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In his essay ‘The Meaning of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music’, Henry Flynt talks about how his music should be analysed as an intellectual tribute to the music of the autochtone, setting aside plain folk references, but adopting academic insights to mold the music one makes as a folk creature. Much of Flynt’s discourse applies to the music of Glen Steenkiste’s Hellvete. Over the past twenty years he has been thoroughly investigating both the ethnic musical language of various regions as well as the contemporary pioneers that preceded him as a drone musician, internalizing concepts such as e.g. deep listening or just intonation. Casting off any redundant ideas or sounds, and stripping down the focus to develop singular concepts, his working method lead to pieces such as ‘Droomharmonium’, in which he shapes the endless variations on a theme, emphasizing detail and nuance rather than multitude. The Indian harmonium here serves as the main device to worship ancient ghosts and masters, and to preserve a continuum in a tradition that touches both folk and avant-garde culture. The materialisations are sustained tone compositions which become a means of appreciation of the people and cultures that paved the way for forms of mutual escapism. This might well be the core of what Hellvete’s music is about. As much as it is a form of self-entertainment – like folk music in the old days – it also invites the listener to a shared experience of sonic reverie, it is a casual gift to the community.
This is certainly true for the pieces presented on this album. They were first presented in a smoke filled and darkened art space in Ghent, Steenkiste surrounded by only a couple of candles and just enough stage light to see him erratically moving to the rhythm of the piece, occasionally twiddling the knobs of a Doepfer synth that processed the prerecorded harmonium tracks. Unlike most of his other performances this piece embraced the audience in a trance that was similar to that of an old-school rave club. Flynt writes: ‘The music should be intellectually fascinating because the listener can perceive and participate in its rhythmic and melodic intricacies, audacity of organization, etc. At the same time, the music should be kinesthetic, that is, it should encourage dancing.’ ‘Voor Harmonium’ does exactly that; it builds on the artistic ideas that have long been established in Hellvete’s oeuvre, but the ecstatic nature of these pieces merges the usual spiritual transcendence with one of determined physical bliss. It encourages both mind and body to step into the sound, to be enraptured, to celebrate.