From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds?
When working with live musicians communication of intentions and ideas becomes a strong emphasis. This directs the creative process in such a way that actually hearing the sounds happens for the first time during rehearsals. Until then it’s a matter of using my imagination. This way many decisions are based on calculated guesses.
When composing by myself all of this effort that goes into communication with external parties becomes obsolete. This opens paths for faster and more intuitive decision making. When composing alone I tend to work with more tangible and audible materials. This happens by playful exploration of synthesis models and melodic progressions. When I’m content with the flexibility of my models, I start making test compositions based on structured improvisations.
Because of how I designed the software of GEST I am forced to compose the global structure beforehand while in the meantime deciding on the audio sources. This leaves space for me to explore details in articulation while going through a predefined form. During these improvisation sessions I make mental notes of what works and what needs to change in the parametrical framework of possiblities. Nowadays I can also reflect on required structural adaptations, and during the performance implement them. This has increased my proficiency in instant composing when it comes to using GEST, similar to how I have this skill when playing keys.
Choosing Freedom (2021) is a live registration of a full concert on GEST, for this work I didn’t do any editing after the recording. Recalcitrance: Insignificant and dp[a]+hsh: dp[a]3 on the other hand, are much more composed in a traditional sense: I imported materials from jams in Ableton and GEST, and then edited them into pieces by using conventional composing techniques such as augmentation, permutation and phasing in combination with productional techniques for reverb, filtering, modulation and timestretching.
Which tools have been most important and useful for you when it comes to working with and editing sounds?
My laptop has become my main interface for creating, producing and performing music. In extension, I frequently use Ableton Live with a MIDI keyboard and GEST while exploring live sound manipulation. When required I also perform with traditional instruments, such as keys, voice and guitar.
When it comes to immaterial tools, my imagination has been the most useful for me.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
Yes, I am very curious about stimulating the brain with music that is not audible by nature. I’m not sure if this would count as ‘hearing sounds’.
Technological advancements in the field of making hearing and seeing imparied people sense their surroundings make me curious. Apart from the medical application I’m fascinated about what this could open up for potential artistic and aesthetic experiences. What if this technology would enable us to stimulate the brain in such a way that our eyes and ears could never experience due to their physical limitations? This would open up whole new spectra of possibilites.
Many artists have related that certain sounds trigger compositional ideas in them or are even a compositional element in their own right. Provided this is the case for you – what, exactly, is about certain sounds that triggers such ideas in you?
The behaviour of sound definitely inspires me. I tend to convolute natural movements and spectral information of sources with artificial variations, both acoustically and digitally. The sound of ticking rain in the window sill helped me create the middle part of Raam tot raam (2012), the spectral movements of the sea guided me into eb and flow breaths in the notation and system design for The light that blinds you (2013), the percusive qualities of analog contact sounds and recordings of heavy rain functioned as source material for creating punchy kicks and melodic lines in dp[a]2 (2017).
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
With GEST I chose certain aural parameters that I often compose with. One grouping of parameters is spatiality, such as reverb size, time, amplitude levels and filtering. Traditionally reverberation can be used to recognize space and distance towards the origin of a sound, but when detaching it from its natural occurence a whole new artificial space of possibilities appears. Natural relationships can be used functionally, while artificial relationships between sound and space I tend to use aesthetically for compositional variations and expression.
Humans are often characterised as "visual beings". In your opinion, what role does our sense of hearing play in our understanding of the world? How do sounds affect you, compared to other senses like sight or smell?
I think ears give us a primal connection to the world around us, both natural and cultural. A lurking predator, a cry for help, a soothing breeze, children laughing...
Hearing enables us to distinguish imminent danger from safety. Additionally ears are a primary tool for receiving verbal communication with other people. Conveying ideas, concepts, feelings, desires ... before most people were able to read and write, hearing already played a significant role in understanding the intentions of friends and enemies. Because it’s such an old and experienced sense, I believe hearing is far more intuitive and intimate than sight. I think smell and touch are even more intimate than hearing, because they require the source to be physically closer.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
“Music is organised sound.” This definition by Edgar Varèse has always rang true to me. It’s simple and can be detached from genre, culture and compositional paradigm. Often times I heard people complain about music that they don’t like, stating it’s not music at all. To me that’s a very self-centered attitude, stating a subjective preference as an objective definition.
For me the difference between listening to a composition and listening to natural phenomena or a buzzing city life, lies in the organisation of its aural elements. If a person took the effort to organise and present audible events and behaviours, hereby sculpting the perception of time, then for me it’s a composition, a piece of music. The used material or used methods for this organisation I don’t consider to be relevant.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
I don’t know about the harmony of the spheres, but with my understanding of matter in the universe it appears everything is vibrating: constantly in motion, no matter the size. We call vibrations ‘sound’ when our human ears can perceive them, but this is actually a very limited range of frequencies: roughly between 20 and 20.000 cycles per second. If these cycles go slower we can feel them by tact; when they go much faster, we can actually see the vibrations as colors. We only call vibrations ‘sound’ based on the limits of human perception.
With this notion, I wouldn’t say that sound is a foundational element of existence, but vibration is. Sound is just a tiny spectrum of that. I can imagine that with future technologies it would be possible to omit the physical limitation of the human ear, and stimulate the brain directly with vibrations outside of the audible range... when that is possible all vibration could perhaps be perceived as sound.