Name: Sietse van Erve
Occupation: Sound artist, composer, performer, label owner at Moving Furniture
Current release: Sietse van Erve's Spectrum is out via his personal bandcamp profile. About the background to the album, he notes: "Spectrum is a continuation of my interest in the perception of time, and at the same time an acknowledgement of me being on the autism spectrum. I got diagnosed with this about 2 1/2 years ago, which was quite the shock for me at that moment. But in the past 2 1/2 years I have learned so much about this. This album, with my interest in minimalism, opposed to bombastic music, is a form to embrace my autism and to accept it as it is. I didn't change as a person, but I do know myself better."
If these thoughts piqued your interest, visit the website of Sietse's Orphax project for more information. We also recommend our previous Sietse van Erve / Orphax interview, in which he expands on a wider range of topics.
The way I understood it a recent post of yours, you draw a connection between your interest in drone music, sustained tones and slowly developing music and your diagnosis with autism. When did you first start discovering / suspecting that there was a connection at all?
Maybe to start with a short explanation. I only got diagnosed as being autistic when I was 41. My interest in drone music developed way earlier, in my early twenties, but before that I was already rather interested in ambient music and other minimalist music. Though, looking back on those years, but also even my childhood years a lot I could finally explain and give a place after my diagnosis.
And yes, with that I do think my love for drone and other minimalist music does have a connection with my autism. Not that every drone lover is autistic, or that every person on the autism spectrum loves drone. But for me it does do something. No matter what kind of drone I hear it cheers me up in a way, and it brings a certain comfort. Not that all drone is as interesting, but still it knows to trigger me in a good way. I can even at moments enjoy the nightly sounds here in the city. No matter where you are in Amsterdam, in the night you always hear this buzzing sound from the highway around the city.
But don’t get me wrong. My love for the drone goes way beyond this comfort. It is also about the details in the music ... The best drone music is about the details, and unlike what it looks like not static at all. Just think about the music of Eliane Radigue, or Phill Niblock. It appears at first hearing to be static, but if you open up to it so much beautiful details appear, and the development is so interesting.
On the opposite of this I really have a hard time listening to things like arpeggios and similar kind of repetitive sounds. Not only is it rather what you see is what you get” without to many details (even when an arpeggios gets really complex it still is “in your face”). But also it just makes me really nervous. They way they are build up and just continue going and going it really triggers me too much.
And that doesn’t mean I don’t like any eclectic music, because that’s not the case.
Are there other sound phenomena which are potentially interesting from this point of view – such as asmr, very high or low sounds?
Funny you ask this. I always need to chuckle a bit about ASMR. Especially those videos you find on youtube with hours and hours of soft wrinkling sounds and people mumbling.
But on the other hand, if applied well in music it can also become really interesting. Just think of some of Felicia Atkinson her work which really touches this world.
[Read our Felicia Atkinson interview]
Tell me a bit about why you feel precisely this kind of music is something you appreciate. Is it “helpful” in some form to listen to it and/or to perform it?
As I said above, for me the detail in the drone is really important. It asks for your attention to really grasp it. But at the same time, when you play it while doing other things it also just wraps around you. It is something you can drown into and just can let happen.
And as such it is also really helpful when I got too many triggers. Often when I went out for a concert or festival or other crowded places listening to drone music, or the better ambient music helps me to unwind. My head needs to get empty, otherwise I can’t sleep.
Do you make a distinction between art and “functional”/”therapeutic” music?
I am not sure how this works, but before in interviews I did say that I expect the world would be a much better place if more people, especially those in power, would listen to drone music. Maybe it is a naive thought.
But I have this impression that drone music can create are more peaceful mind if you open yourself up to this.
As for therapy with autism. It will not cure anything, but looking at my self I do notice I can really unwind. How this works for others I find difficult to say, but what you see is that often music therapy can really make a difference for some. Something you for example see with Dementia. I guess it is no different for neurodivergent people.
After reading that post, I remembered that you started out as a drummer and producing happy hardcore. Looking back why do you think this attracted you – it seems like the exact opposite of your current music!
Hah, yeah me and the happy hardcore. Though, that was never a serious thing. I did that to joke around, and never was into happy hardcore or gabba or whatever similar kind of things. Though, it is where I first learned to create music on computers. But still it was more a game and just for fun than anything else.
The drumming was different though. It was for me a good way to vent, and honestly I miss it quite often. And I would love to have myself an (electronic) drum kit to play again. The day I get one I already have ideas on how to use it even for new music (obviously not so much drone based, but still ambient in a way).
Aside, from that I would also use it, again to unwind. Playing drums is really good for this. (laughs)
Also, I believe you still really enjoy black metal – what draws you to this?
And with Black Metal, it is interesting you mention this. First of, might be good to know I am not only into drone music and certain sound art. My love of music goes way further. I am at the same time an indie kid, totally into non-Western classical and traditional music, and at the same time love me some good underground metal.
But most of the metal I listen to somehow has a relation to drone music one way or the other. Of course an easy one is Sunn O))). And most new black metal has this similar kind of vibe and energy. And this attracts. Listening to Mizmor or early Darkthrone isn’t so far fetched in this case.
But I do avoid the very technical over the top music. Bands like Imperial Triumphant have the same effect on me as arpeggios. Your technique on your instrument should benefit the music, and not become the sole purpose of what you are doing. Musical masturbation seriously makes me nervous.
Taking autism and perception of time as points of departure, how are these concretely on the agenda for an album like Spectrum?
This is a hard to describe, because I think it is all about a personal look at it. But for this work the starting point was to further explore this perception of time. But when I was working on this music, also the awareness of my autism became much clearer to me. It became much more part of it. Maybe not so much in how did my music different, but more in a feeling.
Do you think that people who know very little about autism can take away something from the music?
I don’t really think so. I can hold a very personal feeling about certain music I recorded. But when it is out there I can’t control what people do or feel with it. I just hope at least that during listening they experience this perception of time.
Would you say Spectrum is more of a continuation or a development of the themes you've been working with in your music for some time? What was the compositional process like?
Spectrum is a continuation of what I was already doing at the same time. It kind of follows the same process as I did with Live Circles. It is a similar concept of working.
I see (live) Circles as a growing composition which will always continue developing each time I work on it mainly by performing live. Though, where Live Circles was 100% live recordings mixed, Spectrum also uses recordings done in my studio and has more edits.
And after recording Spectrum I for a while stopped (also due to corona) with this work. No place to perform it live and had some issues with my laptop the last times I performed this work.
With regards to your beautiful piano music release, you mentioned that some music is almost too personal to get released. Why isn't this album?
I know I mentioned this with the 7” Piano Music indeed, but even when it is really personal it is also good to let it out. And with letting it out you can let go. Or in the case of Spectrum also talk about it. It was with a reason that I announced the album on World Autism Awareness Day.
Because I think it is good we talk more about it. But not only talk. I don’t know the exact numbers, but a big part of people are somehow neurodivergent, either be it on the Autism Spectrum, or ADHD, or ADD or another divergence. It is always us who have to adapt, but there are many situations where neurotypicals could actually keep in mind those who are struggling with a diversity.
We didn’t really talk about it in this interview, but also in the music industry this is the case. There are quite some things I struggle with due to my autism. A few simple things to mention:
I am trying to book a tour in the UK for September. Only have one show so far, but now already planning in the smallest detail for how I need to things. What trains go where on which station. Or where to eat if a promoter hasn’t arranged anything. It wouldn’t be the first time I hear “no, we don’t have food, just go into the city and buy something yourself”. When this happens ALL alarm bells go off and I get this small panic attack.
I really could go on about this. Because it is on so many levels.