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After Deine Lakaien became one of the most impressive and sought-after live acts in the German indiescene last year, singer Alexander Veljanow and musical director Ernst Horn devoted themselves to other projects. While Alexander lent his voice to the Berlin formation Run Run Run Vanguard, who has little in common with the Deine-Lakaien sound images, Ernst Horn’s eagerly awaited Qntal project is already more like Deine Lakaien. In addition to the singer Sigrid Hausen, who had previously gained experience with medieval singing with the Ensemble Estampie, Michael Popp, who supported Deine Lakaien with medieval instruments in their live gigs, also belongs to the band, which has set itself the ambitious task of presenting medieval texts in a symbiosis of also medieval musical harmonies and modern electronic means of expression.
Ernst and Michael came together after a theatre production in Munich in which Michael played medieval music and had not yet worked as a live musician for Deine Lakaien. After the concept of combining Ernst Horn’s electronic music with Michael’s medieval music was roughly sketched out, Sigrid, who also dreamt the band name, joined as a specialist for medieval singing.
Musically, the Qntal debut often seems like a conscious formulation of opposites, while the medieval lyrics have very contemporary references in many respects.
“Of course there are strong parallels between the Middle Ages and the present day, but there are also huge differences,” says Ernst. “Barbara Tuchmann put it correctly for me with the term’the distant mirror’. This proximity and distance at the same time between the two epochs, that’s what I find so exciting.”
The constantly shifting border between medieval nostalgia and current validity is certainly also based on the selected theme of the songs, which from a woman’s point of view reflect the eternally human contemplation about love, passion and death. Nevertheless, Michael warns against drawing superficial parallels between then and now.
“People in the Middle Ages had a completely different intellectual and cultural background, so different that it is hardly understandable today. Nevertheless, when you read medieval lyrics, there is suddenly such a feeling of topicality, and everything becomes understandable. That’s probably what makes’big issues’ like love, death and passion so special. They remain the same at the core throughout the epochs. But you deal with it in different ways over and over again.”
A comparison, which is almost obvious, seems to be addressed in the close connection between the arbitrariness of death, both in the Middle Ages due to the plague, and in the present time due to AIDS. And with the final song “Black Death”, which lasts more than ten minutes, the black plague deliberately alludes to AIDS, apart from the fact that the song is dedicated to the New York disco “Jackie 60”, which presented a sensational performance on the subject of AIDS at the “Atonale”-Festival in Munich in 1992.
Michael, warning against superficial comparisons, also emphasizes that dangers to life and limb were much more tangible for medieval man.
“Life expectancy was 35 years at the most. This means that people were much more involved in everyday life at that time in unexpected death. Many have felt their own lives to be worthless or a burdensome burden and have longed for death. This has also been expressed in art.”
If one realizes the differentiated concept, “Qntal” reveals itself as a complex, well thought-out work, in which Sigrid with her fascinating vocals virtually represents the medieval constant, but the musical framework sometimes adapts to it with adequate means, striving for harmony (“Un vers de dreyt nien”, “Sanctus”), partially connects with him in an electronic-acoustic manner (“Por mau tens”, “Floris e Blauchaflor”) or contrasts him strongly with ostensibly dance-oriented rhythms ( in the first part of “Black Death”, “Ad mortem festinamus”).
Although the musical future of Qntal seems uncertain, I hope that the unusual and multi-layered expression that has proven so innovative in this project may extend to other productions.