According to many people who know and appreciate Peter Adriaansz, the fascination of his music could be compared to the one of a mathematical theorem: a research-oriented and sound-devoted approach to music, focused on his interest in a wide range of matters such as psychoacoustics, live electronics, amplification, microtones. This can all be appreciated through a recent release performed by MAE Ensemble and released by Unsounds, which includes “Three Vertical Swells” (consisting of three 9 minute lasting movements for Hammond organ, amplified ensemble and sine waves, whose title comes from the inner workings of the Leslie loudspeakers used in the piece) and “Music for Sines, Percussion, E-bows and Variable Ensemble” (an intriguing reasearch on microtonal pulsation, built on variation of a sine-tone patch). A very immersive listening experience, which aroused my curiosity about his composer…
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Peter. First of all, how are you?
Peter Adriaansz: Fine thanks. A little stressed after 2 months of 14-hour work days clamoring to finish stuff so that it won’t turn into a total mess later in the year!
Chain D.L.K.: You have an academic background and you are a teacher as well… is there any particular lesson you have constantly impressed in your mind? If so, why?
Peter Adriaansz: Oddly enough, the lessons that abide with me most pertain to conduct and attitude: a lesson from Louis Andriessen in which he taught me about the value of time and being on time. Another lesson with Brian Ferneyhough demonstrating on a blackboard the many different ways in which an idea can be notated. His approach spelled adventure to me and I haven’t forgotten about that attitude.
For the rest, the main lessons were learned after the conservatory, from people who were, strictly speaking, not my teachers but who clearly fell within an ‘ideology’, shall we say, that I identified as one I could believe in. People such as John Cage and James Tenney. Specific pieces and specific articles. One that comes to mind immediately is Tenney’s article about time, printed in one of the early ‘Soundings’. It was a dense theoretical article which proved to me beyond reasonable doubt that interval and time perception are intricately connected and can only be treated on their own terms. In both cases though: the lesson of ‘letting things be’: ‘revealing’, rather than ‘composing’.
Chain D.L.K.: I sometimes get fascinated by academic disputes on musical aesthetics, but most people might consider them inconclusive and somewhat unuseful… what’s your favorite aesthetics theme or dispute? How would you explain to a common person the reason why it’s important to debate about them?
Peter Adriaansz: Nothing particular comes to mind, especially with regard to ‘common listeners’ – for whom most of that stuff would be totally over their heads and who are, simply put, actually just meant to be blown off their feet by a musical or sonic experience. All we do is a combination of artistic ideals (which incorporate all of those esthetic debates) plus the desire to at least try something mind-blowing. In other words: the combination of the very basic with the very evolved. The esthetic disputes which probably interest me most though are those that pertain to the wildly differing value judgements which exist between those who adhere to traditional values and those who do so to a lesser degree. It’s no more important to debate about these things than it is important for philosophers to debate about their differing world views. Ie: it’s very important and at the same time utterly irrelevant to the experience. But it shapes every decision because in the long run each product is the result of how one thinks and the choices one has the courage to make. That’s where the importance lies.
Chain D.L.K.: You’re considered one of the most innovative composers for the wise integration of electronics as well… are there still composers who are against the integration of electronics? How do you explain your perspective to them?
Peter Adriaansz: I’m sure there are, but luckily I don’t know any! I think most have accepted by now that electronics, live electronics, computer assistance etc. are all part of the package. The only true difference that exists is between those who believe in a common, inherited, language and those who believe that language can be re-invented. The use of electronics in my work, by the way, is actually very one-sided, since I only use sine tones and amplification of live instruments. Sines – sweeping, beating or virtually static – turned out to be the ultimate ‘measuring devices’ for me. The ‘real’ electronic guys use much more than I do!
Chain D.L.K.: You recorded “Three Vertical Swells” with students of The Royal Conservatory in The Hague…. what about preparatory briefs?
Peter Adriaansz: That’s an interesting question. Writing that piece for students of the composition department to perform was the true test for whether or not those pieces can only be done by highly specialized ensembles – with all of the very intricate notation involved. In reality, the process was as easy as any other though and went just as quickly. In all cases my presence is required to explain the procedures and the degrees of liberty involved – and then lead the rehearsals. But once they get that, the pieces just tend to go easily; whether performed by students or specialized ensembles. Of course there’s always a quality difference – the performance by MAE far surpasses anything – but in principle (and I’ve seen this many times) the pieces can be performed satisfactorily by anyone once they have all the proper equipment which is necessary for performance. That was a valuable experience for me.
Chain D.L.K.: Could you explain the concept behind this intriguing composition (the third part is really sublime and follows its graphical notation on ”All and Beyond” which turns the listening experience into something even more sublime)?
Peter Adriaansz :The concept behind this piece is actually no different than that of other pieces in a similar vein: the beauty of sound, sound reflection and the perception of time passing as a measurable ritual. In this particular case also the expansion into harmony (the third section you mention), which I’d left out of the compositional package since 2008. As we all know, harmony can be very seductive! That section prompted quite a few harmony pieces after that (such as Phrase, Shadings, Horizon etc.). One particular concept behind this piece is the Leslie loudspeaker, with its kind of rotating swell sound, which prompted the harmony and very slow waves in the piece.
Chain D.L.K.: Would you agree if I said that it puts a constant strain on listeners? Is it a sort of trick to grab the listener’s attention?
Peter Adriaansz: Well, there’s definitely no listener manipulation involved. A listener comes as a free agent who, by sheer attendance, has in principal declared him or herself to be willing to have his or her attention grabbed. At least, that’s how I’d prefer to envisage the listeners who go to modern music concerts! It’s not really my job to jolt them out of their seats. What I do want however is 100% concentration: there are no asides, no ‘link-up sections’, no angst-ridden ‘contrast sections’. My desire is: ‘be there now’.
In my experience there are two types of listeners: those who come to be diverted and those who come to be involved. The first type desires to be taken outside of themselves, the latter inside. I definitely cater to the latter, the type who is not afraid to concentrate for long stretches of time and doesn’t need diversion. I do agree that on certain listeners that demand can put a strain.
Chain D.L.K.: In 2008, you co-signed an open letter to the Dutch Minister of Culture Ronald Plasterk with Maarten Altena… What was that all about?
Peter Adriaansz: Oh, the usual subsidy cuts. Further attempts to conform the Arts to market ideology etc. Something which you have to say something about, but which in practice makes no difference at all since you’re utterly powerless against irreversible social/political developments. Our time is one in which market value seems to determine all value. Of course I totally disagree.
Chain D.L.K.: Another interesting article you featured on your website concerns ”Music as Objective Truth”… could you summarize its content? Is there any concrete musical example where objective and subjective truth fit together neatly?
Peter Adriaansz: Of course! All products which are entirely successful. The whole question of subjective and objective then automatically disappears to the background because it becomes irrelevant.
In a nutshell, the article comes down to deriving your objectives from the reality which surrounds us, rather than from a conjured-up subjective reality. The point being that there is an unimaginable amount of mystery involved in what we think we can all see and perceive as ‘reality’. A good example is Mandelbrot bumping into the fractals… ‘by accident’. While they were always there, staring him straight in the face.
Another important issue in that article has to do with the value of research and the importance of credibility in works of Art.
Chain D.L.K.: You received so many commissions and performances during your career… was there anyone you didn’t do with good grace?
Peter Adriaansz: Of course, but I won’t go listing them now.
Chain D.L.K.: You’re known to be a composer with an astonishing inventiveness… what are you working on at the moment?
Peter Adriaansz: A piece for 31-tone ensemble. Quite a tricky job because – despite all of the beatings and microtones in my work – I am actually not really into tuning systems or microtonal scales. But I think I’ve solved the problem. After that, an interesting joint commission with Maarten Altena. And then a new orchestra piece.
Chain D.L.K.: I’d like to know your opinion on critics or opinionists who try to formulate thoughts and write reviews about works like yours… many academics say they should be more rigorous without envisaging the eventuality of getting misunderstood… what’s your opinion on them?
Peter Adriaansz: Who should be more rigorous? Composers? Or critics? I’d say neither could be rigorous enough in any case…
But critics should definitely be careful though, as well as self-critical. And try to be aware of their own inherited cultural prejudices. Since, and this counts for all of us, our ideas about value are only to a small degree personal and objective and often – to a much larger degree – determined by dominant cultural values which we’ve simply accepted without much further thought. You can’t evaluate a Scelsi for example by the same criteria as a Schonberg. There’s a whole different kettle of values involved – mutually exclusive nearly. Despite the fact they seem to active in the same field. What’s a virtue for one is a vice for the other.
In the same way, works which are based on sound can’t be judged by the same criteria as those that take pitch and pitch development as their primary material. The whole issue of passing through time for example is per necessity a different one. But it’s a very tricky issue. Very different values, such as these, are things a good critic needs to be acutely aware of. That’s the only real danger-field for a critic!
Chain D.L.K.: Do you like reviewers which show an emotional approach to the music they talk about or do you feel it’s a sort of debunking?
Peter Adriaansz: Of course that doesn’t automatically lead to debunking. An emotional response is a very important indicator. An ideal review however consists of a careful balance between emotional response and dry analytical knowledge. The knowledge part I think is very important. The ability to put things into perspective. But that should never drown out basic enthusiasm. Critics, just as composers, should be able to love and hate vehemently! (Whether everything should appear in print however is a different issue.)
But all of that aside, I think the job of a critic is actually a very serious one. And it’s an important one because it helps us to place things.
Chain D.L.K.: What about gestation of “Music For Sines, Percussion, Ebows & Variable Ensemble”?
Peter Adriaansz: I can’t really remember. A five-part investigation into register perhaps? How do beatings and pulse change in different registers? That at least is what I was interested in investigating at the time. One of my favorite bits of own music is actually the last part of that piece, where all sinks into the lowest registers.
visit Peter Adriaansz on the web at: www.peteradriaansz.com