ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC X LIVE PERFORMANCE
I remember I was at my parents place, 5 years ago, while my sister was listening to electronic music. I was fully committed to my study at the conservatory as a classical percussionist. I listened to The Concertgebouw Orchestra every week, listened every day to a different symphony and chamber music, basically I was focused totally on classical music. I didn't really respect electronic music, I found it easy, cheesy and not even close to what the great composers created in the last decades. Until I started to really listen to electronic music.
One of the triggers was my performance with Patrice Bäumel, also in The Main Hall of The Concertgebouw during Amsterdam Dance Event 2013. I was amazed by the popularity of our performance and the fun we had creating it. Patrice introduced me to some different electronic producers, with Henrik Schwarz and Darkside playing on the same evening as me, in the same hall. I didn't know either of them. Now I have a big, big respect for them, it is incredible how they can create sounds, structures and an atmosphere in a space. The concerthall was filled with 20-30 year olds. That was different from the audience I was used to have around me in The Concertgebouw. So I thought: why is this not happening more often?
After researching electronic music, becoming a big fan of Max Cooper, I started to research the cross-over between live performance and electronic dance music. I saw some initiatives in the music scene but I was not really convinced. The atmosphere at an electronic dance music party, mainly techno or deephouse, is such a beautiful world which you cannot understand if you haven't experienced it. This atmosphere together with the sound world are for me the two most important factors of the electronic dance world.
In the composed music scene I see two important factors as well; the energy of a live performance and the compositional layers. When I visit a club I sometimes imagine having performers in the club adding energy to the hall. For this to happen we need to really built a composition which can support that.
So there the cross-over starts. We take those four elements and combine them. A cross-over means to really know both worlds, we perform in concert venues and in clubs. It are two different compositions, because a seated concert requires a different flow from a club night. But we always take care of the four elements.
The project is titled Playground, we made an artistic planning for the upcoming four years. After 1,5 year of researching together with my buddy Arend Bruijn, we now premiered our concert night and are now preparing our club night. We will keep on researching and improving our composition and concept. If you visited us and if you have ideas we are very happy to hear them.
If you wanna read more; here's our website. For now I'll upload some songs we made for the concert version.
DOMINIQUE VLEESHOUWERS: “THE CROSSOVER CAN ONLY WORK IF YOU KNOW BOTH [WORLDS]”
Tonight, the award-winning percussionist Dominique Vleeshouwers presents his world premiere of “Playground“. A 75 min profound exploration through the world of sounds that took the creator everywhere from the junkyards to the dark corners of the club, the jewels of Asian culture and to the glorious interior of the Royal Concert Hall.
Yet another crossover between electronic and classical, however this one is quite different. Armed with everything including every kind of drum and Tibetan bells, to a lap top, synthesizers and drum machines, Dominique and his partner in crime Arend Bruijn took up the challenge of combining the two experiences and atmospheres of a club and a concert hall.
Thus, given the opportunity to talk with one of the world’s most talented percussionists, I couldn’t help but ask him about today’s relationship of the two worlds – classical and electronic. Where is the divide? Social, ritual, philosophical? If so, in which aspects do the two worlds meet?
I began by asking him, whether this certain clash between classical purists and electronic music exist, whether the views that classical music has much more complexity, is a matter of high culture are prominent, while electronic music is too monotonous, linear?
Yes, I think the clash exists. But to my view, it is just because people don’t know enough about electronic music. Even the amount of styles and differences within the electronic music suggests there is a lot of complexity to it. People who listen to classical music know film music or minimal music, but when you talk about the electronic music they think of it as some of avant-garde sounds. But there has been a middle ground laid out, e.g. a lot of people know the film music genre, e.g. Hans Zimmer, one of the pioneers of using synthesizers with an orchestra in his compositions. So I don’t think the majority judges the genre, I think they just don’t know how complex the compositions in electronic music can be and what can be done with it.
We saw how electronic music can expand our possibilities as classically trained percussionists with art background. In the traditional classical world (which we came from) the electronic inserts have been used mostly for effects or strange sounds and abstract things. While now the spectrum of sounds and the ways we can compose became way bigger.
How did the idea for this crossover come up?
It actually started with Arend (Bruijn) and me. We were both educated in the Amsterdam Conservatorium as classical percussionists, which essentially means that you study scores of composers. Our education is tough and focused and, eventually, if you’re good enough, you might get to play here in the orchestra.
After we left the Conservatorium, we kind of opened ourselves to the world. We went to parties, clubs and started to like the culture there. Then a project “Trouw in Concertgebouw” came across, where I played with Patrice Baumel. That was the moment I realised, there are not a lot of concerts like that would attract young audiences. So it became my mission as an artist.
Why did you draw your mission to attract young people to concert halls?
I believe that live music can really do something with people and a concert can truly inspire people very different ways. As the world is going so fast, you are always running, looking around, rushing. Meanwhile, in a concert hall or a theater, you sit down and there is only one thing that is happening in front of you. You listen to those people and they’re can tell you something. It is magical.
There have been classical and electronic music crossover projects previously, namely by Henrik Schwarz, Jeff Mills, Derrick Carter, even your own project with Patrice Baumel. How is your approach now similar or different?
Henrik Schwarz and his orchestra was a different kind of crossover because he was not taking parts of it, it was his electronic music pieces reinterpreted by the orchestra. I saw Jeff Mills two years with the Orchestra of Den Hague, where you had the DJ and the orchestra as two separate elements. Same with Armin van Buuren in the Concertgebouw – a DJ and an orchestra, in their two separate worlds.
I realized that if you want to combine the two worlds, the crossover can only work if you really know both. That’s why I said, if we are going to do it, we know the world we were educated in, so we have to get to know the club world; work together with DJ’s, find out how old the software works, which hardware we need, according to what kind of sound do we want. It became the big research of last year.
However, next to the technical part, there is the club atmosphere, the whole idea of experiencing the music individually however still together, is beautiful.
You mention combining the club experience and the concert experience. However, a big part of experiencing music in a club is dancing. In the concert hall you’re taking that away from the audience. Meanwhile playing percussion instruments that call out movement instinctively. What do you think is this contradiction going to lead to?
I think it’s going to be funny because half of the audience will be probably dancing in their seats and the other half will think that they have to sit still.
So maybe experiencing music while sitting is actually an obstacle for a full experience?
Indeed, sitting is not a natural body stature for people. Children in the classroom can’t sit still, even I can’t sit still. Even with a classical piece I’m moving all the time! Movement is a mental auditive.
Then may my inner child ask you, why do we still have chairs in the concert halls? Or in other words, why composed music has to be experienced while sitting?
Well how about the movies then?
Movies are a multidimentional medium, where the story is told thought the sound and images, the goal is to get you fully immersed into the story, curated by the director.
I guess it is the same as watching a movie just that you are presented with one of the mediums which is music and the rest is about you. There is an abstract story that we take you through. We have our own narrative, but we don’t tell it to the audience so that minds would be free to look for their own story.
Listening to music in a concert hall creates an individual experience. It inspires your imagination; the way you think about the world. You go home and you relive it again. That is the magical part about this place, that you can interpret it the experience individually and not be in anyone’s vision.
What compositional differences do you see in a concert versus a club performance?
We are now working on the composition for the concert for the 11th October and then we have the 26th of November we play the club version in the south of Holland (Eindhoven). The concert version is a big line of 70 minutes without any stops. He has a big build-up until45th minute and it goes down again and it goes totally up, so there is this big landscape with a lot of different styles: ambient, dub step, techno, really classical choral intersects. Meanwhile, a club is a different experience and the composition is one linear growth instead.
What does the crossover have that would appeal to the fans of both classical and electronic music music?
I believe that there is a big group of people who will find it interesting in how you combine electronic sounds with the live performance and what does of live performance add to electronic music.
Because there is a big difference if you produce the music and you play it in the club. There are some live things, but it doesn’t really have to do anything with live performing. So when we were in the club and I heard this beat going and I thought, if you now see someone really playing the drum now, then you add a source of energy that really influences the experience.
Why do you think the collaboration between live musicians and electronic music producers in a live performance happens so rarely? Why DJs don’t have violin or saxophone players on stage all the time?
Because they don’t know each other. When we were working with Patrice Baumel, even though we did our own thing, we stayed in our own worlds, but we worked together and explained to each other a lot. He took me to Trouw the evening he was and then I took him to Concertgebouw, this way we learned a lot from each other
How was the project with Patrice different from the current one?
The difference was that I was playing my instruments at that time and I knew what he was doing but I didn’t know how he was doing that, how he was recording it, which software was he using for it and how it was even possible that he could record me and then have a different sound coming out of the speakers.
This time we are doing everything ourselves. We are playing the instruments, composing ourselves, transforming the sounds, we are recording the sounds, which we are using, then really the worlds meet.
So how much of the performance is pre-recorded material?
We have prerecorded samples, we are not sampling everything live, because it becomes too complicated. There is a thing in life performance which was the big question, if you produce your music what does it add if you play it live? And if it doesn’t really add anything in a concert hall, then why would you even do it?!
That’s where our stage director, Katrien van Beurden, who specializes in physical expression of the body, really helped. She divided the performance into parts where people would be looking at the stage, when only listening, or closing their eyes. It tells you a lot how much it ads to playing a drum live instead of putting it in a track.
So what is it that a live instrument adds to the performance in your terms?
I think that if you have a drum and your play it, when people connect the sound to the visual, it becomes a bigger world. We are so visually geared! Next to that, when you see me hitting the drum, you see the expression and feel the energy I am transmitting. Then you will also feel the vibrations of the drum or a big gong in your body.
Can I ask you, what does it actually mean, classical percussion? To specify, to me, percussion is a very native instrument. It reflects the heart beat and holds the rhythms of all music. Meanwhile the term “classical” hints at definition of something rather complex. How would you define classical percussion?
Indeed “classical” is a super strange word. Because classical reflects the classical period of, let’s say, Mozart and now if you have modern music that is composed years ago they still call it classical but it’s not. Actually, now I mostly use the term “composed music” more. I am not playing any classical music unless I am playing in the orchestra. For me also percussion is a very native instrument. Every different country has their own culture, they have their own drums. However what we learn within classical percussion is interpretations of the Western European music composers.
Then again, the term “percussion” consists of much more than just making beats. There’s also melodic percussion consisting of bells, even violins, synthesizers, almost anything that can produce a sound by hitting it.
In the end, it’s not even about the instruments. You start with the composition. And if it is a sound that fits the idea of the music that we want to play, it can even be a tin box. It is the same if you work with software, you tweak the buttons until you hear the sound that fits you.
We even made several instruments that we recorded and changed with electronic software. Or the other way around – created a sound through software and thought that we want to play it live. So we went through the junkyard until we found something that could reproduce that sound.