In 2003 ontving componist Peter Adriaansz een email van de Russische musicologe Olga Manulkina. Ze verzocht hem om een virtueel interview, waarbij de componist in het Engels haar vragenlijst beantwoorden zou. Nog datzelfde jaar werd de lijst aangepast gepubliceerd, in de vorm van een 20-blz. lang artikel in het boek “Over Nederlandse Componisten” (St. Petersburg, 2003. ISBN 5-93356-033-2). Lees hieronder Adriaansz’ originele antwoorden op Olga’s vragenlijst.
As a child you moved from the USA to the Netherlands with your family. Are you grateful to your fortune and your parents for this?
Fortune is something one has no control over, but I’m definitely grateful that my heritage isn’t exclusively Dutch. My parents’ profession and interests made it possible for me to be exposed to a very wide range of cultures, which have all had an influence on my thinking and on my work.
Is there a place in your life and work for Dutch-American collision? Or collision between Dutch-English languages?
Definitely. My primary thinking language has always remained English and even in my contacts in Holland I find – with one or two exceptions – that the most inspiring and valuable ones come from different cultures. Artistically – and politically – my leanings have always gone to the West, or otherwise, radically, to the Far East. The freakish combination between experimentalism, freedom and a harsh market economy as can be witnessed in the States seems to me one of the healthier cultural anomalies.
What instrument do your play?
I do not play anymore. I started with the piano, moved back to the harpsichord and finally regressed entirely to the church organ – via the electric guitar: like many teenagers the spirit of rock music was endlessly inspiring to me. In some ways this gradual “regression” backwards – towards the origins, runs parallel with my compositional “development”. Besides composition, I finished my conservatory studies on the church organ but threw it aside at the first opportunity at being able to live as a professional composer. Nonetheless, the influence of the organ and of rock music has been large on my compositional thinking as well.
What influence have your composition teachers had on you? Whom else do you consider an influence on your work?
I have had several good composition teachers, but I can’t say any of them has had a major influence on me. With the exception of Louis Andriessen, most of them moved in very different cultural and ideological circles. For that reason, they were probably the best teachers for me: the more akin you are to your teacher, the less liable you are to really learn something about yourself. My heroes have alternately been: John Cage, Tom Johnson, Peter Garland, Gerald Barry, Rage against the Machine, Bjork, the recently deceased Paul Termos, Michael Gordon, John Tavener, Mikael Gorecki, Richard Meier, Daniel Libeskind, Moorish architecture, Japanese rock gardens, Ketjak music, Irish folk music, Korean Court Music, Milan Kundera, Herman Brusselmans, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, James Tenney and Harry Potter. (As with most influences though, no listing is very meaningful without one’s pet hates, which often say much more. Here they are:
Arnold Schoenberg (every single note), Pierre Boulez (nearly every single note, with the exception of “Rituel” and the “Improvisations”), Academic “university composers” worldwide, Sir Harisson Birtwistle, Jonathan Harvey, all postmodern architects, “developmental” artists and “oeuvre builders” of all types and sorts, and any other type of pretentious artistic fraud. The list is not very extensive, but then I don’t dwell on them very much, except for some ruthless fun, such as now)
Could you dwell on your musical creed, which is “centered on anything pertaining to the -probably imaginary- “credibility” and “necessity” of the (Art) work”?
This is somewhat of an ideological statement pertaining to “the form of content” (to quote the artist Ben Shahn). It’s a stance, which implies that every activity must have an in inborn compositional necessity. First, stemming from the inherent laws of the composition and then translated towards the musicians’ activity, which should be functionally linked to the laws of the work. I.e.: no unnecessary, illustrative action, the “inside” is the “outside”. Ideally the form of a work has a logic, which only needs exposing, and nothing else. Contrary to some opinions, I believe there eventually IS only one “correct” solution to a musical problem and this should be immediately discernable for an audience as well. There should be no question about one’s intentions.
The “credibility” part applies to the content of a work, which for me should be in synch with the artist’s own character and beliefs. The degree of speculation should run parallel with reality. I’m mainly interested in musical “truths” and a credible relationship between Art and human life. I don’t believe in posturising or pretending to be possessor of some hidden musical mysteries and am generally distrustful of those who think they are.
Your music is commissioned and played by various famous ensembles. What is specific in your collaboration with each of them (besides the instrumentation)?
First, naturally, there’s the Percussion Group (The Hague). The discovery that I had a propensity for percussion writing came relatively late in life. For me, percussionists are the ideal musicians, ranking top on my list of musical performers for their knowledge of sound and for their ability to make music out of anything. Just like some composers they will not stop before they have found the right sound. This attitude is diametrically opposed to the conventional music scene in which instruments and groups of instruments are believed to sound in one specific way only, with centuries of historical development to back up this claim. Their basic set-up, in which each member is an essential part of a bigger whole, naturally links up with my own views of organizing music. I consider writing for this group not only a duty but also an ongoing source of joy and inspiration. In line with this, an ensemble which extends this way of thinking and with which I have enjoyed an ongoing relationship, is the Ives ensemble; an ensemble with a similar sense of adventurousness, self-questioning, risk taking and dedication. This is an ensemble which is headed by people with a real inside knowledge and hunger for discovery, also they realize they have to protect this regardless of outside factors. I am mainly drawn to the ideology and flexibility of spirit, which a group exudes. Another ensemble I’ve enjoyed working with immensely has been the Maarten Altena Ensemble, a group founded on improvising roots, which still permeates their way of making music. A similar mix of high individual expertise, flexibility, joy in playing and a feeling of responsibility for the sound and energy of the group as a whole characterizes them too. I’d also like to mention Orkest de Volharding, the Schoenberg Ensemble and individual musicians such as Gerard Bouwhuis, Arnold Marinissen and guitarist Wiek Hijmans. But the further away we go from these premises, down the declining slope towards institutionalization and self-satisfaction, the less interested I am. We are then in the territory of career moves.
Did your contacts with those ensembles change somehow since you became Artistic Director of the Percussion Group The Hague?
That’s hard to say. I’d like to think I’m solely viewed as a composer, but that would probably be naive. As of yet I haven’t noticed any differences. At the most, it’s possible that I’ve become rubricated as a loud percussion composer, although I’ve never actually written anything for just percussion! So far, always in combination with other instruments… On the other hand, it is now possible for me to set up wild programs with other groups as well, so my contacts have become more diverse. And in incidental cases, it’s possible for me to set up a collaboration, which is also an extension of private compositional desires, which existing forces don’t incorporate. These are some of the nice side effects.
What effect has this position had on your work? Is your creed as an artistic director the same as the composer?
It has had no effect on the content of my compositional work, except that my working areas have become larger, to incorporate organization as well, a task which I feel is a composers’ duty. I.e. not to just feel a responsibility for one’s own work, but also for culture as a whole. This is something I have always done. As for my attitude: a creed is a creed, i.e. something one believes in… It’s hard to just adopt a different creed for different circumstances; it wouldn’t really be a very worthwhile creed then, would it! Basically, I must admit the creed is the same and I derive the most satisfaction from making programs, which are aligned to my own musical universe. On the other hand, the interest of the group is higher and bigger than my own private interests, so I must be flexible. In programming, there is place for everything as long as it’s interesting and well executed. I often receive scores from composers, both young as well as established ones. I try to consider these scores fairly on their own premises, even if their esthetic is not mine. As for self-interest: in programming, I try to reduce the presence of my own work to a minimum, although sometimes it’s unavoidable. As I mentioned before, sometimes the ability to set up a wild collaboration with others stems directly from private compositional desires. I feel that if these desires are worthwhile and result in a good piece of music, there is no harm in this type of “conflict of interests” and often they just add to a real identity. Even without the group I would have initiated these types of things.
What are specific features in artistic leading of percussion group?
Good ideas, pragmatism in instrumental logistics (always a sore point with percussion groups!), continual commissioning, ongoing composer relationships, personal group repertoire, ambition and finally ruthless profiling and selling!
What are the links (if there are any) between Music of Mercy pt. 3 and Music of Mercy 1996-7 (pt. 2a for harpsichord, written for het Doelenensemble? Pt. 2b for harpsichord, string quartet and percussion, written for Ensemble Musik Fabrik. Was only pt 2b withdrawn?)
Only Part 2b was withdrawn, maybe I’ll look at it again some time. There are many links between the pieces, though part 3 was the piece in which everything came together. Parts 2a and 2b are the same music but for different scorings. Two movements from Part 2 (the 1st and 3rd movements) have direct parallels with the 1st and 2nd movements of MoM3 and literally use the same technique but are blown up to a bigger timeframe. Both pieces deal with my fascination for John Cage’s gamut techniques from the 50′s.
What is the title of the 2nd mov – “Less information” as in the score or “Same information” as on the CD? And “adequate time” in the 3d movement means “adequate to “no information””?
Oops, that’s a sore point! The CD is wrong, and I never noticed it. The correct title is: “less information/more time”. The third movement is of course a paradox: “no information” doesn’t ever exist; it was where time and information was supposed to become a philosophical point. The third movement deals with the quality of information and I seem to be implying that there is very little! Where the first two movements are strictly organized according to phrases of either 14 bars or 14 events per sentence, so that time is measurable, the third part suddenly deals with layering. 1997 was the time when new complexity was still in vogue and several of my colleagues were impressed by it, erroneously believing that the more information you put on top of each other, the more “interesting” the result becomes. So I decided to deal with that aspect of “information” as well, composing a whole bunch of separate layers over each other. But in order to piss them off a bit I made each layer a replica of fake nature, ritually entering at set points: bird calls, samples of nature sounds, cowbells, stuff like that… and through all that peaceful twinkling: two thundering cymbal players. It’s a weird ending. What I’m implying is that there is a lot going on, but that it all just becomes an arabesque in the end, a landscape, very contrived, without hierarchical organization and choices. “Adequate time” is also a value judgment: it basically means that it’s free timing (though it isn’t really, underneath everything I still have the same proportions going on) and stops when I “feel” it’s time for it to stop.
And I still (even after Chesterton) doubt I understand the title “Music of Mercy”.
Hmmm, yes. That too is a paradox… I like provoking. (It’s a bit similar to an indication I once wrote over the piano part of “3-pt. Melodies” where it is obvious that in order to play the chords one could only smash the piano to pieces: “gently, and with the utmost tenderness of expression”.) The idea behind the black fence is that you don’t really have to do anything to a white fence if you desire it to be black, you don’t have to paint it, sooner or later it will become black of its’ own accord. If you’re patient that is… Implying that nature will sooner or later do the job anyway. I’ve always been obsessed with painting myself out of the picture and wanted a music, which was utterly objective, like nature, as if it was just revealing something that was there anyway. Unlike nature though, Art doesn’t generally just succeed on its’ own, without some form of presentation or organization. Yet I wanted something, which sounded as free as the birds, could change whenever it wished, in which events could occur only once (there are some “single events”) and sounded nearly improvised. The only way I found I could do that was through very strenuous organization. Which was a paradox to me. I.e.: the more it’s organized, the more “free” it becomes. (?????!!) The point for me being that this “state of mercy”, where things just “are”, could only come at that point. So, “Mercy” is a hard thing to get, and the result of much discipline, no foggy state of unawareness! And when you listen, that’s obvious. I hope this isn’t too obscure!!
You use the word ´partª as a “movement”, don’t you? Or at least alternatively with “part” as “voice”. Why? Is there a meaning of an “object”, “volume” against “movement”?
I don’t know if I get the second half of your question! As for the first part. I use the word “Part” mostly in the sense of “Movement”. In “3-pt. Melodies etc.” I use it to describe the structure of the melodic form, which has a curve and phrase consisting always of three sections (ie. A (aba) B (aba) A (aba)). In “Composition in 3 Parts” it applies both to the movements as well as the layering (3 groups of instruments). I know, this is all a little bit confusing! I have a fetish with logic…
I don’t get the second bit of your question. If you mean, what do I mean with “Objects”? That’s a simple one: little musical entities, which are fully formed and never change. Just like any daily artifact. Just take a set amount of time and chuck them in it “randomly”, just like reorganizing the stuff on your desk.
Do you have special predilection for the number 3 (it is a good question to add to the interview) as it is emphasized in the titles?
I guess I must have! But don’t ask me why… There’s some type of primitive sense, which makes me feel that 3 (which is circular of course) is a complete number. I often write 3 movements and then fill them with very square figures! Actually I’m doing something with 2 now..
Could you explain the title 3-pt. (untampered) Product?
Businesslike title. “Product” is easy of course (sometimes I like giving really severe titles to pieces which are actually quite friendly, another little bit of provocation I guess… there’s something “wrong” with all of my titles, straight up to the Triple Concerto, for 8 instruments!). “Untampered” (which means: “not tampered with”, i.e. “not fooled around with, not changed”) especially alludes to the form of the 2nd movement, which is an unashamed ABC, A’B'C’, A”B”C”. Nowhere did I want to succumb to the temptation of mucking around with that straightforward, boring, form. Thus: “untampered”!
Could you say something about the Russian performances of your music in St.Petersburg and Yekaterinburg?
Both experiences were wonderful. I know this sounds politically correct, but I’m not trying to be! I was struck by the professionalism and enthusiasm of both players and audience. There was no snappy talking back or other forms of irritating ego-manifestation (although… who knows what was being said in Russian!). The work ethic was high, dedicated and the level of playing was outstanding. Absolutely no less than in the West. I felt there was a real need for music. Also I found there to be a healthy audience atmosphere, which was closely linked to life and attended by all ages. I remember some of the concerts in Yekaterinburg especially, which some of the members of the audience seemed to be attending as if they were going to a cinema show, accepting all the artistic bombast that was cascading over them as a perfectly natural part of life! There seemed to be few preset concepts about silly premises like “high
Art” and “entertainment”. I found this to be very refreshing and surprising, since all the reports I’d received before seemed to pertain to how “traditional” and “conservative” the Russians were. Maybe I was lucky?!
What were your impressions of your visit to St.Petersburg? Similarities and contrasts between St.Petersburg and Yekaterinburg (including climate and audiences, for example)?
I think I’ve answered some of that already. Naturally St.Petersburg is more cosmopolitan than Yekaterinburg, which is probably why I was more intrigued by Yekaterinburg. Although by no means as pretty as St. Petersburg it’s clear Stalinist ambiance fascinated me more. Also the idea of it once having been closed off to the outside world, cultivating its’ very own culture in isolation, appealed to my sense of mystery. I felt more “hunger” in Yekaterinburg. St. Petersburg, for what I really witnessed of it – both times my stay was pretty short – felt more familiar to me. The audiences were smaller and seemed more informed and specialized.
Geschreven door Olga Manulkina en Peter Adriaansz