Name: Orphax aka Sietse van Erve
Occupation: Composer, sound artist, curator, label founder
Current events and releases: As Orphax, Sietse van Erve has built up a sizable and increasingly impressive discography mostly centered around detailed studies of long, swelling tones. On 2003's As the stone falls it won't come up again, an early recording which has aged extremely well and is still available as a free download, he still combined these with skeletal beats and ghostly percussion. Since then, however, the inner pulsations of his sounds has shifted to the foreground, rhythms fading into the distance, leaving space and mood as fields of exploration. Refinement of these aspects has become the main focus on his most recent releases, which include the undeniable highlights Piano Music (a deeply moving 7inch) and En De Stilstaande Tijd. The title, which – roughly - translates to … and time was standing still is descriptive here, pointing to what's inside: Two eighteen-minute dreams glistening in the pastoral light of bell-like overtones, which gradually melt into a mesmerising organ beam. Fans of Eliane Radigue (one of van Erve's favourites) are sure to fall in love with this music.
Recommendations: I am not someone good a limiting myself to giving recommendations in music, or anything in general so you put me on the spot here … But if you haven’t heard any music by Eliane Radigue get busy!!!
And my second recommendation is to just step out of the comfort zone of what you already know. There is so much lovely music and art to discover.
If you enjoyed this interview with Orphax, visit his website, bandcamp store, Soundcloud page or Facebook account. And of course, we warmly recommend you check out Sietse's label Moving Furniture, whose catalogue ranges from drones and experimental sound art to contemporary composition and improvisation – a selection just as eclectic as that of its founder.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I first started to play around with music software in the mid-nineties. But that wasn’t too serious. I thought it was fun to play with the sounds I could loop in trackers and how you could also import non-audio files - the software would try to make something sensible from this, which turned out to digital noise. But it was all just toying around.
Only around ‘97 to ‘98 my attempts became more serious, with software emulations of 303s and tools that really edit and sequence sounds. The music shifted from rather horrible gabba-like stuff to first attempts at acid techno (which was still not that good) to more ambient techno and “IDM” like sounds. This was the music I was actually listening to, aside from indie rock bands, hardcore punk and industrial.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In the beginning, when things got a bit more serious I tried to make ambient techno and IDM, but I lost interest in making (and listening to) rhythms, around 2001 or 2002. Around the same period I started to discover drone music more and more and my love for Eliane Radigue and Phill Niblock started. Over the years this interest in minimalist drone music grew and as such my music also developed in this direction.
Some first signs could already be heard in my first CD-R release “In A Long Night” which I self-released in 2004, and maybe even more on my album “De tragedie van een liedjesschrijver zonder woorden”.
But in 2015 it really became apparent that for me the sense of time and how you can manipulate this is really important. This resulted in works like “The Empty Room” (out on Broken20 in 2016) and for example “2.20” (out on Moving Furniture Records in 2017).
Nowadays I try to conceive this influence on the perception of time by combining both minimalist drones with a warm (sometimes melancholic) sound, like you can hear on my album “En de stilstaande tijd” (out on Moving Furniture Records in 2020).
Though, claiming that all of what I am doing is original...I don’t know about that. I just stay close to what I enjoy doing and listening to myself. That, to me, is the most important thing.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think this is very important. As a musician I want to stay true to myself. People who know me well will totally understand why minimalism means much more to me than bombastic music, and how this is related to my personality and identity. I really don’t cope well with very rich, hectic music. Things like arpeggios and constantly changing time signatures, and other bombastic musical features often (with a few exceptions) make me super nervous. While on the other hand minimalist music, but also rather abstract music or some good old noise rock enrich me. I can much more relate to it.
This, by the way, doesn't only apply to music, but for example also to art or cinema. Or just daily things in life.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Already in an early stage of creating music I bought my first synthesizer, which I bought from the money I got for selling my drum kit which I couldn’t use in my student house anymore. This was a Roland JP-8000. I used it quite a lot to create samples from in my earliest recordings. I still have this synth, and actually still use it once in a while. On my release “A Summers End” (out on Low-Point in 2018) it was even the only instrument I used, running it through effects and doing some edits in software.
But for a long time software has been my main tool. I worked for years with AudioMulch (a virtual modular software synth), but in late Summer 2018 actually bought a new synthesizer, the ARP Odyssey. This had a major influence on the development of my music. My working ethos become much more organic. In the begin I still combined this with AudioMulch wich resulted in my release “Live Circles” (out on Moving Furniture Records in 2019).
But now after some heavy software crashes I have switched to the use of even more hardware synths and effects to avoid this (in live settings). The next step, which I am working on now, is to record these synths and compose new music with these recordings using software tools. And I hope that when AudioMulch comes with a new update I can return to using this, but in combination with all these hardware synthesizers. One for sure shouldn’t rule out the other.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My daily life actually revolves around working a regular day job. After I graduated from a study of geology I ended up always have a day job in various companies (never in geology though). Currently I am working at a social housing company. It really helps me to have this day job, because I need a rather structured life. If I don’t have that I am actually less creative and productive. And it is nice to have this rather hard contrast with daily work and making music.
When I come home from work I leave everything behind and I can focus on my music. Sometimes it is a lot - working 4 days a week and also running a record label, making music and also having time for my partner means I have to divide time well. But it keeps me happy this way.
If one were to fall away, it would for sure have a bad impact on me.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I find this hard to say, because I don’t really have the feeling I ever had a real breakthrough moment. I am really proud and happy about what I have been doing the past 20 something years, but what is a breakthrough moment? Maybe it still has to come.
But at least I am really positive and happy about what I have done so far and the lovely reactions from the people who have found a way to my music. A nice personal message from how someone experienced a live performance, or someone who is happy to have heard one of my compositions and messages me about this means a lot to me. I guess these small things are the motivations that keep me going in general. But there isn’t one very specific thing.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I don’t have those strategies or anything. I let it come very naturally, and if it doesn’t that’s also okay. This way the music stays pure and close to who I am as a person. I don’t want to force it.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
For everyone this is of course very personal. What sounds healing to some can sound hurtful to others. As example a good friend of mine, also a musician, really finds my albums “Live Circles” and “En De Stilstaande Tijd” (out Moving Furniture Records in 2020), super harsh. They make him dizzy and go crazy (that while he is really into experimental electronic music). For me, on the other hand, these have some kind of meditative (with lack for a better word) atmosphere. Funny, though, is he loves my release “Embraced Imperfections” which I recorded for a live streaming event last year, and released on my bandcamp as download only.
While I am not sure if music can be truly healing, I do know it can bring comfort and peace of mind. And I think for some people it would be pretty good to open up their minds for new sounds. I think drone and (experimental) ambient music can really have a positive influence on most people, as long as they just open up for it. Take for example the Deep Listening works by Pauline Oliveros et all.
[Read our Pauline Oliveros interview]
Drones are so deep and rich in sound. This music touches you on a deep emotional and personal level, if you let it.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I am not really a big fan of limiting people on what they can do or not do. But if you do something at least pay some respect to the people you are copying from.
Other than that, we are all living on the same planet and we have to do it together here. I think we can all learn from different cultures and by doing so maybe really interesting new things can develop.
Take for example how in the ‘60s there was a big influence form classical Northern Indian music, and also Indian culture in general into both avantgarde and pop music. Some of what came from it is really amazing.
On the other hand there are also some (in general middle aged white dudes) who seem to carbon copy from non-Western music, but at the same time hold rather dodgy ideas closely rubbing on the edge of racism …. Seriously, fuck those people, and don’t support them.
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?
I found it rather interesting to do several performances in the dark (or almost dark). It takes away the visual aspect, and with that the listeners become much more aware of the sound, but also how the body actually reacts to the sound. I even had people coming up to me telling me their heartbeat adapted to the pulse in the drones I had during a live performance. With this, also without playing loud, the music becomes much more a physical but at the same time also psychological experience.
When you also trigger the visual senses, the experience becomes something totally different. I can be as impressive, but often, at least for me, leaves a much shorter impact.
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?
As person I am really politically engaged and interested in progressive movements. In my personal life I also take loads of choices to support this. For example I can’t justify for myself to fly for fun, and even for work (performing too far for travelling by car and train) I find it really hard to jump into a plain. I can’t justify that my fun and pleasure has such a big impact on the world.
Though, in my work as artist, this doesn’t really reflect (maybe aside from the difficulty I would have if had to fly around the world to perform somewhere). I don’t use this or any other political statements in my music. But outside my music I am pretty clear about where I stand. And if you are some right wing nazi asshole or something similar I'd rather not have you as a fan of my music.
There is no place for hatred in this world. We are in it together on planet Earth. Deal with it.