Name: Ameel Brecht
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current Release: Ameel Brecht's The Locked Room is out via blickwinkel. As part of experimental ensemble Razen, he recently released full-length Regression via Marionette.
Recommendations: Xenakis ‘Légende d’Eer’; Elden Ring (PS5 game)
If you enjoyed this interview with Ameel Brecht and would like to hear more music, visit the Soundcloud account of Razen.
When did you start writing/producing/playing 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 was attracted to music early on, largely due to my father’s record collection. My brother and me would look at the sleeves and then put on a vinyl if the cover scared or intrigued us enough.
We were also involved in combining the sounds bleeding out from the stereo with our own fisher price cassette recordings. So, an early Barre Phillips record might be courted by the howls of us pretending to fight to the death, or something of the sort.
In any case, music seemed magical, and I wanted to be a part of it. It was about intensity and joy, about letting your own fantasy run along to the sounds, or be influenced about it …
Plus, musicians seemed cool, and free; like the guys on the back cover of Utopia’s “Oops! Wrong Planet”, or like Kapt. Kopter and his Twirly Birds.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
For me, all good music puts me on a journey. Like travel, like reading a great book. So what happens in my body … time displacement, I guess, the consolation of indulging in the moment.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Hmm, in all honesty I do not think in terms of development or breakthroughs. Every album, even every concert, is a fresh start with new challenges.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
If I have to be basic about this, let’s state my “sense of identity” as:
‘a husband and a father’ / ‘a city person with a sense of nostalgia for the primal sources of music’ / ‘someone who tends to be attracted to everything that is unusual’.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Quality of tone and quality of colour.
The pleasure of slowness and duration, the pleasure of giving attention to something that is demanding.
Listening with care.
A bittersweet, reflective quality.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
One does not have to exclude the other. Originality can be timeless. Traditional music can be the mining ground for progressive, forward-thinking innovation.
If I want to be part of a tradition, it’s the tradition of the ‘European Cosmic School’; John Dowland, Turlough O’Carolan, Francesco da Milano, Luis de Milán … string music composers and performers who were asking their own personal questions through their music, and who were not necessarily expecting any answers. I’m not at all pretending I’m on their level, of course …
Their music had one eye or ear focused on the traditions preceding them, but another one gazed widely and curiously into the future. This I do recognize.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
On any instrument I have been playing, the most rewarding strategy has always been to deal first and foremost with the sound rather than the notes. It can take a long time until an instrument reveals its sweetest sound - or it can be there immediately.
My classical guitar was my first instrument, and it’s still the instrument I tend to pick up the most. Over the years I’ve learned to find my way on other string instruments, and I’ve been enjoying developing my keyboard skills on organ and harmonium in the context of Razen, my band with bagpipe and reeds virtuoso Kim Delcour.
But meantone organ, or baroque lute, or steel mandolin, or electric bass? You have to work at finding the good tone, and then use it.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
In the morning I bring my kids to school, and once I’m back home I put on some coffee and I start to work.
I work on something every day. This can be composing, or mixing, or playing one of my instruments, preparing for a show.
Not everything leads to something, but personally I’m happiest and I arrive at the best results when I maintain this daily rhythm.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Difficult, because I do not have a fixed process at all. That’s just the beauty of it: there is no formula, or I don’t know about the formula. Actually I would not even want to know about it. And I think this is the same for anyone who’s involved in some kind of creative work.
Each time you have to start all over again, and starting all over again means asking a number of questions. What story do you want to put out there, and why, and how could it work and still be connected to what you like, what you see as right?
Let’s say I give you one example, “Khadija’s Theme II”, one of the pieces I wrote for Bas Devos’ movie Ghost Tropic.
Bas wanted a tune that could accompany his main character on her nocturnal walk. He literally said something in terms of: She’s walking, and the music should softly go ‘pom, pom pom’. And I saw the actress (Saadia Bentaïeb) and I felt that she looked like a universal mother, like all mothers - this combination of vulnerability and strong determination. So I tried out a slow walking rhythm, and a sound that could function as some kind of protection for her.
When I found the right tone, I was happy about it. But that is just how it worked for this song.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
When my wife is playing her PS5 games, and our kids are reading, and I am doing nothing, just dreaming on the sofa, I try to put on a record that is fitting to all of our personal spheres and still adds a new layer to the moment. Maybe not all of us are listening in the same way, but we inhabit the same sphere of sound, and it will have some kind of influence, it will stir something. These kind of moments are a big inspiration for me.
Similarly, I’ve noticed the following: sometimes you’re at a concert and there’s a friend you did not see for a long time, so you have a beer and talk and laugh, but the concert might be really good and still filter through your conversation, leave an impression, tap into something private. There’s no control at all over how this works, and I love that aspect of music-making and live performance. You never truly know how music reaches someone and why it happened.
So I’ve come to learn, and accept, that people laughing and drinking during a show might bother me and even disrupt my concentration, but they might actually be enjoying what they hear and remember the moment. You always have to make an effort.
Sometimes great musical experiences combine the deeply personal with the communal. Sometimes it’s as rewarding to be playing, or listening to music, just by yourself.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
My work is related to the world in the sense that it takes place in the world in which I am trying to be a good person.
Art should mould us into better humans: more empathetic, more receptive, richer in experience, more free.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
On many occasions.
When I fell in love for the first time as a young teenager, one of the things I thought was, ok, so now I know what all those songs are about!
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Maybe science also starts from intuition. And the outcome, the possibilities, are equally determined by certain parameters in our real physical world. Without science, there would not be any valuable recording techniques, there wouldn’t be all of the fantastic musical instruments we have …
Other than that, I don’t know. Science is fascinating, but let’s leave it to the specialists.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
For me, music works in order to come to terms with our emotions, from the most universal to the most personal ones.
A tune might make you fall in love with someone. Or it might make you aware that you have been in love with this person for quite some time. A tune might address just this kind of specific ache that is revelatory of who you are.
Music connects us to the realms of the invisible, to the wordless, intuitive nowhere zones.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Music slips in and out of reality, and precisely because of that quality, the effect is so strong.