The following article was published in N-SPHERE June 2010 issue.


Welcome to the Spheres. After giving quite a few listenings to Hadewych’s eponymous album, a couple of questions started to surface. I’m going to commence with the very obvious ones: who is behind Hadewych and how did this project come into being?

In the first 3 years of Hadewych’s existence it was mainly me pulling the strings, assisted by some session musicians. After the release of the eponymous album, I started rehearsing with people I knew from the local neofolk/industrial/black metal scene – Dercksen, Scramasax and the enigmatic Didier. As the influence of rehearsals on new material has grown over time, I’d say, while I still write most of the music, a lot of Hadewych’s work is governed by and originates from this dynamic.

The name in itself seems to give some linguistic trouble to your listeners. Could you elaborate a bit on its origins and on the meaning that it holds for you?

Hadewych is an old Dutch female first name, related to the German “Hedwig”, most famously born by Hadewych of Antwerp, a medieval mystic. The band was however not named after her. There are speculations on what the word, or its two parts may mean or where it originated exactly. This for me is one of its merits; it supposes an epistemological shadow part that will remain unknown. It’s primarily inaccessible, obscured through the ages, though rooted in our culture. Uprooting it even a bit, after the soil falls off, a web of subtle connections becomes visible, like for instance the link to mysticism. Picking an English term that just sounds good wouldn’t have done the same for me.

Musically, the album covers a lot of territory: from neo–folk, industrial to black metal fragments, all absorbed by a ritual/ambient layer. Was it essential for Hadewych to blend in all those elements in order to form an integrated whole?

My intention was to create an organic album out of the diverse repertoire that was already there, whilst using a fixed set of instruments to unify the tracks. I tried to integrate stylistic influences – indeed ritual, black metal, shoegaze and neofolk to name a few – without actually allowing one of them to be most prominent. At the same time I was aiming for a more general essence or aesthetic to arise, which would be profoundly Hadewych’s.

The album presents itself as a nice case of dark red cloth with a wooden gatefold, wrapped in incense–dried leaves. Is it trying to re–create the atmosphere of the music?

As I do not know how people experience the music itself, it’s hard to say. But I hope there won’t be too much dissonance between what is heard and how it is presented. Personally I think the sleeve accompanies the music in a proper way. A lot of work was put into the music itself, so the sleeve deserved no less.

How was the idea embraced by the label that released it, Tuchtunie?

Being a local CD–r label at first, it was quite receptive to an initiative that would get it onto a new level. It’s all very DIY. And I had known the guys behind it for quite some time already so all of that provided the proper conditions.

Should packaging and artwork be seen as an extension of the sound or do they occupy independent spaces by functioning in different mediums?

As beautiful as I believe such a view to be, I think (at least in our case) the package couldn’t be the expression of the sound in a different medium. Although it is as elaborate as I would like the music itself to be, I hold it as a way of “expressing” that is most definitely bound to its purpose as a “CD case”. Thus it is severely limited in its form because of its dominant function, whereas the music it contains could do anything within its range as “sound”, which is merely bound to being audible. Maybe the sleeve is then like the sheath of a sword; secondary, decorated in its own way and with its own purpose. But it is meant to fit the sword nevertheless.

I liked a lot the idea of using dried leaves as part of the packaging. Do you think that this way, the listener is invited to engage with an infinite space (the album being a gateway) or is it rather the other way around – nature being interiorized and offered a secluded four–walls existence?

That’s a good question. It is an invitation to remind people of where it all comes from and where it will go to in eventually. There is no true “inner” or “outer” except for the conceptual demarcation our minds have drawn; everything’s already here.

What are your thoughts on the CD vs. vinyl/tape debate? You’ve done a nice job releasing Hadewych in a nonconventional CD format, should listeners expect something similar from your future albums?

I’m not keeping track of debates. For starters I think it’s even absurd we think it’s such a normal thing to ‘own’ music as predicates to embellish our blank identities with, let alone arguing about formats. 150 years ago it was just people performing and enjoying stuff they made. Except for sheet music as a medium there was no way to preserve anything audible. It’s weird in a way that it has become a cultural necessity to be able to access art and information at any time. But on the other hand it’s a good thing that it’s here. It has enhanced our lives as well.

Regarding media themselves then and our position there; I hope to be able to use deviant modes of presentation again, but as it is picked up by more people, it becomes difficult to do this on a larger scale. So we’d love to do limited stuff again, but I think and hope we won’t just keep it at that.

On a different level, the album could be seen as an ascension rite, both lyrically and thematically, in which “life mirrors eternity”. Where is music placed in that equation?

I think you’re right about that. But regarding the music this would be quite subjective. I’m not saying it’s not there; in a way I think music can mirror extra–musical things. And a lot of thought and theory has been used to draw up this album; looking upon it as being a collection of sounds and notes would leave out a mayor part of its embedment in culture and history. Still there’s a subjective reality that belongs to the music which I think should not fall prey to conceptualism.

Prior to flight, everything seems pitch black: bodies are catacombs, lying with their faces down (in “Prone”). Could you elaborate a bit on these elements and how they relate to Hadewych?

The lyrical themes of most songs share the element of describing transcendence of the corporeal attachment to existence. In some cases this concerns a smooth meaningful transition, but it can also originate from a violent form of disembodiment. This is a grim and severe experience, as it shocks the self into facing its own accidental existence as part of a meaningless whole. “Prone” covers both ways I think; there’s a darkness, a black confinement within the corporeal grid, but, once it is disconnected and neutralized for some reason, it allows one to let go of bodily restrictions.

“Prone” includes the phrase “this city is sinking and swallowed by the ocean”. Both flood and incineration, repeated throughout the album, could be linked to cleansing. Is self–purification mandatory in making music?

I believe it’s a virtue in live, so also in music. Everyone carries a load off cultural luggage; some decide to leave it for what it is and move on. For instance, part of my luggage would be the disapproval originating from a Calvinistic background that is still present in Dutch culture, to the extent that it acts as an internalized restraint on whatever you do. These constructions will eventually sink and without a notion of cleansing yourself of unfit elements and you will be pulled down too.

Starting from the Buddhist elements in Ava and continuing with Old Dutch biblical translations in later tracks, the album seems to comprise a vast array of influences. How do Christianity and Buddhism tie in thematically? Do you perceive them as antagonistic or with some points of convergence?

I believe they don’t. Both are too profoundly dogmatic for that. And that’s what religious systems are about I think, excluding all truth except for its own.

The Old Dutch mentioned is not used for the sake of Christianity as such. Although indeed first jotted down by monks, I used it both as a keepsake – one of the first manifestations of the Dutch language – and as an iconic universal, which again can be connected to this element of subjective cleansing; finding a way of transcending the darkness of the fear–ridden mind.

Moreover, I’d rather avoid any direct references to a religion that is so imbued with self–contempt and the depreciation of human capabilities like Christianity.

Is your geographical background important to you as an artist?

Well living in the Netherlands has its pros and cons like anything. Except for the dance and rock scene, the musical environment here seems rather meagre – especially the experimental genres. It sometimes feels like living a rural village from a cultural point of view. There are a lot of people involved in interesting stuff though, but there seems to be hardly any dynamic.

But of course there are few people who put a lot of effort in making these stray artists visible, like M of the infamous Enfant Terrible label and the guys at Roadburn for example.

From an artistic point of view I grew up near the forests of the Dutch Veluwe area, of which I see elements reflected in a lot of stuff I do. But nowadays I’m caught by a more general sort of awe; an admiration for the vastness of it all, which isn’t bound to any geographical location.

In Buddhist religious discourse, Avalokitesvara splits his body in eleven fragments/heads in order to grasp human suffering. Drawing a comparison to that: is something similar happening to Hadewych through the creative process? Do you believe that artistic fragmentation leads to more fruitful results?

I think the fruitfulness lies in being open to any influence that may trigger inspiration and to any forms this inspiration might yield. From this position on I do not believe in concepts of fragmentation of whatever enters in, just in layers or levels of application or usefulness. That’s what works best for me now. But during the writing of the first album I used a lot of different methods.

When recording “Ava” for the first time, I knew this was the right path, as that track seemed unconventional and completely pure at that point. But somehow it was also clear that I shouldn’t try to write more “Avas” in order to guarantee some kind of homogeneity. The track arose from a general openness, not from forcing any particular sound or style. Thus I think the creative process is an ongoing interaction between a technical/ theoretical focus on the musical substrate and the way inspiration and its result act upon the musician.

To some extent, we still deal with similar issues concerning fear of urbanization and technology as people did at the beginning of the 20th century. Do you believe we can still turn to nature in an attempt of rebuilding a lost identity or do those concepts not function nowadays?

With the current amount of people hanging about I think becomes quite difficult to switch to a, what at least some people consider to be, more “natural” way of living. Personally I don’t see us as being separate from nature at all; it’s just a bunch of mechanisms and frameworks we use to hide the fact that we’re actually natural beings. Not accepting this can lead to a romantic conviction of wanting to return to nature, or to a more holistic way of living. I think the solution there is being conscious about the things you do, the stuff you eat the way you treat your own biology. There is no barrier between nature other than the concepts within your own mind that separates you from it. Then recovering this lost identity wouldn’t be more than just flicking a switch.

Is the Hadewych atmosphere re–created in your live shows as well? What plans do you have in that area?

We’re currently rounding up rehearsals for a series of live shows. We will play tracks from this album and the forthcoming one, as well as different versions of older tracks. As for the atmosphere; I think that it is essentially there – some pieces will retain that typical ambience – though the rendering of other tracks will be more grotesque and harsh.

You seem to be involved in a lot of projects, including Red Velvet Corridor, Distel and Volksweerbaarheid. Are some left in the shadow or are you trying to dedicate yourself equally to all of them?

Well all of them have different agendas, that’s for sure. Distel for one thing has been taking up a lot of time lately, due to live shows and a new album. I had some plan for reviving RVC about two years ago, as there’s been new material on the shelf for some time now, but at this moment all effort is put into the other three bands. And then there’s also the work I do under my own name…

Are you trying to branch out and use different artistic mediums as well or is music your main focus?

Well, I like to write from time to time. Both long and short rants on philosophy and aesthetics – as this should be my main occupation – and some poetry. I’m also involved in some short film– and performance–related stuff, but again, that’s on the musical spectrum…

What should we expect from the next release?

First the new 2LP compilation on Enfant Terrible will feature an exclusive new Hadewych track. And we’re currently recording a new album and some additional material as well, which will be more “direct” in its aesthetic approach. And I had also planned on working together on releases with both Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words from Sweden and my fellow countryman Machinist.

questions by Diana Daia

answers by peter Johan Nijland

Full article here.