How did you become a musician?
I grew up in a musical family where I received my first music lessons from my parents. They filled this in very creatively. Gaming fun prevailed. Finally, at the age of 15, I decided to start music school. A year later I was finally allowed to start with double bass. After 3 months of practice, I already played my first concert with my brothers. What I still remember from that evening is not only a lot of nerves beforehand, but also an enormous satisfaction afterwards. Things moved quickly after that first performance. I was very motivated to learn and worked towards my studies at the conservatory in a few years. The combination of music school and then conservatory together with creating new music in a group, the many performances and the organization of it have shaped me into who I am now as a musician.
What led to the choice for the double bass? Are there any other instruments you play or want to play?
I think that the choice for the double bass had to do with my personality. I’ve always been introverted before, I didn’t stand out and never demanded much attention as a child. I think this unconsciously played a role in the choice for a large instrument that you cannot ignore. I currently consider the double bass as my main instrument. In addition, I have often used my voice within Troissoeur, but I certainly do not call myself a good singer. I have been playing viola da gamba for 1 year. I like this instrument and I hope to use it in a new musical project within a few years. In addition to playing physical instruments, I also consider the proper use of live electronics as mastering an instrument. I still see a lot of possibilities in the combination of old classical instruments with electronics.
In addition to being an artist, you are also the artistic director of Cluster. How did Cluster come about? From what need did this collective grow?
During our years of experience within music groups, we very often reached a point where it was difficult for us to grow or professionalize further after a few years due to a lack of guidance, management and business support. Moreover, there is a great need for cooperation within the sector to meet today’s challenges.
Since 2014, we have been building an organization with Cluster that systematically tackles all aspects and creates opportunities for new music that does not really belong in an existing category and is therefore extra vulnerable and, in my opinion, particularly relevant to a diverse music landscape.
In Belgium we have a rich and well-populated music landscape. Some musicians struggle with the question of what else they can contribute to this. What gives you satisfaction in being a musician and putting your own music into the world?
When you feel after a performance that all parameters were right and the audience was completely involved in the musical story, it gives a special form of satisfaction. You then know that you are working on something unique that can mean a lot to people. I also get a lot of satisfaction from writing new music and recording albums. The latter is the culmination of a long creative process.
What makes the music you’ve written for bands like Aranis and Basta real ‘Joris Vanvinckenroye’ music? Can you say you found your own voice or is this quest still going on?
I can say that my style is recognizable. I think those who compare my early works to my current projects still recognize the same drive or energy. This obviously has to do with some rational elements such as the use of acoustic instruments as a basis, often with a rhythmic drive. But what exactly determines my own stamp is difficult for me to explain. Each new piece of music has to become a new story in itself and that always creates a new challenge.
Where does your inspiration come from? Do you know in advance which story you want to tell or does the story grow along with the music? Is the intention that the audience will also receive this story literally?
How a piece of music comes about is difficult to explain. First, it has to do with opening myself up or being able to make time to seek and develop new ideas. The creation process usually has an erratic course. Only a small part of the collected material is actually worked out. It usually takes several months for a new work of 4 to 10 minutes to be fully completed. I can write about 60 minutes of new music a year. But maintaining that frequency is not always easy. I need to be able to take enough time to let the music develop.
Instrumental music is essentially an abstract art form. And therefore difficult to put into a word story. However, it is essential that a story is told in some way. The quest consists of creating a musical tension that keeps the listener on the edge of his seat. At the beginning of a creation, I never know what story will eventually be written. So that grows along with the music. How the listener deals with this is also completely free because of the abstract fact. Rather, the story is an emotion or a feeling. Someone once said after a performance that during the concert they didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. That was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.
With BASta! you are often alone on stage. How different is that from performing with a group?
Performing alone certainly gave me a lot of stress in the beginning. You have to carry it all alone and if something goes wrong you have to solve it alone. But if you then notice that you have the room completely with you, it also gives extra satisfaction. When I play with a group, my function as a musician is very different. My main task then is to carry the whole and support soloists or melodies. Certainly not an easy task. I have noticed that this role fits my personality better.
As a musician you are also active in theater productions. Does that work differently? What can the music and theater world still learn from each other?
The role of a musician is very different within a theater context. You know that you can make an important contribution, but the focus is primarily on the libretto or content of the theater work. My music is not really suitable as accompaniment music, so during a creation process it is sometimes very difficult to give the music a full place within the whole. What struck me most is that much more time is taken within theater to create together. Something I really miss in music. Here it is often assumed that a composer comes up with everything and writes it down and the musicians study everything and after a few rehearsals they perform a concert or concert series. Within the groups in which I am active, I also try to take the time more than usual to develop a program and to involve everyone as much as possible in the whole process. On the other hand, many theater people can learn something from the efficiency of musicians.
Can you tell us your favorite anecdote from your life as a musician?
When I was often in the UK performing with Retina Dance Company between 2009 and 2011, I regularly had to take the Eurostar with my double bass. I soon realized that people handled extra fees for that double bass rather arbitrarily. Sometimes I had to pay extra, but the amount often differed, sometimes I had to pay nothing at all. I started to see it as a challenge to get through the checkpoints with double bass as unnoticed as possible. I can make myself quite invisible, with double bass that is of course a lot more difficult, but even then I managed to pass 9 times out of 10 without anyone noticing me. What I also remember from those performances in the UK are the often very small hotel rooms where there was not even room to put my bass. Result: sharing the bed with my double bass.
Which concert, as a musician or an audience, has stayed with you the most?
In the meantime I have played more than 2000 concerts or performances. There are a few that will always stay with me: Troissoeur in Taiwan in 2001, Aranis at the Gouveia Art Rock festival in Portugal in 2008, BASta! at the museum night in Ename in 2010, Aranis at Nearfest in the US in 2012. During these concerts I had the feeling that the music completely surprised the audience and they were completely on board with the musical story.
What are your future plans?
I’m working on some new programs together with Flairck, a group with a long history for which we are currently looking for a new name. There are also plans with the group Troissoeur. In 2020 we played a one-off reunion tour that has still not been completed due to the postponed concerts. We have already started working on new music. We are currently working with Flairck & Troissoeur on a concert program with extra guest musicians that we will perform in December ’22 at the Royal Operahouse Muscat in Oman. There will also be performances by Rode Boom (both ‘Unknown Evidences’ with which we have now played more than 500 times and the new performance ‘Realities’, which premiered in October 2021).
Compile a list of 5 songs that inspire you
Ikarus – Caliph
DAAU – My Goodness! Poetry
Nik Bärtsch – Modul 29_14
Gösta Berlings Saga – Contrast
Renaud Garcia-Fons – Oriental bass