Interview with Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge
Tetrahedronicalism; Logosian Swirl
Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, Show #315/316, 9 and 16 June 2001. Kalvos on the road in Ghent at the LOGOS Foundation. Listen to the interview from the original broadcast: Audio Part 1 [0:35:35–1:32:37] / Audio Part 2 [0:30:35–1:28:50].
Godfried-Willem Raes is known worldwide as a musicmaker in the largest sense of the word. He was responsible for the new music concert programming of the Brussels Philharmonic Society between 1973–1988 and still organizes all the concerts at the Logos Foundation in Ghent. Over the past 40 years he has turned the Logos Foundation into the most active new music organization in Belgium. As a composer/performer and instrumentmaker he is the founder of the Logos-Group (1968), out of which grew the Logos Duo, as well as the experimental <M&M> (Man and Machine) orchestra, operating with his spectacular musical robots and human interfaces. He is also a well-known expert in computer technology, robotics and electronic art, and is the author of an extensive real time algorithmic music composition programming language: <GMT> running on the Wintel platform. He is currently the president of the Logos Foundation and a full-time research professor at the Ghent University Association.
Moniek Darge is active as composer, violinist, performer and audio artist. She has built light- and soundsculptures, installations, musical instruments and for many years has been constructing a series of alternative music boxes, with which she also performs. Darge has specialised in both soundscapes and live-art performances in which visual and musical aspects are combined and in interactional improvisation on violin. Since 1970 she has performed around the world and has been active on stage, first with the Logos Ensemble, then with Logos Duo, and more recently with the M&M robot ensemble. She also founded Logos Women, a small group specialised in intermedia improvisations performingtheir own compositions for various instruments, voices and music boxes.
Audio Part 1 [0:35:35–1:32:40]
[Kalvos] It’s Kalvos & Damian on the road, just Kalvos here. We’re in Ghent, in the confines of the metal ceiling of the Logos Foundation, and this is a sight to see. We should be here with video instead of audio, but Kalvos & Damian bring you audio and things for your ears. We’re here with Moniek Darge and Godfried-Willem Raes. Welcome to Kalvos & Damian.
[Moniek Darge] Yes.
[Godfried-Willem Raes] Yes, that’s right!
[MD] Thank you for coming here, all the way.
[K] So, this is an amazing place, you have many people who have worked with you, but who are you? Moniek, let’s start with you.
[MD] Well, I started studying the violin as a child, because I wanted to study harp, and this music school was a very frustrating thing, so I quit it after five years. Then I met Logos, and at that time I was studying visual art and art history, and I thought, “Wow, you can do great things with music.” In between that time, the only great piece that I could find on the radio was a piece by Varèse which was very interesting for my ears at that time, when I was around 16 years old, Amériques. Since I met Logos, I’m working with Logos in experimental music, and combining music with other media. Myself, for the moment, I’m playing violin, but in all kinds of different ways, not at all classical. I just play my violin and improvise. I make soundscape compositions, and I also love to make sets of, you could call them “music boxes,” but it’s not a music box in a classical way, it’s a box which makes sounds.
[K] Yes, and you have them here, they’re quite amazing. Tell more about those.
[MD] These music boxes are small objects that fit in a box. I start with a box that I get from a friend or that I find at the flea market. All of a sudden, the shape of the box attracts my attention, I don’t know why, but I know that box will be a music box. Then I bring it home and sometimes let it sit there for a while without doing anything with it. Sometimes I think, “Mmm, this and that object should go in there,” which could be found objects or toys, or just an association. I start always with the visuals, and whilst making the visuals, I’m thinking about what kind of sound I want to get in here, and slowly I get an idea of a sound. For me, that’s the hardest part, to get the sound in there. I hear the sound, but I cannot grab that sound, and then I find something. In the end, when I am happy with the result, the sound and visual together, the box is finished. It can be like a do-it-yourself music box in the sense that you have a key and notes, and nuts, because that’s a [play on words] in Dutch. Noten are nuts and written notes. Then, you also have the paper with the staff, so it’s a do-it-yourself music box. Or it’s a silent music box, of course Cage influenced all of us, it’s hard to escape that. So there’s no sound in that box, but then there is a sound, because there is a lock and you can *tick* on the lock. And that music is under a globe in plexiglas so you cannot touch it, because it’s silent. The sound is there, but it cannot go out, you cannot touch it to make this sound. Most of the time it’s a sound made by rattling things or by shaking, a few with very, very low-tech fidelity electronics. [Laughter] And the opposite of course, [Godfried] is so good in high-tech, so I do the opposite. It can be like some of these birthday cards you open that sing songs, but if the batteries are really low, I mount them with photo cells, and if the battery is very low you can play with them, *errrriiieerrerrii*.
[K] We have something in common, because in 1973, I built a sculpture made out of roses, and inside the roses were photo cells and oscillators. As the light changed in the room, they would pulse differently, and as people walked by, *errreiiiiuuuuhh*…
[MD] How nice, how nice. Godfried also made an Octofone that makes me think of what you’re describing, with different photo cells, and you can with your hands move on top of that instrument. So I think we have many other things in common, we are just all human beings loving sounds and music.
We listen to 03.34 by Moniek Darge [0:41:02–0:44:35].
[K] Let’s take a quick skip over to Godfried. Tell us about your background, and how you became involved in this.
[GR] Well, I started music at a very early age, my early childhood, coming from a pretty bourgeois family, so I was sent to the Conservatory…
[K] Ah, another Conservatory, yes. [Laughter]
[GR] Of course, of course, by necessity, I ended up in the late 60s at the Conservatory in the student movement, et cetera. We started discussions in the Conservatory, and finally came to this consciousness that Conservatories were sort of very sick institutions, in that everything musicians were supposed to do was reproducing scores that already existed from the past, and nothing but reproduction. Well, we thought this was absolutely insane, since in the fine arts academy, nobody would even conceive of making it a fulfillment of life to just re-draw Rembrandts or something like that. So we decided to make a political decision, and we refused to reproduce. We were only going to produce new music. Of course, the consequence of that was that we formed the group that was the origin of the Logos Group in 1968. We did concerts, made scandals at that time… well, scandals with little things like putting ping-pong balls in the piano and things like that. At that time a glissando on the cello was enough to cause a scandal, really. In the end, we were kicked out of the Conservatory as a group, so we were ungifted, untalented…
[K] But did you feel like you had achieved something by getting kicked out?
[GR] Oh, well, yes, yes, yes… [General laughter] That was the result, and the rules were such that you had to play this and that piece in order to become this and that, and we just refused to do those pieces, so we excluded ourselves from the system. But that was 60s, so…
That actually became the start of the Logos Group, this consciousness that we’ve had going on since then, and then Moniek joined the group in 1970. We can talk in many different directions about the origins, but one of the first things we became conscious of is that we couldn’t do this in complete isolation, to start a new music group in Belgium. There was no new music tradition or actually very, very little. So we started organizing concerts in order to get into contact with people internationally, people who were following similar tracks. Early on, we had contacts with people in The Scratch Orchestra, with Cornelius Cardew in England, people like Gavin Bryars and well, many, many people that formed the European scene around that time. And not only the European scene, but also the American scene, as we early on had contacts with people like Warren Burt [see interview in this issue of eContact!], for instance or Claude Vivier.
We realized that we had to organize concerts for people, also next to our own creative work in terms of a music production group. So, we decided we had to have some form of organization to do that, because you have to put up posters, find people, do concerts, and all the usual stuff.
[K] Yeah, and a name is always good, and you chose a very fine name.
[GR] Well, it’s a strange name in fact, because sometimes get confused by it, they think it’s something biblical or something, which it is not. Because in old Greek, logos means rationality, it means proportion, things like that. Actually, the name Logos comes from the name I had for one of the compositions that caused a scandal at the Conservatory. That piece was called Logos 3:5, of course that’s two prime numbers, and all the musicians got to play in a different meter that was conducted with an electronic metronome that I designed at that time. Computer controlled… well, not computer, but digitally-controlled in a way, with flashing lights, et cetera, so you could get these different tempi going. That piece caused a scandal, and we were nicknamed the Logos Group, because we played that piece. So, we just kept that name. Sort of a historical accident. [Laughter] After many years of doing that — organizing festivals and doing our own concerts, all over Europe at the beginning — we’ve been feeling more and more the necessity of having a hall of our own. If you don’t have a hall where you can always put things on, you become very slow as an organization because it takes longer ahead of time to plan having the hall to invite people. We had a lot of troubles with theatres, because if you go to other organizations that have halls, they generally do not understand that if you do a concert that you might need more than, let’s say, a half an hour before the concert to show up with the musicians, that “Hey, you make some nice music, bam, it’s done.” But this is not this type of music! Sometimes it involves two or three days of setting up special stuff, so we got in conflict with… well, not because they were bad to us or something like that, but just because of a basic misunderstanding about the needs of what we were doing.
So we felt a necessity to built our own hall, so we bought a house, et cetera, made our first concerts where we could have all the equipment that was necessary, equal amplification, film projectors, Super 8, I don’t remember what, but all the technical facilities. So we had that and it was going well for about 10 or 12 years, and then when we became a little bit larger we bought the neighbouring building, which is where we’re sitting now. There, I had this old dream of mine of building a tetrahedron. This concert space, as you described it, is a metal structure, and is a tetrahedron shape. Now, there’s nothing new-age or religious about it, the only reason is purely acoustic. It is that a tetrahedron, intrinsically, has no standing waves, has no resonant frequencies.
So the resonant frequency is 0 cycles per second, which means that by the shape alone of building a tetrahedron, you can make an acoustic shape with no particular resonant frequency. This means that it’s linear to music. It’s absolutely neutral. It can have reverb, but it will be smooth over the frequency spectrum. So that was an elementary point of the design of this tetrahedron.
[MD] Perhaps it’s necessary for the listeners to describe a little bit what the tetrahedron is. Think of a pyramid, but instead of having a square as a base, it is a triangle as a base, and all the sides are also triangles. So we are here, under the top of this pretty strange shape.
[K] And this strange shape, which is of course heavily marketed in crystals, and everything else, which is… it’s so wonderful, because it makes you think, “Oh, wow! How did this happen?” [General laughter]
[GR] Well, there’s a whole philosophy around it, I’m not the inventor of the tetrahedron of course, because it’s the most elementary three-dimensional figure you can make. And actually, there is an American philosopher (a little bit crazy) who wrote lots about tetrahedrons, Buckminster Fuller, who pointed my attention to the specific mathematical properties of the tetrahedron, that it’s the most elementary form you could make. You could take four oranges and you want to put them on top of each other, there’s only way of doing that, with the tetrahedron. [Laughter] So, well, that’s the tetrahedron, and we’ve had that since 1980.
[K] So here you have that, and the walls are painted silver, the metal is atop that (which is also silver), and then there are blue structural elements. It’s very… warm-sounding and hard-looking. [GR, MD laughter]
[GR] We did design ourselves, did a little arc-welding, it’s one of the elements I taught myself. It’s an aspect of Logos that we’ll maybe run into, but it’s pretty important, which is next to our idea about refusing to reproduce old music and always playing the same things over and over. We felt sort of a certain discomfort with the instruments we were taught at the Conservatory. At the Conservatory, they teach instruments that at the latest come from the mid-19th-century, the saxophone. Something like that, and all the others are much older than that. So how could we live in a culture where musical expression should use tools that are at least 150 years old, we thought it was sort of obscene, that nowadays, musicians should still handle tools from that far in the past. Are we really incapable of developing more tools and more acts to express sounds of our culture, of our time? So very early on I started working, I had some knowledge about electronics and making my own circuits with technologies that were available. But not only electronics, but also acoustical devices and other sound sources, a little bit continuing the line that was pointed at by people like Luigi Russolo, in Futurism. So you have different lines, it doesn’t have to be electronic. Russolo has no electricity in his instruments.
[K] For our listeners, they may remember that only early in 2001, we actually read a large portion of The Art of Noises during one of our shows, so they may be reminded of the name Russolo from reading that excerpt.
[GR] [Laughter] So, that is into designing our own instruments, et cetera, it certainly part of my responsibility, to make many of these things. The last couple of years I’ve been making not only instruments, but also extending the notion of instruments into automates, music-playing machines.
[K] Right, because I’m looking around here, and I see pipes and pianos and drums, and they go back… at least the drums go back as far as humanity, so yeah, what you’ve done differently, you have in a sense mechanized, and then after mechanizing you have computerized the instruments in order to get back to your ability to play them in a different way. [See The Kalvos & Damian website for a photo tour of Logos]
[GR] Yeah, but there’s a whole reason behind these instruments. You might wonder, “Well, Godfried, but you are here automating pianos and drums and whatever kind of elements,” but finally, you’re right, these are primitive instruments. Not piano, but at least the drums are. Early on with Logos, as I told you we worked with electronics a lot. Now, there is a fundamental problem with electronic sound generation, that is the contact with the audience. There is no strict relation between your motor efforts and what you get to hear in the loudspeaker. Turning a knob is a completely weird maneuver to do with your hands, because it’s nothing logical in that the sound goes louder when you turn it clockwise. Audiences cannot anticipate on your gesture, and relate the gesture with what comes out of the speaker. Actually, with musical instruments, they can do it. If you play violin, the bow movements are directly related to the sounds produced, so the visual element of a performer onstage add really to the possibility of anticipating the musical story.
[K] And for audiences, among the worst performances are those in which a person sits onstage, blocked by their computer screen and you see nothing but the back and two elbows, and that is all.
[GR] Exactly, yeah, that is all, and it makes no sense. Then I’d much rather take the CD home and listen to it there. You see, concerts after all, we got to understand after having organized many thousands of concerts here in Ghent, that a concert is basically a ritual. And it has to have convincing power and seducing power. If you do nothing onstage to seduce your audience, then why do you do the concert?
[K] Why do they come? [Laughter]
[GR] Why do the people come, it’s just laughable. That was what we experienced with Logos when we started introducing these electronic instruments. We sat there onstage, at least those of us that played these things, turning knobs, buttons, switching wires every so often, alligator clamps here and there, et cetera. There was a lot of mysticism around it, people may wonder, [joking deep voice] “How? These guys must be really great and clever, because they can handle all these weird machines.” Okay, but there is no contact with the music production whatsoever. So, I realized that this was not the way to go. If I cannot succeed in making this link between gesture, and convincing audiences, this has to be a failure.
Then we come to the automates. I thought, “What if I take acoustical sound sources, and control them by computers?” Because this gives me the advantage that I don’t have to have the skill and the craftsmanship anymore, of playing extremely difficult things with these, because I can have the computer play them, and yet the audience can relate to the sound sources, because they can see them moving. So I have something there, and although it may be automatic, it’s still a fascinating thing to see it move. It’s like a little robot, we recognize something of ourselves in that machine that behaves physically.
[K] Now, in your performances, have you a created a performance board where you perform with big buttons and levers, so that they can see that too?
[GR] No, I’ll come to that. [MD laughter]
We listen to Spring '94 by Godfried-Willem Raes [0:59:03–1:03:48].
[GR] … We have one that we’ve been working on for about 30 years now, with ultrasonic and radar equipment, to interface this kind of equipment with any kind of instrument, be it electronic or electromechanical. I think that’s one of the most successful pieces we have, because we’ve been performing these pieces over 500 times. Book of Moves and Songbook are pieces in which we translate body movement, without sensors or anything like that, into movement that’s captured by the computer, and then we can use the information — velocity of movement, amount of body surface that you move, et cetera — and translate that into musical parameters on whatever external processors. For more portable performances, we use a synthesizer or a sampler, anything like that.
For the second piece — which is much more advanced, because there is no synthesizers, no samplers — it’s all real-time processing of voice. So there we are, standing there with a wireless microphone and moving, and by our gesture, we can change the sound, the pitches, the timing, the polyphonic structure, of what we vocally produce. That actually works very well with audiences, because they can immediately relate to it. Every sound is produced there, we can see how the manipulation goes. It creates sort of a hyper-rhetoric kind of situation: when I talk normally to you I can raise my voice, just like that, but suppose I raise and now move my hands, and I map the acceleration of my hands to my voice — I’ll do a cheap imitation, raaaaiiiiizzze my voice, and it gets amplified — all the slight modulations get amplified and modulated by the movement that accompanies the vocal sound production. It’s a not a song piece (although it’s called Songbook), we do not really sing songs, but it’s all vocal utterances of different kinds.
[MD] These two pieces are really fun to play, because with the first one Godfried described, called Book of Moves, you can perform all the instruments you want. So finally, that was the first time in my life I could play my harp! And it was an invisible harp. You do the movement of the harp, you hear the harp, and it’s so great. And not only harp, all of the sudden I could play accordion, and I play flute, all kinds of instruments. So, all of a sudden you feel great, not having to study all these years all these instruments, I can do it. Still, Godfried promised me while he was making it, preparing, still soldering, making the software, “All this will be much more easy than any kind of instrument you have to learn.” I can guarantee you, it’s not much more easy. [Laughter] It’s so strange, because you move, and there is no parameter, you don’t know where to move in the space, because it’s not a proximity device. So you stand there, and you have to do it over and over again, and try to have, like, 20 times the same movement, to make the same sound. It’s not so evident. [Laughter]
[K] Is the software created to learn how you move, and over time it learns the gesture?
[GR] Yes, that’s why all the different sections of those pieces…
[K] So you don’t map the gesture ahead of time, you map a parameter and then it learns the gesture that goes with it?
[GR] Yeah, it looks to the shape of the gesture, like a smooth circular shape, or a rectangular one, it looks to the shape of acceleration over time, these kinds of things.
[K] So that Moniek’s gesture and your gesture are slightly different, but it learns how you use them?
[GR] Yes, but it’s true that certain pieces can only really be played by Moniek because the computer is a learning program, she has to do them, and I can’t even do them.
[MD] It was the other way around at first, these pieces could only be played by Godfried, because he built the instrument! And he moves very quickly, and I move very slowly, and he can go more like karate, I just cannot do that. So it was so frustrating in the beginning! This thing would not react to my movement, and then he discovered, “Aha, we are really very different.” So he had to recompose and make different algorithms, so that now we each have our own pieces. So, we can exchange, but not everything.
[K] Is it set up so that you can perform a duet, or a trio, and have an inter-relationship?
[GR] Theoretically we could, but there are practical problems. Since it’s a radar system, the equipment is not capable of distinguishing one body from another. Two people can move in a setup, but it’s very difficult for the equipment to figure out, “Oh, this is Moniek’s movement, and this is Godfried’s movement,” if we move simultaneously.
[K] Okay, so it’s a radar-based system, not a light-based system, where you can have different…
[GR] No, it’s not light-based. When you don’t move, it actually doesn’t perceive you, the system works only on doppler radar. It’s fundamentally different. It’s not a visual thing, although it works in the dark and everywhere.
[MD] I like to play Songbook better than Book of Moves, because with your voice you can address the audience directly. It was a bit funny in beginning, if you’re there without an instrument, playing an instrument, and you’re just like, *mmmphhh*, you don’t say anything, just move. With Songbook, which came after Book of Moves, you can say something to people — just in jabbertalk, make sounds — and then with the movement, you change these sounds. It’s more like an expression of your whole body, because only moving and no voice and no instruments, it’s a very strange thing to have that in front of all these people staring at you. You want to say something to them. [Laughter]
[GR] Well… [Laughter]
[K] Oh, you don’t find it strange.
[GR] No, I find it’s not strange at all, because after all, when I play the piano, I move my hands and the piano is also a strange foreign object, so if you remove the piano, and something [General laughter]
[K] But you also have an intimate understanding of the software.
[GR] Well yeah, I made it, sure. [Laughter]
[K] So there is a part of you built into that.
[GR] Yeah, of course.
[K] You have played various instruments virtually, in a sense. Also, violin? Do I see pictures of you playing violin?
[MD] I play violin, not virtual, real violin. [Laughter] An electric violin, and a fiddle from Mali. These instruments have, instead of strings of steel or gut, strings of the hair of a horse. It makes a very soft sound, and I like it very much because it’s very close to a human voice, I think. So I can communicate in jabbertalk with my voice, and with my instrument at the same time, and that’s what I love to do.
[K] Aha. So, is this amplified or just pure?
[MD] It’s just pure.
[K] Okay, so we have old instruments too!
[GR] Some old exotic instruments. Actually, we have a pretty wide variety of instruments here. You see, through my own career as an instrumentalist, I also went through different stages. First, as I told you, in a bourgeois family, what’s the instrument you get to play? Piano! Of course, unavoidable, you get to learn the piano, because that’s the standard to which all music is measured.
[K] Even today! Even today, we’re in the 21st century, and even today!
[GR] That was the 50s, but okay. So later, as a sort of revolt against my parents wanting me to play this old piano, I wanted to take something else. “Okay, I’ll take the clarinet.” Which was considered a little bit dirty, because you had saliva coming out, and it’s not hygienic, there’s no distance there, this is less civilized. And then in the 60s, I changed to percussion. Now, percussion is the bottom class of the symphony orchestra. It’s the last thing, they get the lowest wages… well, they used to get that at the time, now it’s changed. But that was also the most revolutionary instrument, because it was really not well integrated into the whole Western music system, it’s only used for decoration, a couple of cymbals and kettle drums. But as soon as you go beyond that, you make revolution, because there’s often no strict pitches, there’s all sorts of weird rhythms that are referring to…
[K] You also make expense, because you have to hire more percussionists to do more things!
[GR] Yeah. And the idea was also to get away from only pitch and strict time measurement elements, wherein which classical music is composed. So in percussion, you had something anarchistic. You had the possibility of sounds that you couldn’t really notate, and particularly if you looked into, for instance, gongs or other ethnic percussion instruments, you get the wildest kinds of sound categories like Indonesian gamelans and African log drums, things like that. They’re wonderful instruments, and they have harmonic overtone series that are completely non-harmonic. I started collecting instruments from abroad. So if you look around here, you’ll see that we have almost a complete gamelan, all these from the big gongs to the gendérs.
[K] And of course, our particular local listeners in Vermont will be very interested to hear that, about an almost complete gamelan, because the first gamelan built in America is only a mile away from our radio station.
[GR] After Indonesian models? Because Lou Harrison, as you probably know…
[K] No, by Dennis Murphy, he was the first to build one after an Indonesian model. He actually lives right around the corner from us, and taught for many years at that school. Yeah, so it’s very interesting to hear that you have brought percussion instruments from everywhere including the gamelan.
We listen to Shifts by Godfried-Willem Raes [1:15:32–1:26:34]. Interview resumes at 1:27:20.
[K] Now, over the course of… well, now it’s more than 30 years. Over the course of 30 years, the popular music has shifted and changed to incorporate electronics, world music, automation, even computer synchronization, all of those things that you were working in early, what do you have to offer now to the audiences, who have heard all these other sounds in a kind of commercial context?
[GR] Well, I don’t think it’s the sounds themselves. It’s true, in the sampling time, there’s no original sounds you can, so to speak, make anymore. But what you can do is to work on the syntax, and the way it all binds together. For instance, what I’m doing a lot of now is writing software, algorithmic composition software. Not only to make the sounds, but just how to make a musical syntax. For instance, you find very elementary algorithmic software also in techno music. Which I find in many aspects very interesting. Much more interesting than anything rock has produced. That’s a personal opinion, but… [Laughter] it’s what I think. But I see they’re fairly elementary applications of algorithms. What they do not have is form. They don’t make a story, there’s nothing in time that spans something. There’s no real rhetoric shape.
[K] That’s correct, yes. But it’s also deliberate.
[GR] It’s maybe deliberate, but it’s also the weakness. I could not imagine to going and listening to a techno concert.
[K] So you don’t go to a techno event that goes all night long and just… sort of…
[GR] Well, I can take a chunk of it and then the next chunk and it will be different, but there’s nothing that relates these different chunks, unless you start moving and being like that, but that’s, well… it’s probably my age. I’m not getting old, but you see… [General laughter] What you do with this music, from a listening point of view, I couldn’t imagine going for one hour and listening to techno music. That’s something else.
[MD] And in that respect, Godfried and I are very different, because Godfried thinks of structures in compostions, that have to be there.
[GR] Like a texture.
[MD] Like a starting point and going to a climax, and then going to an ending point.
[GR] Whatever, not necessarily.
[MD] For me, a real composition does not have to have that. I love drone music, ever-going-on things, and Godfried says “I feel claustrophobic if I have to play in there.” For me, it’s just endlessness, because it has no climax, no beginning, no end. Of course, it stops sometime, but it can go for all time. I think that what I have to offer to that scene (where everything is already done, in fact), is a kind of, I would call it “content,” but that sounds very pretentious, I don’t want to say that. But a lot of other musics that I hear through mass media are just there for…
[GR] Decoration. Yeah, wallpaper, decorations.
[K] Background music, “muzak,” or “wallpaper music.”
[MD] Yeah, you don’t really have to listen to it.
[K] No consciousness of it, it’s just there.
[MD] You come home from work, you are too tired to do anything, and then you switch on the radio, and that’s it. And I think that in new music, there is still something else that we can do, and that is saying something, telling something through sounds. When I can just share a sound with you, that you have a sense of being together, and being a part of a larger entity. Being part of nature, or even the universe. I think that’s an essential thing that you will never find in the contemporary things here in the mass media. And in that respect, Godfried and I have a lot of discussion. That’s my idea.
[GR] Yeah, but I disagree there with you, you know? Because with your drone thing, for me, the fundamental problem is, how do you talk people into it? You need something to seduce them!
[K] But what is wrong with the pure sound?
[GR] There is nothing wrong with the pure sound provided the people just… well, if I go to a techno party, let’s say, I know beforehand what I’m going to. So I already know, I have an expectation, and it will confirm my expectation also, generally. Most of the time. Now, that’s not my situation as an experimental music maker. I try to make something new, so that people cannot anticipate “What’s Godfried going to do now?” So my task is completely different. I cannot just do my thing and the people are all pleased, “Oh, Godfried does his thing again.” No! I do a different thing. Now I have to talk the people into accepting this different thing, so I have the task of seducing them. And if I want to seduce people into something that’s not what they know already, then I have to have a method of doing that. Then I need this element of rhetoric. That’s what I think is the weakness, not of Moniek’s pieces, but of these concepts.
Audio Part 2 [0:30:35–1:25:06]
[K] But that’s very European, I’d say.
[GR] Yes, it is, definitely!
[K] Because in America, we don’t have that expectation of needing to be seduced. We have the expectation of needing to be pleased. That’s a different thing. And that is probably the greatest obstacle in new music in America, that the architecture is irrelevant. If it’s three minutes, it’s good. If it’s five minutes, it’s okay. If it’s ten minutes, it’s bad. How do we get past that? Unless it’s a drone piece or a techno piece, in which case it is partly wallpaper, and it can be in the background and then we can listen for a while, and then we can talk. Then we can listen some more, or we can talk, or we can dance. The architecture is not something that we focus on. So, your point of view is valid in a sort of a cultural context, and Moniek’s point of view is also valid in a cultural context. As experimental musicians, how do you… jump over your cultural contexts?
[GR] They just can coexist, there is no conflict there… What you say is very, very true. I think that’s absolutely true, I can only say. Well, I do my thing my way, and I don’t object to Moniek doing other things, having different approaches. It’s also the same for the concerts. We do concerts here of different kinds of music, completely American-oriented, for your analogy if you like… [Laughter] and very German-oriented… Architecture, structured music, et cetera. These things do exist together, and there’s no reason why to not show these elements, I don’t see why there is inherent conflict, why you have to choose this or that. Depends on the circumstances.
[MD] It was interesting for me to hear you explain that, and at first I thought, “Wow, that is a very good analysis of the situation,” and now I think, only so minutes later, I think there is a real mistake in there. Because at a very small level, if you go into these little details inside the big drone, there are all these kinds of little architectural structures, and that’s wonderful, because they live inside the big hole, the big thing.
[K] That’s right, but of course, that’s what made people like Steve Reich and Phil Glass work with their music, the very American minimalism. Their very tiny changes of phase, and timing changes of approach, were cloaked by the huge shape. You thought you were listening to the same piece the whole time, but if you listen to this part, 20 minutes later, an hour later, you think, “Oh, that’s not the same piece.” But you never notice the change unless you pay attention, and that’s where the various levels are in those long pieces.
[MD] It’s like listening to a stream of water.
[GR] No, there’s a difference.
[MD] It is never, never the same!
[GR] No, but there is no structure.
[MD] You think it is the same and there is no structure, but there is a lot of structure. The structure is somewhere inside the being, the thing going on, and I experience that as something that is more human-related and universe-related, in the sense that life is like that. It’s always there, and inside, there are all these little things happening. But if you go to another level, you see the whole thing always going on. A day is always a day, but it’s always a different day.
[GR] You can’t take nature as an example, because that’s going [Laughter] from nowhere to nowhere, there is really no…
[MD] That’s wonderful, it’s wonderful. And every time you have the cycle of the seasons, and there you go. Every spring is a spring, but it’s always a different string.
[K] I live by moving water, my house is by moving water. That change, although it may not have a direction, or a sort of deliberation, is always changing to the point where in the middle of the night, I will come awake and say, “What has changed?” Something has changed, and it’s the sound of the water, because there’s water by the house. There’s a dam 50 metres away, and the water comes over, and if it’s a little higher or a little lower, or there’s a change, the colour changes, the sound changes. In the short term, there’s no change. There’s nothing that changes. And there’s no deliberation, there’s no one doing it, but there certainly is something that if you compressed it, if you pushed it all together in time, you would hear a cyclic piece that was almost like a rhythm that was continuous. Except that if you compressed it more, across centuries, you would hear the change that…
[GR] I think you’re completely right. Actually you’re making me think of an association with a composer which you might have heard about, Albert Mayr, who specialized exactly on those long period events, be they natural events or human events, like rhythms in lives over years, condensing them into concert size, using that as a base. But yeah, that’s right, and on the other hand with your example of music, it is true that it changes. On a small scale it’s pretty much random, and on the large scale you come to a structure, but this structure is symptomatic for something else, say for nature. Because if it rains a lot in a few hours, depending on the size of the dam, you will have more water. If it’s dry, eventually it will dry out and have no water, things like that. So it’s just a symptom of something else. You can use the water to read the situation of nature, it’s doubling it. So it’s not telling a story of it’s own. You see what I mean?
[K] That’s true, but it’s so hard to determine, when making your choices, which of those choices you make will be implications of other events. This is always the problem of composing. You both know that the choices you make are going to suggest something to someone else, and you have no control over that.
[GR] You have no control, but there are some elements that are sort of inferential…
[K] But you want to seduce!
[GR] Yes! And I think seduction is universal. Not all the elements we use for it, there are some that are more basic than others. For instance, beating someone up is rarely a way of seducing someone [K, MD laughter], I think that’s pretty universal…
We listen to the Logos Chimes on automatic algortihmic setting by Godfried-Willem Raes, followed by ShSh by Moniek Darge [0:40:25–0:47:45].
[GR] Now, to seduce, the first element you have to do in any piece is to interest people, to raise interest. And in the Latin sense of the word, to make people be with it, interessere. If you don’t achieve that, you just have a wall, you do your thing, and you don’t make contact. Only after you have interest, you can start introducing elements so that this interest gets higher. Then you take them, on your way, to somewhere. That’s the element of seduction, and if you don’t that in a concert, you show “my big ego,” well, it’s not about my big ego, that’s not the thing. [Laughter] Well, that’s how I feel about it. So in a way, maybe it is a European way of thinking, but it’s not this German Romantic tradition, like, it’s not a Stockhausen idea or a Wagner idea as such. “I am so important,” well no, that’s not the thing.
[K] But, you do talk about experimental things, so I was just trying to get at the differences in approach in experimentalism. Sometimes experimentalism is surprise, sometimes it’s seduction, sometimes it’s even visual. And you talk about how important that is, and these things are beautiful too, and funny, and you look around and you see the different ones, and curiosity. We’re still in an age of machines and technology, so that seeing a technological device is not like walking down and seeing Sint-Baafs. You say, “Okay, that’s there,” but once that was a great technology. And just being there was a subject of, not surprise, because it took so long, but of wonder. And these are, for our age, a subject of wonder, so part of your seduction is in… [gasp]… “Oh.”
[GR] Exactly, that’s true. Now, there is a particular element, of course, with machines in general, with electronics, and these machines. It has to do with the fact that very often, people do not like machines, because they say it’s mechanical, and that has a negative connotation. I think there is nothing as human as a machine, because the only thing that makes machines are humans! So it’s the art, in fact, of par excellence… [Laughter] It’s the ultimate creation of mankind, so that’s why I like this ambiguity. By giving the machines something really human — making them move, make them do something, and also make them fail, because all machines have finite possibilities. And I’m definitely sure, in all my pieces, I go to the edge of where the machine fails. It fascinates me, and I also think it fascinates the audience, because they see my player piano play, and it plays much faster and much more precise than any pianist. Yet, if you go over a certain speed, it starts missing notes. Now you can say, “Oh, that’s terrible.” No, I think that’s seduction. The people will feel sorry for the machine. You do this hard work, and here it fails.
[K] [Laughter] They feel sorry for the machine, I never thought of that.
[GR] I think you can succeed with machines by getting that, you make it natural from the moment it doesn’t work anymore. But whatever is. [Laughter]
[K] Amazing, that’s a good idea. You know, the things that you remember sometimes relate to that. I watched the drummer Brian Johnson. He was playing in a concert a piece for snare drum alone, just snare drum. Two sticks, snare drum. *bap-bap-bap* harder and harder and harder, and he broke his drumstick. He didn’t expect to break his drumstick, and he broke his drumstick. It went flying, hit me, that’s how I remember it but he was so good, he went *whooof* and flipped it to the other side of the drumstick to continue the piece. So that failure… the piece itself was okay, you know, it was good, but the thing I remember is the failure, so I think you’re right.
[GR] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[K] But failure is a great part of human performance without machines.
[MD] Of course! Of course.
[K] I mean, the people that go to the opera and wait for the tenor to go *aaahahahhghg!!*
[MD] That’s why I think of the…
[GR] Of the Queen of the Night, Mozart.
[MD] …when there are humans onstage also.
[GR] Yeah, the circus element is essential to any live performance. There must be the possibility of it going wrong. [Laughter]
[K] And “experiment,” you use the word “experiment,” and of course this word contains in its understanding, the fact that an experiment can also fail, or not prove what you believe, there’s always a risk in experiment. Do either of you, in experimenting, start with the idea that you have some sort of idea that you’re trying to prove in a given piece, that may succeed or fail?
[GR] I think we always… I at least, always try to prove the piece.
[MD] Mmm… I cannot say that that’s the starting point, no. I just start working, and at the end that will be probably the result, but it’s not the way in which I’m going.
[GR] For me, as soon as I’m onstage with a certain piece, my task is to defend that piece. So there is a mission there. [Laughter]
[MD] Yeah, but to defend the piece is a strange attitude because I don’t think that these people are aggressors. I think I just give something, and they can accept it and enjoy it, or think it’s not something for them. So it’s not defending in that way, it’s just like you give something, and perhaps they take it. It’s a different approach.
[GR] Yeah, but then we go into these fundamentally different attitudes…
[K] But it’s an important difference, and if I even dare say that it’s a very male-female difference.
[GR] Maybe so.
[K] We see this very often. If Stevie, my wife, were here, she would say, “Yes, you see, Moniek is more willing to take her risk by offering something, rather than presenting it, and you, as a man, say, ‘Here’s mine, tell me what’s wrong.’” Or, you know, you convince, you seduce. Moniek says, “Here it is.” I may be wrong in my interpretation, but that’s sort of what I hear in the two different…
[GR] It’s also because in her pieces, for instance, in as far as she composed, she makes pieces where she has things, for instance, things like soundscapes that go on. Now I must say, you can have them, but if I have to perform a piece with a soundscape or a prerecorded whatever, I really feel frustrated, because it has an absolute time, and I can’t interfere with the timing of the thing any more. So I have to wait, there I have to do this and there I have to do that. When I see that the audience gets nervous, I can speed it up a little bit or something, or get slower if we have a nice concentration.
[K] But that’s a challenge to you. That’s a challenge to you! It takes you out of control.
[GR] Yeah, but it handicaps me in my will to defend the piece for an audience, you know? I can’t do anything in favour of it, because it’s there running off a CD! [MD, K laughter]
[MD] We’ve discussed many times about that. For me this kind of music just has no more time. It stops time. If I think there is a good piece, it’s because it makes me forget about time, and at that moment there is no beginning or ending, it’s just like life. It is there, you do something with it. You play with it. So…
[K] In the sense that you can do nothing about that river.
[GR] Yeah, yeah.
[MD] Yeah, it’s there.
[K] In the sense that if you’re outside, or if you’re in a hall with the acoustics that are wrong, it’s not the fault of the hall that your piece doesn’t work.
[GR] But then you can adapt. Sometimes you cannot, but if, say…
[K] With a soundscape, that’s your circumstance.
[GR] Yeah, that’s your circumstance, yeah.
[MD] Also, any concert has a certain amount of length. When we perform Book of Moves and Songbook, we perform for not exactly that many minutes, but it is a certain length. So then, also a start and end is given in time, and you perform with it.
[GR] No, there is an average duration. You know very well that if we get to play for, let’s say, 16-year-olds, we would play certain sections longer and skip other sections. That’s why always, before every performance, we decide on an order, “We’ll do this for this audience, this section, this section, et cetera.” We decide it, so it’s variable. So we have at least a feel onstage that we can go faster or slower. Although the piece is the piece, of course. Book of Moves takes this chunk of time, in general.
[MD] But we have agreed on them beforehand, that we’ll play these sections and we always play these sections. We’ve never said in the midst of a performance, “Eh, skip that piece!” We never did that.
[GR] Welllll… we can go real fast over some sections… [General laughter]
[MD] Okay, I’ll let you turn the volume down… [Laughter] It’s funny, how we still work together, manage to work together, and our approaches are so different.
[K] How do your audiences react? Let me make the question easier: what was your moment in which the concert you gave was the most successful, in terms of your audience and your interaction? And what was the worst night of your life?
[MD] The worst night of our lives, I think would be the one in California, no? With the slowing-down project?
[GR] It wasn’t the worst. It was a very frustrating experience, that’s true.
[MD] There we had this set length, because we used a film, and it was a Super 8 camera. We inclined it because it was on the floor projection on a screen above, and by itself it started to slow down.
[GR] (As the weight of the pickup reel became heavier.)
[MD] It became longer and longer. And we were so nervous, because we were not prepared to play that length of a piece, and I was acting… oh, I felt like dying onstage, and afterwards, the Californian audience thought it was marvelous because it was so calming.
[GR] As though it was part of the performance, the single shots of the film really got *tack, tack, tack* stroboscopic!
[K] Really? That slow! That’s great.
[GR] We would have to play for two and a half hours instead of the planned 25 minutes for that piece!
[K] Really, that long?
[GR] It was extreme! It was extreme.
[MD] That was the worst failure.
[GR] Well, I’d have to think about it a little, but…
[MD] But the best moment for me was when I play a part in Godfried’s piece, Songbook, where I can directly address the audience in jabbertalk, and I perform a jabbertalk story. Like a fairytale, but then, because of my movements, the sounds change. So it’s not only telling the fairytale, but I am in the fairytale. And it’s like realizing a child, I love that. That’s my most wonderful moment, if that works, that you feel that people are together with you in a fairytale.
We listen to live improvisations from Books of Songs by Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge, followed by ShSh by Moniek Darge [1:00:07–1:10:43].
[GR] Yeah, I think that for me it’s important to have contact with the audiences, so they’re not too far. There’s a lot of circumstances that make concerts work better, at least for a performance point of view, than others. For instance, we got performances for thousands of people in Japan, and although they worked wonderfully, I didn’t have this kind of feeling of satisfaction. We had one concert which was really beautiful, they made a stage in the sea. We played in the sea at a certain time of the day, where the sun was there and the moon was coming up, a very Japanese exaggeration. So all the people — thousands of them — were sitting on the beach at least 20 metres away. Now, that’s a wonderful set for the audience, even just to look at it, but if you are there on your little stage in the sea, performing, you get no feedback from the people. You are there, you do your thing, and you can’t tell, “Are the people bored?” et cetera. So, I feel frustrated there again, in my possibilities for seduction, because I have to do something blind. I feel that that’s frustrating, although it’s a wonderful experience to do. But now I realize, what do I like about performance? Well, the people have to be pretty close. There may be many of them, I don’t care — the more the better — but they have to be close. I have to be capable of relating to them.
[MD] I loved it when we were onstage there. There was a certain moment when I didn’t do anything musical, but only a visual act. Godfried had a kind of repetitive piece going on and on, and like with a fake fishing line, as if I was fishing off the stage into the water, but it was just a little small rope, and I loved it. Because there again…
[GR] Because you felt united with nature, that was the Japanese concept, of unification with nature.
[MD] It was so beautiful to be together! It was the water, the moon, the sand, and the people there, and we were just human beings like them. We were fishing, but we were not really fishing. There were two Ikebanas, left and right, very huge ones, so the plants were there. We were living beings together, in nature. It was the most beautiful thing.
[GR] For my feelings, I would much rather have been at the beach, prepare my programs on CDs, put them on the stage, and listen to my own thing. Be part of the ritual on the other side.
[MD] That’s strange.
[GR] But that’s how I feel!
[K] But that brings up a very good question, which is… How do you make CDs if the audience isn’t there?
[GR] Well, CDs are problematic for most of my work, because I’m not actually particularly good at making music work on CD. The CD is autonomous, it’s deprived of all these convincing elements, you don’t have an audience. The people listening to the CD don’t know what makes the sounds. Why does it make this sound, et cetera, so that’s a problem. Yes, we have to make CDs to get your music a little bit known and to interest people in what it is. It’s only an element of the music, but it is an element of the music. And I know that it’s not replacing music, and the final music of my compositions is not composition. If you want to see tubophones or you want to see the player piano, you have to come and see the tubophones or the player piano. It’s just a documentation, so to speak, of some musical reality.
[K] And you know, of course maybe you don’t know, I should tell you, that when I received Logos works the first time and played it, we said, “Why is this music so pretty?” [GR, MD laughter]
[MD] Oh, thank you for the nice compliment. Oh…
[K] But you know, when we receive something from Phill [Niblock], Experimental Intermedia, we think this is on the edge, and it’s going to push. We listened to your stuff and we said, “But this is pretty music, we’re missing something here.” This is beautiful music, it doesn’t seem to push me, it doesn’t force me to listen in a certain way. So maybe… is that a problem?
[GR] No, it’s not a problem. That piece, Shifts, which that CD opens with, was actually originally written for an ensemble, where we do the beating, a big ensemble. I could perfectly realize [that piece] on that CD, because it’s very difficult to talk 14 musicians into playing together. It sounds like an easy piece, but musically-speaking, it’s very difficult to do. So I was pleased with that realization, we’ve done it in concert. But also, normally in concerts, that piece is a specific connotation. I always ask Moniek to do some action there, something very absurdist…
[MD] Like the fishing line.
[GR] Yeah, because with the fishing line she was talking about in Japan is an absolutely nonsensical act. For every concert where we do that piece, she gets to invent a nonsensical act, and it’s adapted to the situation. We had situations where we asked the bartender to come onstage with a beer, serve her a beer or something.
[MD] Sometimes I like pushing a stone, and putting little stones on the big stone and pushing, pushing, pushing…
[GR] Pushing a stone that’s way too heavy for her.
[MD] …or just being onstage and being lazy on a beach, something that doesn’t relate at all. I think that kind of piece, it’s a very exceptional composition of yours, because it is… well, so structured. [MD, K laughter]
[GR] It is extremely structured, Moniek, it’s one big bow. It’s like what he said about Steve Reich, it’s slow in a way, but it’s…
[MD] I think it’s wonderful because it’s in there.
[GR] It’s completely algorithmic, it’s completely computer-generated. [General laughter]
[K] Where are you going now? It’s been 30 years, you’ve worked together, you’ve been doing the foundation, you’ve been doing these instruments. Which direction are you moving in now? Both of you, each of you.
[MD] Well, there are so many directions, and yesterday, we were talking about “Oh, there are so many different directions, how do we keep all these directions together?” I think we don’t have to keep them together, they will go somewhere with us.
[K] But, when you do your next composition, your next performance? When you look back and see how you have been changing over time, does that suggest where you’re going to be moving? I asked the question earlier, about how there’s so much electronic music out there in popular music, so many people like the Blue Man Group, which started out as an alternative group, is now doing commercials for Intel. So, when you have people painted blue and doing percussion, you have electronics everywhere, where does that leave your experiment to go? You talked about algorithms, about Moniek?
[MD] I think I still have a lot of things to do, because as I told you, what I miss in this commercial music, is that content. I call it “content” because I don’t have another name for it.
[K] That’s a good enough word, yeah, we use it. [Laughter]
[MD] And I want to make — to share with people — a kind of feeling of being together. I think that’s not only a life-long thing to do, but many life-long things to do, that never ends. It is always something that we will be always together, in the sense that we can always share. We are living in a world where there is conquering and money is very important, the most important, and we see now many difficulties with food and the environments. We are in a very conflicted situation, and I think that exactly in this moment, we need music that is going in the opposite direction of that, that says, “No, no, don’t let it kill us, and don’t let it kill each other. Just be kind to each other, stay together. We can help each other, we can make a nice world together. And hear it, some sounds we can share.” So, I have no problem with everything already having been done, because I see that the commercial life we’re living, and this kind of society we live in, is going in the other direction of the kind of ideal situation where humans live a good life. So I think we have a lot of things to do.
[K] The corporatization of the world is troubling.
[MD] Yeah, we are cutting down the forests, we have polluted water, we have poisoned food, we have over-population, we have emigrés everywhere, refugees everywhere, people who have no home who look for a home, we have wars everywhere. So I think there’s a very big thing to do, which is to give each other hope and give each other happiness, just go somewhere together. And that’s what I want to do, if my soundscape or my music box will give you a laugh, or some time, or just a little bit of humour.
[GR] Yeah, maybe I’m just more pretentious. More modest in one sense, that I don’t have this big idea, that I can solve the world problems. What I try to do now with making hardware, input devices and electronics, developing software, et cetera, is to contribute to the expressive possibilities of man in general. Because to give a little contribution to what we can use as tools for expression, it’s only a part, and many instrumental composers, as you said, because it’s now used in other musics, have contributed to that. So it’s just one element in that process, because that’s what I can do, that I think I have the skills for, of developing those things. There’s some originality in that.
[MD] That’s the thing in which we completely agree. You want to give the people possibilities for expression…
[GR] Yeah, tools.
[MD] …and I want to also, but on a very different way or a different level, just by making a very simple thing, like something that rattles, that goes *cling-cling* when you move it. And it’s like, “Huh, I can do that also.” I love that reaction, because when you do something simple (but it must be little bit humourous), you can see something twinkle in peoples’ eyes, and have laughter. That is like, “Aha!” and something childish that comes there. And that beautiful moment, I think that is so precious, because at that moment, there is no difference anymore between an artist and a non-artist. We are just all people together.
[K] That’s a moment of touching, between everyone, and every field, actually, can do that, if the people are interested in doing it. There’s a separation which has taken place in some of the art forms. The interesting thing is that… I’m not sure the “pretentious” is the word, it’s not the word at all. It’s a sense of, when you’re working with an art form, you’re always on this very frightening place, where on one side you become sort of an oppressive force, and on the other side, you become the kind of communication that can be had no other way. And you always risk falling one way or the other, and you expect that sometimes that you’re walking that line and you notice the line.
[GR] Sure. But, if I said “pretention,” I mean the illusion is by making beauty, or by interesting people in itself, you contribute to the piece, et cetera, and there I’m a little bit more skeptical.
[MD] I think it’s important in this world to give people hope, I think that’s one of the most important things. Because we have a lot of possibilities as a mankind now. We can do wonderful things, but we can do the most horrible things.
[GR] Hope is an ingredient of every commercial success. I mean, if Madonna makes success, it’s because at the origin, she sells hope. She has no fixed relation, she’s onstage, and she’s still obtainable, so speak, this element of hope is elementary for understanding pop culture.
[MD] But that’s on a completely other level.
[GR] No, no, but it’s also hope.
[MD] No, no, but the hope of living in a good world. Oh well, we will not solve it, but I think in the end, that’s what keeps us together, working in Logos. That we both want to change something, to do something, that we want to have a contribution in society: he wants to do it his way and I want to do it my way, and we work together. It’s different, but that’s okay, that makes it more interesting. Think of both of us wanting to do the same thing, it would be boring.
[K] And you have succeeded in a kind of architectural compromise, with the mystic crystal in the shape of a stone and steel concert hall, so… [General laughter]
Moniek Darge and Godfried-Willem Raes, thank you so much for joining us on Kalvos & Damian, this has been a wonderful pleasure.
[GR] It’s my pleasure, thank you.
[MD] And thank you very much, for coming all the way here, that’s a very big honour to us. Thank for the effort.
We listen to more Improvisations by Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge [1:25:06–1:28:50].