Photo: Farhad Khodadadzade
We’re excited to introduce the latest endeavor from three ambitious artists coming together as one effort in the name of forward-thinking music and audiovisual art. Thys, Nicholas Thayer, and Setareh Nafisi have joined forces with one idea to present to the world: to make something completely audiovisual and mix their experience in electronic music with acoustic instruments. Titled Three Reflections, the trio took the idea to Kickstarter to fund a campaign that’ll turn their compositions into reality with films created for each of the three pieces and the ability to offer live performances.
Thys, whose work with Noisia and Sleeping Beauty Dreams has garnered massive praise across the musical spectrum, linked with longtime friend Nicholas Thayer, who boasts the title of an OWSLA alum with an impressive discography throughout the years. To get a better idea of the inner workings of Thys and Nicholas Thayer, the pair took to WhatsApp to conduct an interview with each other about the project, their motivations, and some interesting conversation topics regarding meaning and philosophy in between. I hopped into the conversation myself to get a better understanding of their concepts and plans to move forward with the project, and beyond learning about Three Reflections, you’ll learn about a lot than you’d think from one WhatsApp conversation.
To support the campaign, visit the Kickstarter page here — the campaign ends on Sunday, February 10th and offers some pretty incredible rewards for those who choose to back it.
Caution: Longread. TLDR; Thys and Nicholas are doing a project together: they’re writing for string quartet and electronics, they’re running a Kickstarter to crowdfund the project, and they see this as a perfect excuse to set off on a long ass tangent. At the end of this piece, you will still not know what the music is going to sound like.
N: So Thys – why a string quartet? Isn’t that taking the whole ‘No More Dead Limit’ thing a bit too far?
T: I wanted to make something for classical instruments, not necessarily string quartet. But I figured it’s a configuration that is very well tuned, and also the players I imagined will have played in quartets many times. And because I want to push the audiovisual bit quite much, I thought practically in rehearsals it would be easy to use this configuration that they were also accustomed to.
N: That makes sense. If you are going to radically change some of the parameters then don’t try and reinvent the wheel at the same time.
You have been stepping outside of Noisia a bit recently, with Sleeping Beauty, with Tetris, and so forth. What is it that you are finding in these different creative outlets?
T: So that’s why I suggested string quartet in the first place. The drive to try to make something with acoustic instruments has been building for years though. There is obviously immense power of expression in people who really master an instrument. They don’t have to tweak their sound in the computer anymore, they’ve studied for decades to reach the point where they know all the techniques and sounds and they’re really available at will.
The challenge is not to experiment with their sound so much as use all that’s already available, and make sure they understand what I imagine. If you just tell a string quartet to play a nicely spread 4 note chord, pianissimo, you already have an extremely nice sound design, with perfect balance and lots of expression. If they know what the composer means, they make a lot of decisions how then to make it sound, performing operations in a split second that would take dozens of minutes if not hours to program.
In a way I see them as the ultimate preset machine, turn them on and they sound good. In a way that no VST sampler can approach. Not until the instrument is modeled rather than sampled, AND the player is endowed with specific AI that understands the context of a written note and based on the context makes real-time decisions about how to play a specific note. Because this technology is not available, I want to write for instruments to still tap into that potential. A small ensemble so each instrument’s expression is shown more. And for productional reasons: it’s less players to pay, easier to record and amplify live, less communication problems, you name it…
T: Maybe before we go into this, you add your thoughts on the string quartet too?
T: And if you slightly rephrase this question specific to yourself, how would you answer it? Tell us a bit about your move away from DJ music to finishing a master’s degree at conservatory?
T: Do you know what your workflow will be? Is it the same as your usual? Do you have a usual? What’s the difference? Is there anything in this specific process/workflow that’s challenging or motivating you? Is the fact that it’s conceived as audiovisual from the start going to influence the music as the end result? Is it going to influence your writing process?
T: At the time of writing I can only partially answer my own question here. I know that the process will be different. For me, part of the excitement for this project is to mess with the rules, my own rules but also the rules of what a string quartet composer is supposed to do. As a classical composer one is supposed to sit down with pen and paper, maybe at the piano, and really imagine what things will sound like played by the quartet. A great composer needs an imagined internal sound is close to the end result, so they know what will sound right on the strings when they’re writing it at the piano or just in their head. Nowadays with nice-sounding sampled strings, this is no longer necessary. I’ve done this before and it’s fun in a way, but the only way to get the detail in is by hours of programming and noodling on the computer, something I didn’t want to do for this.
N: There are a few things that for me answer this question:
Firstly is the purity of a string quartet. There is something about the balance of instruments and sounds that means no one line can hide. Nothing gets lost. There are those moments where the quartet plays together as one, and there are moments when they dance as partners, or even fight. There is also an idiomatic reason, being that there are so many nuances in writing that can only be achieved by a quartet. Things like articulation, phrasing, textures and so forth. I started playing violin at age four, and grew up playing in orchestras and ensembles and so this for me is also ‘writing what you know’, which is also where the electronics come in as the fifth voice. Obviously, once you open that Pandora’s box it could lead anywhere, but for me, and I believe for all of us, the electronics will need to work in sympathy with the quartet as the fifth voice.
There is also then the question of why we want to have these performed live. Here for me, there are two important things. Firstly there is something neurological that happens in a performance setting where the performers and the audience synchronize their heartbeats. In a funk band setting, this might be referred to as ‘getting in the groove’ but it happens in a classical setting also. Secondly, no matter how good the microphones are, they will always be translating vibrating air into a series of ones and zeroes. Bypassing that and having the vibrating air transmit straight from player to listener is an invaluable experience.
T: I’m not going to limit the electronics to one voice 🤓💩
N: Haha. No, I meant more that the electronics as a whole become the fifth voice 😆
T: I understand but I’m saying also the sixth and ninety-ninth
T: Another factor that is really influencing the workflow is the intended result: for me actually the movie that we’ll make influences the piece the most. I’m working on a storyboard with lex that’ll help guide the music too, so structurally the music is already being shaped by the fact that there’s a movie that has a certain development. Also, because it’s audiovisual, there’s more reason for me to do quiet sections, or nasty dissonants, that I might not intuitively write for no reason, but now that I have a reason to explore them I’m excited to try. Also, for me in audiovisual the audience expectation is different, coming from electronic club music where people mainly want to just dance it feels better if I present my slow and weird and “not-just-made-to-dance-to” music with visuals…
T: Do you believe there is a magical quality that can absolutely not be replicated through ones and zeroes? I think the tech isn’t there yet but I can imagine that when developed, ones and zeroes can have the complete spectrum of what is now exclusive to acoustic.
N: For me, the move out of DJing and writing club music was a natural one. I had worked a bit outside of that scene since the end of 2014, and in December 2015 I composed for Sydney Dance Company’s ‘New Moves’ I realised then that this was something I wanted to pursue. Since then I have composed a lot for short film, and dance, and I am also the music director for House of Makers, based in Amsterdam, who make site-specific inter discipline work. As a result of all this I decided I wanted to really focus on my practice, and also my understanding of my art, and so decided to pursue a masters in European Music in Groningen. The focus of this is specifically chamber ensembles and live electronics, so rather closely connected to this project.
Like you, this move for me was motivated by the desire to explore emotions and ideas outside the realm of club music. David Byrne’s excellent book ‘How Music Works’ talks a lot about how often music is written for the context in which it is performed, from Bach chorales to drum and bass things rings true, and there is an assumed language and pattern that it is hard to break. In wanting to explore other musical ideas I found it more freeing to totally break that bond rather than trying to adapt it.
T: Hm yeah I connect to that. At the same time, I think it’s a loss for a scene if people outside of it who are really looking for cool things outside the scene (people like you and me in this case, but there are many examples) stop bringing that sound back into the scene…
N: Yes this is also true. For me, though, it became a question of how much can you compromise an idea in order to fit it into a different box. I like the way you have approached it with Noisia actually, to let that be its own thing but still with a nod to what you are all doing outside of it. For me, it made more sense to make more of a break and allow myself to refocus without feeling that pressure.
N: My workflow has, I suppose, been a lot more traditional than yours. I started by writing harmonic and melodic motifs that I developed throughout the course of the three movements of my piece. Always in my mind is the overarching narrative of the film, and those three movements, therefore, providing a beginning a middle and an end, but I think for me the film will end up much more being shaped by the music.
For me, it is important that the electronics component is performable as a fifth and equal voice within the instrumentation. A big part of my Masters research is to do with making live electronics both performable and notable, in a way that I could provide the score and a download patch to someone on the other side of the world, and as long as they had a laptop and a MIDI controller they would be able to faithfully reproduce it.
For this reason, I confine myself to designing Kontakt instruments myself, always starting from my own recorded samples, and developing the textural and performative attributes that enable them to be as expressive as possible within the live setting.
N: This gets into a very interesting and philosophical area. One might even venture to say an existential area. Is a live performance that utilises 1s and 0s (such as ours will eventually also be) different to recorded 1s and 0s? Is there something inherently more ‘real’ about a ‘live’ performance? And if so, then what?
Why do audience members happily pay €30-50 to listen to an orchestra play Mahler 5, when nobody will pay the same to hear one of the great recordings of the same piece (for the record Leonard Bernstein with Vienna Philharmonic is my favourite of Mahler 5)?
I do agree that, eventually, 1s and 0s will be able to faithfully reproduce the full effect of acoustic instruments. The advances from ‘violin’ presets on a ’70s keyboard through to what is available now show how far and quickly that technology will grow. But this does not answer the question of the intangibility inherent in the live performance.
N: Let’s get conceptual for a minute. Leonard Bernstein said, “A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.”
Do you agree with this idea, that music (or any art) can carry meaning?
T: I agree that it can, I don’t agree that it must.
T: I like art with meaning, that is about something. I usually find something easier to connect to if it engages my cognition.
T: I think this is because it’s more immersive.
T: I’m a pretty brainy guy. (Not saying this in a self-complimentary way, this is also my weak point.) So I’m pretty hard to move with just beauty and pretty things. But if the things are indeed pretty, and then refer to things in the world, in a way that I agree with (bias confirming or teaching me something new through an inventive way), I will think the piece is valuable. That said, I think the “highest” art is the art that doesn’t refer to a world, but just touches you through beauty. Instrumental music being the most abstract of all sensory art, that sets the bar very high.
N: I would add the nuance to this that the meaning doesn’t have to be apparent either. And this is a scale more than an either/or situation. I think this is also where the space for the contradiction comes in.
T: If a work has meaning to the author that isn’t apparent to the audience
T: That makes the meaning irrelevant to the quality of the art
T: It is essential for the artist to be able to make it. But if they choose to not show their cards, not reveal the meaning of the references, this does mean that the piece will have to be judged purely by its “beauty.”
N: For instance, Rothko’s paintings. One might say they are fairly ‘abstract’ and that his source material or ‘inspiration’ is not overly apparent, but the depth of the meaning is undeniably evident.
T: OK OK OK wait
T: Define “meaning”
T: As far as I know and as far as I define “meaning,” Rothko’s paintings mean nothing.
N: This interview took a turn
T: They are the object of contemplation
T: They are very valuable for the people that connect to them
T: I would still say that strictly speaking, using my definition, they are meaningless
T: Not useless, meaningless
T: Important to separate these two words :)
N: Rothko said of his work, “There is a great sadness in me, and there is a great sadness in you. I put my sadness into my paintings, so that together we can meet there and be a little less sad.”
T: Sadly I myself am not able to sit down and enjoy a Rothko painting (trust me I’ve tried).
T: Maybe this will grow with the years
T: Generally I don’t see myself as a very visual person
N: Ahhh. I love Rothko. Even more surprisingly as I am colorblind.
N: So, if there is a definition between ‘use’ and ‘meaning,’ and that line is somehow defined by the level of abstraction from the inspiration, how does instrumental music then convey meaning?
T: I love thoughts and meanings, and I love sound and harmony. How things look always comes second for me. Unfortunately the world is actually driven mostly by looks, our sight is definitely our dominant sense. People choose their vegetables by the way they look. Ask the guy who designs the different lighting for the tomatoes vs the greens about that :)
T: It can do so by “Mickey Mousing”, describing by association. Like Beethoven’s pastoral has the little brook running in the beginning but then a thundercloud strikes.
T: Highly romantic, and quite passé
T: I think describing things with music is a bit of a faux-pas
T: Things get very Tom & Jerry if you do
N: Soooo you choose your carrots by the sound they make? 😝
T: A blind person could tell you much about food by its sound
T: You can’t see if a pumpkin is rotten on the inside, but you could hear by tapping it :)
T: Got you
N: Then you get a step further removed, like Messiaen transcribing birdsongs as a source of melodic inspiration. Not with any intent at capturing the ‘meaning of nature’ but more as a starting point.
T: I think some museums have had phases of taking away the little cards next to the works, taking away all text and stories about the pieces and the artists.
T: I think this is taking a very important part of the experience away from the audience (actually reserving it to the fortunate who have already studied and memorized the context of these pieces)
T: Humans are storytellers
T: And story constructors
T: This is one of our greatest instincts
N: Again I think it is a graded scale too. Certain sounds ‘mean’ something because that’s what they’ve always meant. Major = happy / Minor = sad / dissonance = unsettling etc.
N: The thing is, to what extent do you make use of that musical vocabulary to say what you are wanting to say?
N: This is why I find microtonality really interesting, as immediately it is removing those ideas of major / minor etc
T: Mmmmmm well I like microtonality exactly because it kind of exaggerates the feeling of certain notes.
T: Makes the minor third a LOT MORE MINOR
T: So to speak
T: It doesn’t necessarily work like that
T: But things in my brain just start firing when I hear an interval that isn’t like “the rest”
N: And breaking out of traditional uses of form and function. Discarding them enables you to then pick back up only those bits that serve the ‘meaning’ you are trying to convey.
N: NOT MINOR ENOUGH!!!
T: I hope at some point I will have the confidence to make music that is about nothing, that isn’t telling a story that could be caught in words.
T: Obviously this is what we do with Noisia all the time
T: But there what makes us stand out is not what I want to stand out with when I’m writing for myself
N: I found the multi-layered storytelling behind ‘Get Deaded’ particularly nuanced.
T: Noisia is supposed to be a kind of major force that just sweeps over you and takes you away from the world into a sweaty blur for an hour or a little more
T: Noisia to me is music for the insensitive, and the very sensitive
T: The very sensitive need a big impulse to break through the walls they built up around their sensitivity
T: For a lot of people Noisia / dnb is too much
T: That’s because it’s built for people who somehow aren’t moved by music that’s less intense
N: I learnt the Icelandic word for this: Valtari
Apparently it literally translates to steam-roller, or concrete roller for flattening tarmac, but the secondary meaning is a force that goes right over the top of you.
T: I mean have you ever been in a wave that sweeps you ashore?
T: A jumble of limbs and waves and bubbles of air and just thousands of kilos of water pushing you somewhere
T: It’s scary but it’s majestic
T: You’re powerless
T: And if you have a feeling of safety connected to that powerless it’s pure submission it’s like being in the womb again
T: Sorry to go all Jung on you now
T: But with Thys I want to touch on this intensity here and there, use it as a tool to make the highest climax of a piece
T: But also try to make music that touches those that haven’t got an insensitivity problem lol
T: But this is a dive in the deep end, this is a world where I know what I like but I don’t know how to get there. I know when I hear someone else’s work whether I like it. But it’s always different judging your own work. You’re first in love with what you just made, then you hate it, etc.
I actually want to jump in on this conversation right now if that’s cool — With the new project between the two of you, where are you at on the idea of telling a story through sound? Are you both speaking to the sensitive with this project, and if so, how?
T: With years of experience, you start building awareness of what you’ll like later, even while you’re making it. Not completely, but you get better. But when you start something new, you kind of have to start over, learn the terrain, find your bearings, put markers down, etc.
T: In a way, going audiovisual on this project is not just because I believe that the future of “classical music” (actually I mean instrumental or orchestral) is more and more audiovisual/experiential.
T: I also wanted to do something audiovisual because it is a non-conceptual way of introducing meaning to the music.
T: So I don’t have to describe the meaning, the music is designed to go with a film, and the music and the film tell a story together that would be really hard to tell with music alone (or with film without music for that matter)
T: So besides being convinced that music does well with visual components, and being excited about being involved in a more literal story-telling discipline like film, it’s also a slightly opportunistic move, because writing for a film with a bit of a story gives me a lot of direction in writing the music.
T: It gives me a chance to make something about something, without having to describe the “something” in descriptive music.
T: Having the story be about something (albeit still abstract, we don’t want to tell a straight-forward story but go about it in a visual abstract and associative way) gives me a little more confidence to try to use more subtle colors in the music. The same colors that by themselves I would think “not intense enough, doesn’t say enough” can be just perfect in the context of a film. And then taken out of the audiovisual context (just the music on Spotify) they will probably be fine by themselves. As in: it’ll be a roundabout way for me to release music that is leaving a lot of the intense options out and favors more subtle “colors” to evoke a response in the listener. To be honest, the prospect of trying to do that without having the film to kind of back me up, that would be too much for me. I’m just getting started in a way. No need to take off the training wheels in my first week of learning to ride.
T: I’m trying to be a kind, understanding and providing “parent” to my own process. Stimulate, a bit of pressure for performance here and there, reward, but most of all make sure the process is inherently motivating throughout.
T: Fun I guess
Haha, I bet. Would like to hear Nicholas’ thoughts.
N: I 100 percent resonate with this feeling. I do get it when I listen to drum and bass also, particularly Noisia. And also if I am listening to DJent metal or something similar. There is a feeling of catharsis when the sheer force of the music breaks through and washes everything else away.
In case anyone is interested this is my current ‘catharsis’ playlist of that kind of metal.
N: Very much so for me also. The work I am writing is very personal in this instance, possibly the most personal work I have done to date.
I am not sure however if I would use the phrase ‘telling a story,’ as that implies more of a narrative then I am working with. Whilst my piece will have three movements (the traditional beginning, middle and end of a narrative, or to phrase another way the setup, the conflict and the resolution), the movements themselves are more like snapshots, static emotional photographs, rather than the ‘and then this happened and then this happened’ approach.
N: This idea of imbuing art (in my case music) with meaning is something that fascinates me.
First of all you have to agree to the assumption that ‘meaning’ is a thing that exists, (sorry nihilists), and that we as people are experientially separate individuals, experientially autonomous and able to perceive things independent of others.
If all this were not the case then the transfer of meaning would be impossible to begin with.
Assuming this is the case then, how do I as a composer put ‘meaning’ into my music. How do I take the thoughts or feelings or story or whatever out of the grey matter in my head, and transfer it into a lot of vibrating air that then hits your eardrums, is converted into brainwaves by your brain and somehow still retains the same meaning as when it left mine.
That, I think is the driving question behind my current artistic search. I want to tell you how confused, or sad, or angry, or whatever else I am using music, and in doing so let you know that you are not alone, that someone else has felt the same confusion or sadness or anger that you are feeling, and that it is part of being alive.
You’re making this project knowing the music will soon be accompanied by film. When you commission these films, will you leave the full artistic direction of the film to the filmmakers and have them solely rely on the music to create their interpretations, or will you attempt to guide the visual aspect beyond simply the audio?
T: I’m co-writing the movie with my friend Lex Vesseur. He’s a visual guy more than a storyboard, script and text kind of guy. Because things are low budget, and because I enjoy the challenge and the opportunity, I am helping out.
T: I wanted to make something personal, a short film based on something that really mattered to either one of us. I had a concept, and Lex had one, and we went with Lex’s. Because it’s very personal, we want to make it an abstract associative visual trip, that is based on but not descriptive of what happened to someone very close to Lex. I think the fact that deep down the movie is about something that really happened, and is partially still happening, will make us make the movie better, and make the movie have some kind of coherence even though we don’t intend to tell a clear story.
T: This kind of cuts back to the discussion Nick and I had before about meaning in art.
T: When meaning is hidden, the artwork can be formally meaningless. It’s not meant to bring across a definite message or anything. However I believe the secret meaning, the events or subjects or objects it privately refers to and is centered around, still could possibly give the work coherence to the audience on a more subconscious level, but more importantly give the artist(s) a reason to get started at all, but also to take the matter seriously and do their absolute best to not insult whatever inspired the work with a crappy result.
How long has this project been in the works? It sounds like quite a bit of planning.
T: Nick and I knew we’d be doing stuff together since he moved to Groningen to do a master’s in music school here.
T: We started really discussing where and when and what when he was actually here, so this was in September.
T: Then come October we’d involved Setareh, decided on the form (string quartets with short films and a live audiovisual performance) and were investigating how we were going to find the money.
T: End of October, if I’m not mistaken, we’d looked at all the options: public, private and commercial funding, and decided we couldn’t wait for big question marks (public funding here in NL is great, but it can take long to get an answer and the answer can still be no after months of waiting) and that we should really give crowdfunding our best shot.
T: Unfortunately we missed a few deadlines in preparation and had to move the whole campaign into December, colliding with Xmas and NYE, which is a bit of a difficult time to find attention and money. We’re now (January 15th) 30 percent funded, which is not atypical for a Kickstarter campaign: start with a bunch, plateau in the middle, and really make the biggest moves when the deadline is looming.
Going back on what you said earlier about museums taking description cards away from the work, it got me thinking about how differently art is perceived by those who have studied it, those who have an emotional connection to it, or those who know nothing at all about it. I know with Noisia, Thys, you guys often like to offer a description of a song and I find it helpful or at least more personal. With this project, how do you both recommend to take in these works? I feel like there’s many layers to this endeavor.
T: I’m open to giving a little description and basic knowledge if I feel like people will enjoy the movie more if they know. But I can’t answer this question now, it really depends on what the movie ends up like :)
T: Maybe it’s so self-explanatory that it just needs a title and is good to go…
We’ll see where it takes us, then. Now, with this project, we’re going to hear (and see) three pieces at 15 minutes each. Since each piece will receive its own film accompaniment, is each piece fueled by different inspirations, or is the idea to form a cohesive story in three acts?
N: I am working with Maskarade, a longtime friend and collaborator. He has done videos for Hundred Waters (“Wave To Anchor” and “Blanket Me”), and plenty of other works also. When it came time to develop the concept it was me who suggested the main ideas and themes, and how to abstract them and structure them, and from there we developed the concepts further. Brandon felt more comfortable working within that framework instead of coming up with the whole concept and storyboarding himself.
N: True, but if I remember correctly our first idea was a podcast about existentialism called ‘Modern Talking.’ I still think this is a strong idea.
N: I think this comes down to those semantic ideas again too. I do not think an artwork’s meaning has to be ‘showing’ (in a linguistic sense), but I think essentially we agree on the conceptual level here. I do also believe that however abstracted or hidden, those original inspirations become the backbone of the work, and as such will present to the listener in a myriad of ways.
T: I think a useful temporary definition of meaning would be: communicated reference. If the reference is deliberately made vague because it is more beautiful that way, I’m going to be strict and call the artwork meaningless. Problem with the word is that it also has a more metaphysical definition as in “the meaning of life”, some kind of magic inherent quality without which things are empty. I really resent this kind of sorcery. Meaning is an act of reference. I mean it.
T: So it’s important to separate the words ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ in these discussions.
T: Because I’m sure as hell not saying that art without meaning is purposeless.
N: For my piece I think the title (as yet undecided) and the work itself will be all that is needed initially. I don’t want to bring too many preconceptions to a piece. I remember the first time I heard the Sigur Ros album ( ), and the songs were all ‘Untitled 1,’ ‘Untitled 2,’ etc. It gave me the freedom to come to it myself and find myself in the music. I have never yet had the opportunity to discuss with them what I found of myself there, and if it was indeed what they put of themselves into that album. Would be an interesting discussion.
Perhaps on this level even a title would be unnecessary for mine, knowing the shape that the film is taking also.
T: PS, I studied philosophy in uni and Nick as well.
T: Hence these seemingly pointlessly succinct definitions.
T: And our casual use of academic language. LOL
That explains a lot. Hahaha
N: I see what you mean.
T: We finally get to flaunt our pretty philosophy feathers.
N: They are three distinct pieces, each standing separately. Although, somewhat unsurprisingly, there is a common thread running through them, but this was entirely unintentional.
N: pretty AND petty
N: and I think with all three, the abstraction of the core idea prevents it from being a story in three acts. all of the pieces will have their own narrative arc whilst still being a part of the same project.
I mean, I’m going to approach the two of you from a completely different perspective right now, as one of someone who perhaps has been following each of your projects over the years: someone who’s a huge fan of Nicholas’ OWSLA EP from 2013 or Thys’ work with Noisia on “Dead Limit.” These concepts can prove to be quite intimidating (for me personally, I get an insane wave of existential dread when I dive deep into philosophical concepts) for the average listener of electronic music. Are you both encouraging listeners to explore new avenues and philosophical ways of listening and thinking through this project? While this project deviates from previous endeavors, surely you’ll reel in those who have been following both of you for years which calls for the attention of listeners who maybe haven’t listened to modern classical music on their own accord.
N: I don’t think this project is specifically about encouraging new ways of thinking, but if that is a by-product then that is wonderful also. But you only have to look at Thys’ Twitter feed for your daily dose of existentialism. I do think it is important to continually challenge yourself as an artist, and if that means taking others along for the ride also then that’s great. There’s the old question to ask, ‘if nobody was listening, would you still be making what you are making?’
There’s always that discussion about genres, and of course I understand why this will be seen as modern classical music, because it is, really. I mean, a string quartet is a very classical setting. But then for me there is a definite thread connecting this to a lot of my past work, especially the work I have been doing for the past three or four years for film and dance and so forth. It might be a bit of a jump if the last thing people heard from me was Like Boom, but then six years is quite a bit of time to pass also. I think Thys has probably done more to help his followers to bridge that musical gap also, through his ‘Brief History…’ Spotify playlist and his work on Tetris etc, whereas I kind of just disappeared and treated what I was moving into as a new and distinct thing.
The boundaries these days between ‘classical’ and ‘electronic’ and so forth are becoming much more blurred than they used to be also. Thys above references Deru’s excellent Torn In Two album, which in my mind owes as much to classical music as anything else, despite being predominantly electronic. Then there are composers like Ben Frost (aka Ether Machines) who blur those lines in different ways, and of course people like Nils Frahm, or Sarah Davachi. If this project is a doorway to new musical rooms for people, then that would be a huge honour.
For those wondering, yes, sound design is a big part of this project, but perhaps not in the ways you might expect.
T: No I’m not trying to do anything else other than really embrace the full me, which includes these kinds of projects.
N: this is a much more succinct way of saying what I was trying to say
T: And I join Nick in hoping that yes maybe the two of us with our backgrounds doing something like this will lead people to discover new territory. That would be nice.
T: But that’s not the objective. The objective is to do something that I feel like I should have been doing all along, but which really didn’t have a place in what my career put right in front of me.
T: I’m super grateful for all the luck that I have had, and the opportunities that I’ve had. But they’ve all pointed pretty much the same way, and there’s a big part of me that also needs to explore other directions.
T: PS philosophy is not something that is really attached to this project
T: It’s just something unavoidable when you put me and Nick in a room together
Hah, you two are quite the pair. I’m fascinated to see the evolution of both your careers and artistry, and I do hope this experience fulfills the desire to create beyond the boundaries that have been made before. Once this project is funded, how would you ideally like to present it? These days I’ve seen artists premiering their audiovisual pieces as an event with a formal premiere or creating an immersive online experience to enjoy at home.
T: I would LOVE to see the films in a movie theater
T: But they are mainly meant to go into the big world, to be on YouTube or Vimeo, watchable
T: The Kickstarter backers made it happen, I think they deserve it to be publicly available
T: I love witnessing experiential things, happenings and performance, things that really only exist in the room with the people present. But the movies for me are accessible, worldwide, at all times for everyone online.
T: Part of the project is a live concert that we can send on tour: the four string players in the quartet perform with Setareh on electronics and keyboards, and the video material from the movies is used as projection material for the stage.
T: We have an experienced stage designer/projectionist/lighting tech onboard that will design the visual aspect of the performances
Why did you decide to fund this campaign via Kickstarter versus other means of crowdfunding or investments?
N: As Thys mentioned before, there are many wonderful grants available in the Netherlands for projects like this, but the main obstacle for us there was time. We wanted to make this project happen NOW as opposed to a year down the track. As for why Kickstarter, well, to be honest there was not a lot of difference between it and other major crowdfunding models, especially ones geared towards specific projects as opposed to long term involvement. But we also wanted to offer people the chance to be involved themselves. To know that this project literally could not have happened without their support. Whether it is €10 or €100 it is all essential to what we are hoping to accomplish.
Can we talk about the performance at Weekend Break Festival in Groningen once the project is finished? What will that look like?
N: The performance at Weekend Break will be somewhere between a live concert and an audio-visual show. The music will all be performed live by the string quartet, with Setareh performing the electronics components of all three pieces too. Visually, the content being created will be dissembled and then recontextualized by Hendrik Walther, a visual artist who is spearheading the stage design also.
I know it’s not just you two on this project; can you speak on Setareh’s involvement as well? How did you two link with her?
N: I met Setareh through the Master’s program at the Prins Claus Conservatory here in Groningen. Her musical journey to get to this point, from her home country Iran to Groningen, encapsulates someone with a deep desire to discover as much as possible about creating music and experiences that connect with people. This, combined with her abilities as a pianist, improviser and composer made her a perfect fit for this project, with the three of us writing in distinct but complementary ways.