Part 2

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

Well I think the thing that interests me most about technology is the ability it grants us to record things and produce photographs, films and audio recordings. For this reason, I’m particularly fascinated by the nineteenth century and the early histories of these kind of technologies.

Of course machines are much better at recording stuff than we are (though they are not completely perfect), and this gap between the ability of people and machines to remember things is full of potential for an artist who thinks the way that I do. There is a short story by Borges called Funes the Memorious about a boy who falls off a horse and subsequently remembers everything like a recording machine which I find quite inspiring. So, in fact I use a lot of technology: cameras, audio recording devices, computers and tools to process sound — it is absolutely essential to what I do.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists performing your work?

I haven’t participated in so much collaborative work, I think as a whole it doesn’t really suit me as an artist, I prefer doing everything myself and being completely in control of the creative process. ‘Doing everything’ these days also includes, for better or for worse, writing texts for pieces and making films. I’m enjoying this diversification of creative tasks quite a lot and I wish that I’d started doing it earlier.

That said, last year I had two ‘blind date’ collaborations, one with the animation maker Susie Jirkuff, and the other with Begüm Erciyas and Rob Ochschorn. Both projects worked very well and there were no tears, in the first case because we worked in sequence and were very open to what the other had done (Susi made the film and then I made the sound to her film), and in the second because we were of one mind from the get go about what we would make together. But the kind of collaborations where everyone sits around in a circle for hours trying to come up with something are excruciating. Of course, I mostly write music for electronics and instruments and must also collaborate with the people who perform it, but in a different way. The works are generally not written specifically with anyone’s musicianship in mind (though they might have been written for a particular person) and they do no give much leeway in terms of performance — everything is strictly notated and click tracks are used. Despite this strictness though, I am constantly surprised by how different players come up with tiny and effective nuances that make the piece better.

How is writing the music and having it performed live connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?

I don’t really deal with improvisation or open performance situations. I do, however, have a lot of time for these kinds of practices and someday I would love to make a real experimental score. I just have to come up with a good idea for one that would satisfy my musical interests and aesthetics while remaining open! As I mentioned above, there isn’t so much room for manoeuvre in my works, the liveness of it is expressed in small ways — the acoustic of the space, tiny differences in performance. Hearing things live for the first time can be a shocking experience sometimes, especially when you’re confronted with your own compositional misjudgements (and I’ve made a few…).

I know I should be happy and honoured to hear my music played live in a concert, but to be honest I don’t usually enjoy the experience very much and I end up listening to the work very critically. I also hate going on stage to take a bow, though maybe that’s more to do with my dislike of dusty old concert protocol.

Time is a variable only seldom discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?

Music is a time-based medium of course, but then again everything is time-based! I’m very interested in time and the way it relates to experience and memory. It is constantly slipping through our fingers, future turning into present then past. In a more concrete way I’m fascinated by the idea of an era, or a specific moment (an intersection between time and place) and how these things can have a particular feeling or colour to them, something that is both unrepeatable and difficult to describe.  I want to work with these things in an artistic context, but I find it hard.

Arguably working with field recordings is a way of recreating or referring back to a specific time and place. The idea of era is even more difficult to deal with. Recently I’ve been rewatching Friends (!) and apart from being comfort TV, it makes me think about the 90s and how the world felt then, that it was different somehow but not in a way that’s easy to describe. It’s about nostalgia to a certain extent, and the essence of intangibility that accompanies — our failure to conjure up the past.

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

I don’t really think in these terms to be honest, they are part and parcel of the same thing. A lot of my works begin as field recordings of already very complex sounds. My job as a composer is to find music in these sounds and draw it out by means of highlighting aspects of the recording through doubling certain material (normally material with a clear pitch or harmonic content) on acoustic instruments.

Composition itself is the act of choosing and shaping recordings, searching for a dramaturgy within these recordings and finding way for the live ensemble to connect to the tape part. In terms of instrumental timbre I mostly stay away from extended techniques, preferring the mix of a relatively pure instrumental sound with the noisy complex environment of the field recording.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?

I work a lot audio-visually, so this is quite an important question for me as an artist. Actually seeing and hearing are very different from each other, but we associate them because they are the primary means by which most of us navigate and understand the world. One thing they do have in common (and now I’m getting a bit scientific) is the vastness of the range of intensities that each can perceive. I’m always interested in things that remind us of the acuity of our ears and eyes — very quiet and/or dark pieces! Other than that, for me the most fascinating aspect of seeing and hearing is their interaction in our minds. Synchronizing image and sound is a very powerful artistic tool (read Michel Chion on this subject) as is more generally, the way in which what we hear can colour what we see, and vice-versa. I think there is an enormous potential for creativity to be found in these phenomena.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

I don’t see it as my role to engage with the political. My work looks at the world and reflects it, but it takes some distance. It proposes some alternative ways of seeing and hearing the world, seeks to give a spectator the impulse and freedom to reframe their own perception and memory. A lot of the art that interests me is like this, and to be honest I have only ever seen a handful of overtly political works that I thought were successful.

That said I am very interested in politics, and read about it constantly. At university, I became a member of a very leftwing organization, and I think it was there that I realised that I am not really a ‘joiner’ and find it impossible to tow any kind of party line. I soon left. I find it difficult to engage with politics these days in any other capacity than as an observer, not least because it’s become so polarised and ideological (on both the right and in some sections of the left). I believe in nuance, ambiguity and personal freedom — these things are in many ways (whatever people might claim) rather antithetical to political activism.

It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?

I think for me here, the most vital things to consider in terms of music’s future is the way in which it is presented and by which means. I work in a field of music that is in a way quite narrow — probably far too narrow, after all we often have problems getting audiences, and most people in the world have absolutely no idea that we exist. Contemporary (classical) music really needs to broaden what is presented in its festivals and on its stages to include multimedia, experimentalism, jazz, pure electronic music and maybe even certain kinds of out-there pop. It’s not a question of selling out or becoming accessible per se, it’s about joining together with other non-commercial musical genres so that we can all survive. In contemporary music we rely quite heavily on subsidy, especially here in Europe where state funding is relatively generous. Things might change in the years to come, given the changing political landscape of our times (perhaps there are more serious things to worry about than arts subsidy).

In any case, how are we going to survive if that state funding is cut? It’s not like we’ll make the money on the door! Dutch new music already went through this some years ago, I think the budget was cut by 60% or so, many important new music ensembles perished. If we really love what we do, we’ll probably have to be quite resourceful in order to keep going in future decades. I guess I am interested in politics after all (see previous question), but specifically the politics of cultural institutions and subsidy.

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