. It simply did not come together anymore, I really felt that it was better, I’m doing it alone. But I have also said to Sigi and Michael that it is no problem at all for us all (including for me), if the two continue as Qntal.
Colour-Ize: Qntal also keeps running, as rumor has it!
Ernst Horn: I suppose, after all I have heard. So I told Michael already back then. ……. Michael is not the absolute electronics freak. In that sense, it is also natural that he is still looking for someone for the electronics, although he actually understands a lot of computers and synthesizers. But it is certainly better to have a keyboarder and I suppose that is what they are going to do. In terms of songwriting he is perfectly able to do it by himself. I suppose that it will take a good direction now. It will certainly be different than Qntal before.
Colour-Ize: What made you decide to turn back to the Middle Ages again instead of making a new experimental radio play?
Ernst Horn: My departure from Qntal caused a gap for me somewhere, because I am very attached to this atmosphere. First of all I love the poetry, and then I also like medieval music very much, even if what I do is not necessarily medieval music in its historical form. But it is the atmosphere that really attracts me. There is such shyness in the music, something so far away from the world …… Of course these things are also worldly, but they seem to me so….. they are somewhat unspoiled. It is very very difficult so say for me, you get the impression that “I”, and the “person”, the “emotions” are all present. But somehow they are entangled with a fate from outside, something incontestable, yes something very compelling. It is just an emotion that totally attracts me. It is weird that also the Gothic-scene is attracted by this. This scene was not really oriented toward the Middle Ages from its beginning, especially if you consider the start: Bauhaus, Sisters Of Mercy, but it somehow got there automatically.
Colour-Ize: They also know why, since it is beautiful music.
Ernst Horn: Yes of course, sure, obviously. Though no one really exactly knows how this used to be played back then. And of course it was something different at the time. The entire spectrum from religious hymns that were just used to fulfill certain rituals to the singer of popular tunes, who was much more down to earth and connected with his topical hardships than we now with our high-flying crazy ideas.
Colour-Ize: Are you afraid that the projects HELIUM VOLA and Qntal will be compared too much?
Ernst Horn: Well, there is nothing you can do about it. This is going to happen by a hundred percent. And some people will be saying that Qntal was better than this here I did not pay too much attention to Helium Vola being different from Qntal, I am simply not able do this. It is, after all, a kind of music I want to do in this way. And the challenges that I face during songwriting and producing are not necessarily to avoid Qntal but totally different. These are rather: How do I design such a song? How do I avoid a certain schematism, which is present in my brain and, e.g., is induced due through work with the computer? These are actually the things that I have much bigger issues with than with what the people will say later.
Colour-Ize: I can imagine, however, that one might then say with respect to further Qntal releases: “Ernst Horn is missing!”
Ernst Horn: Something will always come. But I also assume that Qntal is now taking a different direction as well. Probably someone else will co-produce and Michael has certainly more ideas, that is just fine.
Colour-Ize: Is it correct to talk about HELIUM VOLA as a musical development? In your opinion, what is the main difference between HELIUM VOLA and Qntal?
Ernst Horn: Of course, I take automatically different directions. Also due to the way I am working now that is fully independent. And due to the fact that I am dealing with several singers now: A lot of pieces are written for ensemble. And I was forced to work differently, because I had to write scores for the ensembles and instrumentalists. This got me into something more like composing. It is also fact that I used two poems by Houellebecq – a contemporary author and not a medieval one – and this put me into a different line as composer. So I would say that it is again different from Qntal.
Colour-Ize: You just mentioned the instrumentalists. How many musicians and singers respectively contribute to HELIUM VOLA and how did this collaboration come about?
Ernst Horn: Sabine Lutzenberger, who does the main job, I called her…… (laughs). Well, I did it in a very trivial way and went into a store for classical music, and bought a stack of records with medieval music, and I listened through all of it, and I was really happy of course that the very singer, whom I liked most by far, lives nearby, namely in Augsburg. So it was a great stroke of luck. I had already expected it to be someone from France ….
Colour-Ize: So you did not know most of the musicians before!
Ernst Horn: Everything has been unknown so far. I already knew some of the other singers in part: Andreas Hirtreiter, Gerlinde Sämann…. I knew Tobias Schlierf from Estampie; he was singing along with them, just like Gerlinde Sämann, whom I knew from Estampie as well, and I met Susan Weiland on a recommendation from a friend.
Colour-Ize: So one can really call it a monster-production as written in the official press release, after all you tell!?
Ernst Horn: This got completely out of bounds, this turned into real problem for me. Puhhh, it got a huge thing. Of course I did not plan it this way. It just got more and more with all the enthusiasm I put into it. Slowly it has become a bit scary, it is so much now, and slowly (laughs) I have the feeling that it drives me in front of it, rather than vice versa. It is quite bad.
Colour-Ize: Do you also plan to resent the project live?
Ernst Horn: I do not think about this at the moment. Originally, I had the idea to think about this as only Sabine and I at the piano, like in advance. We thought about inquiring with the Zillo Festival and with Leipzig, but it did not work out, since scheduling with Sabine is very difficult at the moment; she is on tour in Belgium then and we dropped this idea.
Colour-Ize: Kind of a small acoustic tour?
Ernst Horn: More like 2 ore three short preliminary performances, only very small things just to introduce it a bit before the release. One must also remember that a few record dealers throw their hands up in horror when they think of Ernst Horn (laughs) : „Skies Over Bhagdad“ and „Johnny Bumm’s Wake“, so one has to see…..
Live performances are one thing that – if at all – are going to happen in the far future, because Lakaien will come first: there is also much work to do, if we want to release the album in winter …… We will also play concerts after this. And as I know now from the time with Kasmodiah, a lot of things will happen after the release with video and single release etc.
Colour-Ize: Is HELIUM VOLA a one-time project, or did you plan to continue this in the longer term, like perhaps releasing several albums with HELIUM VOLA?
Ernst Horn: Yes, sure. Of course I want us to continue with this story! Now that I am realizing how much fun this is for me. I have so much enthusiasm at the moment that I did not feel for a very long time. I am really completely absorbed in this.
Colour-Ize: Where did the lyrics of this project actually come from and according to which criteria did you choose them?
Ernst Horn: There is one exception, and that is the first piece, the upcoming single “Omnis Mundi Creatura”. Sigi gave it to me once and asked me, if this was an interesting text for Qntal ….. and rascal-me has now taken it for the single. Funnily there is a track by Qntal with the same text on a sampler. Thank God it turned out to be a completely different song.
I took the other texts – I mean, these are all texts accessible to the public – from books: You can by these things in a normal book store, e.g., “Lieder der Trobadoure” [“Songs of the Troubadours”] and „Frauenlieder des Mittelalters“ [“Songs of Women from the Middle Ages”] etc. I have a whole stack of books like this and at one point took the pain to search through this after good texts that could be set to music and filed this for me. I have such a folder …..
Colour-Ize: And then you can just according to demand……
Ernst Horn: I can live on that for a while, exactly.
Colour-Ize: Do you have a concept for the new album or are the songs created as individual pieces?
Ernst Horn: The texts not necessarily, no. The texts are not directly related to each other. The texts are from completely different times, countries, and also moods, but of course I want thread running through, for sure. The texts from Houellebecq are very good for this of course, these two poems.
First of all the poem: „Les habitants du soleil“ it is called, meaning „the inhabitants of the sun“: I am collecting material right now for this. I want some documentary things, but at the moment it is difficult to get some things. It is going to have a concept for the content for sure, contemporary speech documents on the one hand, and on the other hand some specific songs that are going to appear in different versions.
Colour-Ize: Can you describe in a general way, how long you need from an idea to the finished conversion of a song? How are you proceeding?
Ernst Horn: I marked most of the songs already, while collecting them, and I already developed first ideas. A few things were added later.
The next step is a first elaboration. I make sketches using the computer with only a very rough piano accompaniment, and adding the melody, and a few small ideas for the rhythm. And in this case the next step was to print out the scores and to really compose - for the singers and the instrumentalists. And then I did a rough arrangement of some songs where I thought it sensible for the singers to get the mood of the whole and not just these piano versions that always sound very dry in my case. Well, Alexander does not like this very much, either. That always sounds awful when I do it, such a lousy mini-drum kit and an electric piano ….. – Than it was time to do the recordings. When they were in the box, I started to do each piece, one after another, and work it out.
Colour-Ize: What about the instrumentation this time? So far, we have had the possibility to listen to two small excerpts only. Is the instrumentation similar to Qntal or is it more synthetic?
Ernst Horn: The mix is similar, I would say, because there is a harpist playing on some pieces, but not on all. A few pieces are purely electronic. Then there was somebody playing hurdy-gurdy, and a fiddle player, who also plays cornett and shawm …
Colour-Ize: This is a very broad spectrum, indeed!
Ernst Horn: Yesyes. I also invited scratcher once, a DJ.
Colour-Ize: Really? Even that?
Ernst Horn: Yes, I also did it a little bit by myself; I do own such technical stuff and practice every now and then a little bit (laughs). I do not yet know, if I will add an E-guitar player. That was my original plan, but I think that this does not serve the purpose so well.
Colour-Ize: Are the pieces still in the process of creation that you can still decide that?
Ernst Horn: Yes, sure. I have 11-12 pieces at the moment that is more than half. And the rest is of course prepared already. It will be finished at one point…
Colour-Ize: How long is your working day? Do you organize it just as you like, or do you follow a strict plan that you always keep?
Ernst Horn: No, I need a very strict organization due to the trivial fact that I am Daddy and I have a young daughter, whom I have to take to kindergarten. Then I have good time from the morning to the early afternoon for work. Then I pick her up and we are together at home. Then I go back to the studio and on the late afternoon my wife is at home and takes care of her. This is the way we organize ourselves. Yes, I go back and go on working until the evening, sometimes also until late at night. Depending on how turns out. It is rather disciplined and not really what you imagine the life of an artist to be like.
Colour-Ize: How do you come up with the ideas for your sounds or the songs? Does this just come out of nowhere? What inspires you?
Ernst Horn: I search around the things that I have. Before starting a production I usually have phases where I program sounds and where I make samples and this is then also a time, whre ideas for arrangements come up. Those I always note down directly. When I work on a song, I search around. Well, it is difficult to say…. Sometimes it works better sometimes worse. There are songs that work out incredibly fast and on other songs I tinker forever and it does not work out and does not work out, there is something wrong with it.
Colour-Ize: But at some point you say, “Now it is over. If this piece is absolutely does not work out, then it should just not be.”
Ernst Horn: Oh no, not really. I sink my teeth really deep into it. I have not given up a song since a very long time. Although you should really do that. If you have the impression that somehow this is not going to work out than you should let it be. But I sink my teeth into it, I have not given up a song since a very long time!
Colour-Ize: Is there something you do not enjoy at all during your working day, right now, during the production phase?
Ernst Horn: There are times where you have the feeling “now there has to be a decision in one direction or the other”. Sometimes, it can be incredibly tough to find the start, if you do not know exactly in which direction you want to arrange a piece. That can be uncomfortable.
Then there is sometimes the feeling, if I think I cannot cope with a part, then it is really going on forever. …. And on, and on, and on, and on…. And then it starts getting on my nerves. Like I just said: Sometimes, it works in one run, and then again it is a terrible struggle. I learned from the past that neither the one nor the other tells if the song is going to be good. Sometimes it is tough and works out bad, sometimes it is tough and works out well. Likewise with the thing that go quickly and I am incredibly fast happy with it; perhaps it is not as great in the end, or it did turn out just fine.
Colour-Ize: Does it sometimes surprise you that a song that you thought people would love is not received well, and that the audience praises another song highly that was not in your main focus?
Ernst Horn: Sure, that is normal. The feedback from outside is always surprising, definitely. Sure, that is normal. The feedback that comes from outside is always surprising, definitely. Partly maybe because people just do not understand it properly, and partly because one did not get the point oneself. If you are deep into it, you are just “blinded by routine”, that is very clear.
Colour-Ize: I can imagine that if you do something like Deine Lakaien for such a long time you develop kind of a sixth sense for what appeals to people and what does not.
Ernst Horn: Well……I would rather identify it with the feeling: “This is the single”. That is true. With Lakaien I had the feeling right from the start (for Kasmodiah) that Return might be the single. And Alexander had the same feeling. We played the entire production for several people and most of them guessed Return. The reactions toward the title Kasmodiah were also very interesting.
Colour-Ize: Ernst, we thank you very much for this nice conversation and wish you luck for the ongoing production of. We are very excited and wish you all the best.
Ernst Horn: Thanks and same to you. Go for it!!!
Dea und Jo did this interview on 22.5.2001.
(English translation by CM)