We speak to Hanyo van Oosterom about his creative and spiritual philosophy, and the oneiric journey that resulted in Travel in Peace, his latest (and final) album as The CHI Factory. Plus, enjoy a free download of an exclusive, previously unreleased track: ‘New Garden’.
By Oscar Allan
Phosphorescent orbs embrace me, seeping into the gossamer fabric of spacetime. I try to breathe, but it’s the raw, vaporous essence of nature that fills my lungs. The immutable process of life transforming into new life becomes self-evident, as my mind drifts into infinite arabesques and dances to a halt on the edge of existence...
Sorry - a conversation with Hanyo van Oosterom can take you to some funny places.
Jacobus and Hanyo (©Hanyo van Oosterom)
As Hanyo sees it, life is an inexplicable, all-consuming succession of potentially magical moments, and the goal of the musician is to capture the best ones: “People expect there to be a lot of deep spiritual thinking behind music, a concept or something, but there isn’t. It’s like the wind blowing, or the sun rising and setting. You get sick, you get better, you fall in love, you break up - that’s life, and that’s how music comes; naturally.”
Sounds easy right? But a simple process doesn’t always mean simple results - see Fibonacci, Jackson Pollock, Philip Glass - and one could never accuse Hanyo’s music of lacking complexity. He formed the ambient improv collective CHI sometime around the start of the 80s with his close friend Jacobus (‘Koos’) Derwort and a couple other freaky ex-punks. Hunkered down in a rural Dutch farmhouse with guitars, synths, homemade flutes, repurposed percussion, tape decks, organs, shells, and various other bits of mellifluous flotsam, they spent days at a time looping and teasing sounds out of their rag tag orchestra, waiting for the elements to align and the right notes to arise.
The resultant cassette was a potent Kosmische concoction of synthesised tingles, tribal rumblings and murmured intimations; a soundtrack for the summoning of some infinitely wise and far out hippie-demon. The tracks melt and are rebuilt before your ears, urged onward by blunted drum circles that lurk beneath the modular haze, echoing in reverence of the here-and-now. “Improvisation, being in the moment, is everything,” Hanyo says, recalling the sessions. “After something happens you can try and explain it, but it’s never the reason why it happened.” Suppose I’d better stop prattling on then.
Hanyo and Deepchord performing live at Astral Industries at The Pickle Factory in 2019 (© Sova Audio)
After the CHI tape was reissued on vinyl by Astral Industries in 2016, Hanyo and Koos revived the project, releasing remixes of old recordings and performing live as The CHI Factory. However Koos fell ill and sadly passed away at the start of last year. Hanyo visited him during his final weeks, when Koos “was mostly too sick to even leave his own bed. But one day the sun was shining and I put a table and some flutes outside of his house. I told him to come play and I recorded it on my phone. He knew after what was happening and he smiled at me. ‘It was no good,‘ he said, ‘but I know you, you are a wizard.’”
Armed with his recordings of Koos, and determined to give his friend a fitting send off, Hanyo began work on a new album. But without Koos’ input the sounds wouldn’t come easily. “I’m in my studio and of course I was missing my man,” Hanyo tells me. “I find myself saying ‘Man, where are you? Usually I know where you are and now I’ve no clue. What’s up? Are you OK?’ Then I go to bed and I have this dream where I see him, and he just shows me growing vines reaching out to find each other, connecting everything. And then he says this line to me: ‘Everything is intuitive vegetable intelligence.’”
Now plant neurobiology is a pretty complex field, and I’m not about to wade into the fierce vegetable consciousness debate here (much as I’d love to). The dream is more important for its demonstration of Hanyo’s sincere spirituality, the profound connection he feels not just to Koos, but to all living things. And though I’m wary of Hanyo’s warning about looking too deeply for ‘a concept,’ I suspect it’s this trait that suffuses Travel in Peace - the album that lays this iteration of the CHI entity to rest - with the same eyelid-drooping, trance-inducing flavours as were found on that very first cassette.
Hanyo and Jacobus celebrating the release of The Bamboo recordings, Patmos 2016 (©Hanyo van Oosterom)
Travel in Peace sounds like an acid flashback being played at half-speed. The guitars, synths and distant mantras cut straight to the pineal, as does the percussion; sometimes cavernous, sometimes intimate, always hinting at a higher purpose. The faint recordings of Koos are used on ‘Santa Fe’ and ‘Last Breath’, but his contributions are there to be felt as much as heard. There are passages of acoustic, almost freak folk-like tenderness, and others where distant clanking and unsettling piano lines cloud the atmosphere with sinister uncertainty. This breadth of emotion is key to Hanyo’s creative philosophy, as he explains, “I try to include everything. I don’t judge the elements or select certain ones, I want the full spectrum, light and darkness. That’s the idea of making music: to create harmony from something.”
Such is his approach to life too: “In yourself, also, you will find darker emotions. We usually hide them but it’s better to study them, embrace them, accept them, love them. Then you create balance.” Hanyo’s holistic outlook is infectious. His happy acceptance, even appreciation, of the universe’s capricious nature feels reassuring and timely. “People like to try and do something special with their life, to do something great, but it doesn’t have to be great or special - it’s life, it’s natural, and you can enjoy it.”
Tell you what, it's a whole lot easier to enjoy it when the music sounds good.
Listen and download the previously unreleased track New Garden by Hanyo on our Soundcloud.