Witch ‘n’ Monk (formerly Bitch ‘n’ Monk) is the twinning of nonconformist Colombian flautist Mauricio Velasierra and anarchic soprano and guitarist Heidi Heidelberg. The driving force of the duo is a shared commitment to depict the multiverse, through an un-compromised, new musical language of composition and improvisation that travels fluidly between forms.
This multiverse is constructed with a collection of Latin American flutes radically manipulated with effects and extended techniques, anarchic soprano vocals that move seamlessly and suddenly between characters and timbres, analogue electronics and a jazz-punk guitar/bass hybrid. Each limb is called upon to create the sound of multiple dimensions being inhabited simultaneously, using a myriad of control pedals and labyrinthine signal paths to orchestrate live.
The essence of their collaboration is encapsulated in the name; dark and light, feminine and masculine, punk and Romantic, free-form and intricately composed. Exploring extremes and creating contrast are fundamental to their work and thus they tread upon the edges of genres. Celebrated in the jazz, contemporary classical and DIY underground music scenes they have played across the UK and Europe, at prestigious venues and festivals such as Berlin, London, Manchester and Umea Jazz Festivals, Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, London’s Royal Festival Hall and Paris’ La Cigale, but also they produce avant-garde live film scores performed at communist Italian skateparks or among the thorn bushes in overgrown East London gardens.
Their compositions are shaped by often sleep-deprived improvisations which they record and use as the central musical layer that are exaggerated at points, or cut up, sampled and completely reinvented. Blocks of percussive flutes might emerge, Stravinskian melodies or bilingual voice riddles and experiments. The live performance, as a consequence, is theatrical and physical, injected with the dedication to a new musical world being born in every section.
1. Witch ’n’ Monk is a symbiosis of 2
2. Remember: You didn’t invent yourself
3. And…Mushrooms are cleverer than you
1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
We like that you said ‘what’. It’s got to be our natural instinct to create something we have never heard before. And we are also drawn to those who have done the same throughout history (animals and fungi included).
2. How and when did you get into making music?
We have both played music since our early childhood. We have some eery parallels with how we both begun (largely our obstinately autodidactic path), and Witch ’n’ Monk itself started as a series of coincidences, first at a festival in the English countryside, later becoming more serious in someone’s shed in Paris. We met minds instantly, probably recognising an intensity in each other that we hadn’t found elsewhere. Everything was catalysed by a listening session of John Coltrane’s ‘Om’.
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?
‘Moorish Music From Mauritania’ Dimi Mint Abba & Khalifa Ould Eide
‘A Love Supreme’ John Coltrane
‘Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares’ – Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir
‘Calle Real’ – Camarón de la Isla & Paco de Lucia feat. Tomatito
‘Stravinsky conducts: Le Sacre du Printemps’ – I. Stravinsky, Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Oh hang on! What’s that in your secret stash??? Oh that’s just:
‘Respect M.E.’ – Missy Elliott
‘Shumba’ – Thomas Mapfumo
‘La Nueva Canción Chilena’ – Inti-Illimani
‘Black Science’ – Steve Coleman
4. What do you associate with Berlin?
FREEDOM! To just be…in your essence. Great bread. Cute little birds. Nutters cycling with sound systems and many LEDs. Tischtennis. Inimitable cool.
5. What’s your favourite place in your town?
In our Kiez…the favourite spot has got to be the Tischtennis Platten at the Wasserturm. It’s a meeting place, a beer garden, a bird/squirrel-watching vantage, an impromptu listening party, a sports arena and a place to admire dogs.
6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?
Try and chat to animals.
7. What was the last record/music you bought?
‘Wa’ by the utterly incredible duo of Kamilya Jubran & Werner Hasler
8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
The ‘musician wren’/Uirapuru. She generally hangs out in the Amazon. Look it up.
9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?
As performers, at ’Ausland’ in Berlin
As spectators, Amjad Ali Khan (and family) at WOMAD Festival, just after hearing Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat at a different stage. Pretty wild. It was grey and drizzly when they entered the stage and a few minutes in the sun suddenly broke through the clouds while their voices rose up in sacred unison. Someone took a photo of us looking cross-eyed. It was a real moment.
10. How important is technology to your creative process?
Although our music is derived from the acoustic sound as a source, we have increasingly and stealthily adopted a fair amount of technology to achieve our orchestral dreams. Also, we do a lot of self-recording as often the best ideas emerge in moments of abandon. Our latest album was build on top of free improvisations and then a lot of uninhibited overdubbing. Logic Pro X is king.
11. Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career/art?
We both have 1 sister each. Heidi’s sister has formed some deep connections to some of our older songs and was very enthusiastic about the latest album. Our life is a bit of an enigma to our families sometimes. No-one quite understands why or how we spend so much time together. Some day it’ll make sense.
Photo © Annemarie Sterian