RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

15 Questions to Jos Smolders

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Well, I’m at home right now, recovering from a severe pneumonia.

What’s on your schedule right now?
The hours that I am out of bed I am working on two new series of works. Preparing a third one which will be a cooperative via the Internet.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
There are dozens of influences, of course. But my work has always been based on personal research. For years I have been trying to find the answer to the question: “what actually constitutes a composition?”. Also questions like “how much can I cut out of a work before it starts ‘falling apart’?”, “how many different materials can I include and what kind of materials ‘fit’?” have been basis for my work. That’s quite fundamental. I read a lot about musical history and theory (I am not formally trained in music), like the writings of Pierre Schaeffer, John Cage and many others. For a year I was trained by a Dutch composer in formal composition. These researches lead to some kind of musical ‘product’, which I decided was ready for publication.
My musical ‘career’ took off when the DIY culture of the 80s flourished. In my early works the influence of the Hafler Trio and Nurse With Wound are clearly audible. But I think through the years I have taken personal stand. Nowadays, part of what I do is in the field recording section, but field recordings have been part of my work for decades. But I have a very particular point of view on field recordings. To me, a field recording is not concrete but abstract. It’s material for composition.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
Yes and No. Yes, when you consider the music that still requires a lot of production costs, like classical music. But otherwise, I don’t think so. What is in crisis is the traditional logistic and financial structure of the music scene. But a new structure is arising and something beautiful will come. For the artist and the listener at the moment there is a problem of quality filtering. Traditonally for the listener the record companies (and journalism) stamped a label to a musical product (especially when the artist was not ‚famous’). Nowadays the barrier to produce and publish music is so low that really anyone (with whatever skills) can place music in front of people. And the listener is overwhelmed. And therefore cannot choose.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
John Cage has written an interesting essay on experimental music in 1957 . I stick to that.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
One is part of the other. Some forget that the second is at least as important as the first and that it requires at least as much thought.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
I think one is always part of the other. A lot of composition comes forth out of improvising. And so a composition is a coagulated improvisation or series of improvisations.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
That depends on what you want to achieve. An orchestra wants to reproduce the musical image of a composer as closely as possible. A rock band wants to enhance the expression of what they laid down on a CD before an audience. An impro band wants to transmit their tension and excitement of the notes or sounds they produce onto the audience.

My performances are something in between those three. Part of my stage performances wants to show the audience what my composition really sounds like, other parts are enhancements of the original and there is always a (sometimes large, sometimes small) part of improvisation.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
Context, context, context. Marcel Duchamp already played with that. Why is a pissoir in a gallery suddenly an art object? Warhol did it with the Brillo boxes. The viewer/listener either decides to ‘go along’ with the artist or not. If someone decides that something is not qualified as music, then it isn’t that for that person. Another person could be extating about it. Thank god, we don’t have a music-police.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
I think Michael Jackson is quite serious about his music. And Joseph Strauss’s music is quite popular. So, what are we talking about?

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
Music, in itself, is non-political. Lyrics can be. Music is however very well usable for all kinds of purposes. Sound (and thus music), just like light and smell, is extremely apt in transmitting subconscious messages. An artist can decide whether or not his music can be used for political causes. Tom Waits explicitly refuses to have his music be used for any kind of advertisement and has fought (and won) several court cases.

True or false: People need to be educated about  music, before they can really
appreciate it.

Psychoacoustic research shows that only simple rhythmic sounds are accepted by all brains. The rest requires some kind of training.  Some people associate that with higher or lower music and music for higher classes and lower classes. That has nothing to do with it. Cage’s Imaginary Landscapes or Feldman’s  Palais de Mari are difficult pieces of music for most people but if they want to appreciate, there’s a fair chance they will after a few listening sessions. People often forget that quite a few pop songs that we hear on the radio are not accepted at first hearing, but because they are played every hour we sort of ‘get the knack’ and start to like them.

Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
I think that the way copyrights are laid down in laws is a very old concept and not suitable for the current technical and financial situation that the music scene is in right now. I basically ignore it. There are of course now two ‘musical worlds’: the traditional one of commercial products and the new one that uses the creative commons concept. I think the latter has much more potential. But the interests of the companies that administer the financial flow of copyrights in each country are too big to put a stop on that traditional set up. Don’t forget there are billions of dollars at stake. It’s not so much the poor artists but the ASCAPs, BIEMs, GEMAs of the world that are fighting.
As for your second question: the new musical world of creative commons , where the artist himself decides whether or not his music may be copied, is gaining enough mass to forget about the traditional copyrights system. I guess then everyone’s happy.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Difficult. It would definitely not contain a lot of contemporary stuff. Two sections: electronic: early Stockhausen, Henry, a few Dutch composers. Not-electronic: the whole program of the 25th year retrospective Concert of the music of John Cage (just do it all over again; it contains all of the works that really matter in Cage’s repertory), Feldman’s Palais de Mari and other stuff, mainly piano. Hmm, the more I think about it, the more comes up. Like Beethoven’s Grosse Fuege. But then the list becomes endlessly.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I think that that term is most times labelled to works by critics, not by the artist him- or herself. Everything I do is another step stone on a route to a point that I cannot see from here.

Picture by Jitske Annema

Technoh23102001_a (techNOH) 2002
Tiln (Tiln) 2003
Textures & Mobiles (CONV) 2004
DSWRO (Earlabs) 2005
Habitat (and/OAR) 2005
Hemel (For KM Krebs) (No Type) 2006

Jos Smolders


Related articles

15 Questions to Erdem Helvacioglu
"Altered Realities", released on New ...
15 Questions to Jair-Rôhm Parker Wells
Some things you only realize ...
Interview with S.Q.E.
With a self-declared intent of ...
15 Questions to Aaron Krister Johnson
Does Britney Spears bow to ...
15 Questions to Rent Romus
"No rules, no borders.", that's ...
15 Questions to Pawel Grabowski
In a time, when everybody ...
Interview with Philip Glass
Philip Glass is one of ...
15 Questions to Tom Heasley
Tom has only just started ...

Partner sites