Helium Vola
Orkus Interview 11/2001

The Middle Ages in the heart of an electronics musician

It is not enough to see in the Munich musician and composer Ernst Horn just the multi-instrumental electronic wizard of Deine Lakaien. A closer look behind the façade of the great cult band reveals a very unique musical handwriting that has already produced a terrific project like Qntal and excellent concept albums like The Skies Over Baghdad or Johnny Bumm’s Wake. In addition to the purely electronic experiment, Ernst Horn seems especially interested in the connection between medieval and electronic music, because after leaving Qntal he is now presenting Helium Vola, a new project exactly in this field of tension.

Orkus: The concept album Johnny Bumm’s Wake was your last solo-project to be, and that was three years ago. In the meantime, have you been occupied only with Deine Lakaien?

Ernst Horn: Yes, Deine Lakaien resulted in a rather excessive amount of work lately. Two singles, remixes, extras, cover versions, promotion tours, and video shooting – in the end I had been busy with Kasmodiah for one and a half years. I could start with my own material only after the second Deine Lakaien-Tour for Kasmodiah – end of 1999. Then, I prepared it during one year: Deine Lakaien, Helium Vola und a third project that will be released next year if everything works well.

O: That sounds like you have been in constant stress?

EH: The project slowly started to get out of hands. It grew larger and larger and almost became a curse that followed me constantly. We completed so much material at this stage that I originally wanted to release a double CD. This, of course, was connected with an insane amount of work, because notes had to be written for everything and guest musicians had to be engaged and to be coordinated. To top it all, private problems added to all of this. Around Pentecost finally, everything was too much for me and I stopped working on the album with a heavy heart. In retrospect, I even think that this decision and the consequent abandonment of the second CD in the end had a positive effect on the album. It is more consistent and balanced, and besides I still have enough material to release another record next year, which, of course will be supplemented with new pieces.

O: Form which idea did Helium Vola develop at the beginning? Given the samples from the Kursk disaster, one would almost assume a strict conceptual approach.

EH: As always, my approach was to collect poems that I thought could be used to make songs out of them. Of course all of them are of medieval origin except one poem by Michel Houllebecq. I have a very strong inner relationship to this poetry, but also to medieval music itself. It is just something chemical, because I did not really grow up with it. I grew up with classical, with romantic music, mainly with piano music. That was my world as a child and as a teenager, and when I heard these medieval things for the first time, it almost knocked me off. This way of singing, this very natural, simple kind of music that has something shy about it.

For me, all longings culminated in this music. I cannot describe it any other way than that this music attracted me magically. Of course, one must not forget that when one reads poems about such an old world, hears music or even writes it, it is not an authentic picture of that time. One has to live with the fact that it is an idealized picture, because even the Middle Ages were anything but a perfect world. You are looking for something in this world for yourself and I just felt the need to connect and deepen this world, these songs, this tender poetry with something elseA may dance like Selig gets more depth for me, when I describe in a “Kursk-sample” before, how in reality the youth vegetates in misery and is shamelessly exploited.

O: Are you comparing these two ages, or do you rather put them in contrast?

EH: It is a contrasting and by no means a comparison. The old time was no more beautiful than our present, I see it more as a counterworld to the present time. I am concerned with the inner world that is expressed through these poems. It is the world that we have largely lost and that we will lose completely.

O: So you summon up the innocence of the Middle Ages in the face of all the horror on Earth today?

EH: That is right, but I would not call it summoning, but deepening, and looking at it with a certain melancholy. An unfulfilled yearning, you could call it.

O: This means that Helium Vola does not have a coherent concept, but each song simply deals with a poem?

EH: Yes, absolutely, and about all the facets that exist: the troubadour poetry, so the love poems, the more clerical, Latin texts and in the unpublished pieces, there are also allusions to current affairs at that time.

O: Some songs you have left very authentic, while in others you are “tormenting” and distorting the medieval original by electronic means.

EH: There are minne songs, like Je chante par couverture, which I just did not want to attack, because martial sounds like industrial samples do not suit the mood. On the other hand, there are two spells in poem form, which are in their statement really violent. Of course, this also requires different musical means.

O: So it is sort of an exploration of the possibilities. What is possible with this poetry, with these feelings…

EH: Exactly, and my associations with it. It is basically a completely free work.

O: Where does the name Helium Vola come from? An expression of lightness?

EH: Yes, that is also the intention, but not in the sense that the music is light, but that it is a noble gas that rises into the air. Since the name Helium was already occupied by another band, I have made a construct with similar meaning together with the Italian word “Vola” (“Fly”). I do not want to be solemn now, but I once wrote a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci that reads: „ Tie your cart to a star.“ For me, that was a symbol of artistic idealism, which I always naively represent. One could say that I retrieved my idealism in this project, after my artistic life had narrowed down in recent years. It was just a nice feeling.

O: How did you come to work with Sabine Lutzenberger and the other musicians?

EH: After my departure from Qntal a year and a half ago, of course, I faced a vacuum. I started looking for suitable singers again. Most of all, I wanted to have some kind of lead vocalist to sing most of my pieces. For searching, I just started to get a pile of records with medieval music in order to figure out by listening whether “my” singer was there. When I heard Sabine for the first time, I immediately knew that she was the one. I got to know the other singers through my musical acquaintance, the musicians through an artists agency.

O: Did Sabine and you become something like a band?

EH: No, actually Helium Vola is still my solo project, but since Sabine has contributed so much to the music as a soloist, it was clear that she for example appears with me on the press photos. She is definitely the face of the project.

O: Do you actually see Helium Vola as the successor to Qntal?

EH: There is an official and a private side. Officially, I have agreed with the publisher and the record label that for advertising purposes Qntal is not mentioned because Qntal has become an independent project. I have told Sigrid Hausen and Michael Popp that although I am going to quit, I do not want to do any harm to the project in its further development. That is why I really do not want to make a direct connection between Helium Vola and Qntal. Personally, this is different for me of course. After all, it is the same combination of medieval poetry and music with modern electronics, and in that sense Helium Vola is definitely the successor.

Alexander Maciol

Translation from German by Carola Meyer