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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Soul searching with Hiele

I am happy with how things are going

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Sylvie De Weze, Matthijs Diederiks (Hiele live photo)

2016 was a good year for Hiele. A live set with mainly older tracks was released on cassette (YYAA label), newer ones were gathered onto two LPs. In May, Ritmische Bezinning was released, securing Hiele a spot in our Black Gold end-of-the-year list, composed by record stores. And in December last, the 10-inch soundtrack for the Saints documentary was released as well.

Both of these records were released on Ekster, a label Hiele runs with founder Victor Robyn. “Victor has a very distinct and well-argumented taste in music”, says Hiele. “When paired, we make good sparring partners who see possibilities and conceive of artistic ideas.” Hiele scratched some nice venues off the bucket list this year. “Sonar (Barcelona), Tresor (Berlin), closer to home we played AB, Bozar and Vooruit, where we closed after pioneer Autechre. It means I am now working on my music full time. Not that I make enough to live off. But I am happy with how things are going.”

If you don’t work hard, you won’t get anything done

Hiele: “I go back and forth between London and Antwerp. I met fellow countryman Dieter Deswarte in London and we immediately started making plans to make a soundtrack for his film, which was almost ready at that moment.” Saints was filmed in Saint Helena, a tiny isolated island that was used to imprison the serial escaper Napoleon Bonaparte.

Hiele: “The only connection between the island and the outside world is a five-day boat trip. At least it was up until now, because the British government has started building an international airport there. Film director Deswarte has beautifully documented the whole building process from the viewpoint of the islanders. The documentary focuses on the beauty of these inhabitants on the one hand, and on the distressing situation of island life on the other. For instance, the airport is now finished, but cannot open because of the strong cross winds, meaning it will last another year before islanders are freed from their isolation. Rather depressing, really, but the story is a positive one. The nature footage was my starting point for the soundtrack. I wanted to make sounds that would melt into nature: rather minimal in composition, but also in the choice of sounds. I restricted myself to a handful of instruments which are at the centre of the score, namely a double bass and a clarinet, combined with sinus tones from a synthesizer. I used to study the double bass, so I was very glad to be able to play that instrument again for this project. The clarinet is played by Valgerður Sigurðardóttir and sounds very minimalistic as well, thanks to her legato melodies.”

The cover of the soundtrack features the same picture as the documentary, an image by Sylvie De Weze which shows Lorimar ‘the weather man’ Bennett, who flies his hydrogen-filled balloon every day at precisely 11.15.”

This is a candle. For some of you, the candle will keep on burning. For others, it will burn out.

Hiele: “The title for Ritmische Bezinning already existed in 2014. The word ‘bezinning’ (contemplation) is linked with an anecdote that dates back to my first day in high school. The dean walked onto the stage with a candle in his hands. He looked at all the young, new pupils. He then lit the candle and spoke the words: ‘This is a candle. For some of you, the candle will keep on burning. For others, it will burn out.’ I wondered what kind of universe I’d gotten myself into. There was so much contemplation at that school, every week during religious education, that I just had to do something with that word. Choosing a Dutch title was a conscious move, just like my name, Hiele. French and English speaking people turn it into the weirdest-sounding words. I find it utterly amusing. Dutch is a beautiful language. We have many sounds that other languages don’t have, or hardly.”

“The cartoon on the sleeve was drawn by Leon Sadler. I’m very fond of comics and this cartoon had been my desktop background image for years. For me, a cartoon can tickle the imagination a lot more than a picture. When you look at Leon working, he looks exactly like what he draws. It’s fantastic to work with someone like that. When I see footage of myself performing, talking to myself and jerking my head and feet in all directions, it’s like I actually become the music. Like Leon is his drawing, I am my music.”

In my teens, I would buy synthesizers instead of records. Looking back: lucky I did.

Hiele: “As a musician, I’m constantly looking for my own timbre and sound. In my teens, I would buy synthesizers instead of records. Looking back: lucky I did, because a few years later, more and more people started realizing the value of these old synths, making them way overpriced. But that doesn’t mean I only work with old synths now. That would be limiting. I am however always on the lookout for things I can use to create sounds. That has forced me to find creative ways of working instead of just working with Ableton right from the get-go.”

“When I was fourteen, I was researching synthesizers, synthesis, filtering etcetera as soon as I got back from school. I tutored myself. That’s how, many years later, I started making records, telling my own story through a specific sound. It’s why I’m a musician, a producer and a mixer. That way, I’m in full control of my sound.”

“When they’re almost done, I do ask other people to listen to my tracks. It confronts me with what I’ve made. I learn a lot from that. I put away my solitude and listen to my own music with new ears.”

I wake up to music, I go to sleep with music and in between, I make music.

Hiele: “During live shows, I start from the base of a song and build it from there. That way, I create something then and there, which makes it exciting for me. I find performing very intense. Everything depends on how I feel in the room I’m in. I don’t use a set list, so I can keep the freedom to improvise. For me, it’s about staying away from the comfort zone and daring to put myself in perilous situations. When I succeed, it gives me a real kick.”

“The audience does influence me, but I’m not there merely to please them. It gives me loads of energy when people start dancing like crazy. But if they don’t, I won’t suddenly adapt my set to have more beats. That would detract from my set and who I am as a musician.”

In 2015, Hiele was the only Belgian to join the Red Bull Music Academy. Hiele: “RBMA gave me the opportunity to pitch ideas with Mike ‘Mad’ Banks (techno producer from Detroit and fellow founder of the Underground Resistance label) for two weeks. With Louisa Putterman, a participant from Brazil, I started a sort of bossanova track during the last days of our stay. After her talk, we asked Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab if she’d sing the track. It was nice to work on something other than electronic music for a change. Such a great experience!”

Luisa Puterman & Roman Hiele - Ouro Enfim (with Lætitia Sadier)

Meanwhile, Hiele is already working on new projects. He’ll be releasing a collaborative record with Dolphins Into The Future this year, which promises to be a slightly weird concept album. Next to that, Hiele will provide some electronic sounds for The Mechanics, a jazz combo led by Eric Thielemans.

Roman Hiele Bandcamp
Ekster label Bandcamp