How did you become a musician?
Actually quite coincidental. Although I started music school very early, first piano, then with percussion, I stopped playing music around the age of 15. My other passion, drawing, had taken up all my ‘free’ time. And I found making things much more intriguing than executing things. But a parental decision (no higher graphic arts education!!!) and a personal decision (despite primus in the humanities, no university!!!) an intermediate solution has presented itself. Still music again, only percussion and after a lightning-fast university career (after three years already the Higher Diploma) starting to feel the itch of making again. Then I went to the Institute for Psychoacoustics and studied contemporary and electronic composition privately with Lucien Goethals. The rest all flowed out of that… So I feel more like a making musician than a playing one, although I have always combined both. If only to get my music performed.
What gives you satisfaction in being a musician and putting your own music into the world?
Especially from getting up in the morning and being confronted by issues that I can and can impose on myself. By always making myself financially independent from my production (I have taught for 41 years at both the DKO and the Ghent Conservatory) I have been able to follow a fairly experimental course. Tackling all classical forms (from symphonies, chamber operas, sonatas, all sorts of weird chamber music combinations to a whole series of compositions for the different bands I founded and led together with Iris, my wife and partner in many crimes)
Is the music you write for Beat Love Oracle real ‘Frank Nuyts’ music? Can you say you found your own voice or is this quest still going on?
When I finally decided to stop teaching, I was asked by the Academy of Arts and Sciences to possibly be admitted to this great respect-inspiring official cultural institution. I refused this with the words that I hoped to be able to feel like a debutant for the rest of my life in the development of ever new projects. So I wondered whether such an institute really needed someone who doesn’t want to look backwards. I’m still happy with that decision, although it hasn’t gone down well with everyone there. But indeed, during the first ‘big holiday’ after stopping my teaching assignment, I immediately started the Beat Love Oracle project. Again an unusual line-up, which presented me with many creative challenges. But in addition, the classic series of works has also continued imperturbably. And there too each time for occupations that were new to me. And sometimes for the world. And in all those works I am still looking for the right music for those combinations. My tics may be recognizable in all those pieces, but I really hope that none of the works resemble an earlier one. Because behind every composition there is a specific concept that is inextricably linked to this one work. THAT is perhaps my ‘voice’, that of a kind of musical polyglot. but I really hope that no work resembles an earlier one. Because behind every composition there is a specific concept that is inextricably linked to this one work. THAT is perhaps my ‘voice’, that of a kind of musical polyglot. but I really hope that no work resembles an earlier one. Because behind every composition there is a specific concept that is inextricably linked to this one work. THAT is perhaps my ‘voice’, that of a kind of musical polyglot.
Where does your inspiration come from?
As I mentioned above: a different concept for every project. That’s why I feel I get my inspiration from all the things that come my way from the moment I open my eyes until they close tiredly. 365 days in a year. I read a lot, go to cinema, theatre, love graphic novels, but also listen a lot to what is being produced (especially in the classical field) by the thousands of contemporary composers on this planet. Not a day passes without listening to at least two ‘creations’, which were presented yesterday, so to speak. (LiveNew Music Channel on Youtube) But again, my inspiration is mainly working on being able to associate things that haven’t often been brought together until now. Extra-musical or not.
In an earlier conversation you described yourself as ‘volatile’. Can you explain why that word suits you so well?
This also follows from the foregoing. Every project can lead to a willful forgetting of what I have already made. (My 1988 Symphony No. 1, A Symphony of Scraps, is built up like this.) I very rarely listen to my music. Listening to recordings is about the least enjoyable part of my musician life. OK, you can learn from it, but due to the fact that I’m always trying to work myself into new nests, I have to constantly present new solutions. What good is a fork if you have to eat soup, as it were?… Hence this trail in which few surviving forms can be found. I have composed 25 piano sonatas, but they are all different from each other. Sometimes to a great extent. Because of that ‘volatility’ I have of course been able to work with an incredibly diverse pool of musicians.
When you talk about your music, you often use lyrical and very specific descriptions. Is language important in your life? Have you ever considered doing something with this? Or are language and music not worlds apart for you?
I’m repeating myself: see above :-). Art for me is making things and hoping that it can still be relevant to the period in which it is made. Perhaps I should say that I am perhaps the ‘furthest’ in the production of notes on virtual paper, but I am also constantly engaged in extra-musical activities. I wrote libretti, I started drawing again. I play in my bands but try to impose as few things as possible, to keep the doors open there as well. So much beautiful and interesting things are being produced at this moment on our tired earth, that I find it an obligation for myself to try to get as many things as possible. If only to be able to be a listener, a viewer, an ally for the type of person like me. To ‘reward’ them with my attention. There is so much excellence out there right now, and yet many people are all looking for it in the same direction. I hope to one day be able to turn my head 360 degrees, like a wise owl. Being able to scan the world uninhibited as encouragement…
You have taught for a long time. What did you learn from that yourself?
I’ve always seen this as some kind of compensation for being able to live life the way I still live it. It is giving a lot, but ’they’ have also given me a lot. It’s almost a clincher, but teaching about something means that you first have to be able to understand it yourself. And questions from students (certainly at the Hogeschool) can force you to review your entire frame of reference. And the result is that I have increasingly been able to involve my former students in my own projects. Precisely because of their fresh view of the world. Teaching is, above all, going on the road with someone. (Originally, an ‘educationalist’ was a slave (???) who took a child to school). But it is especially that going out together that is important. In constant conversation. As someone who is a bit older, you often have a bit more experience, but experience must also remain a dynamic given. With rusty ankles you have to let the student go ahead 🙂
Can you tell us your favorite anecdote from your life as a musician?
Hoh, so many things happened. And so many things are still happening. And usually what you remember is an incident in which a catastrophe was just avoided. Something that you laugh about later, but that during the event itself threatened to destroy everything you worked so hard for. But if there’s one thing I do want to say, and it might come across as a little sentimental, it’s that despite the improbability of the initial situation, I have a life partner who, as it were, turns into everything that I am not. and who has been with me for more than 45 years on a path that twists and turns like the Monaco circuit.
Which concert, as a musician or an audience, has stayed with you the most?
Almost impossible to answer. Must it be the almost five minutes of silence of the audience after the performance of my chamber opera ‘Middle East’, with spectators around you dabbing their eyes with a handkerchief? Is it a concert with Emanon with the performance of my piano concerto in the perfect environment in terms of surrounding pieces? Is it the standing ovation in Lithuania with Beat Love Oracle? Is it the three-year cycle with my then 18 piano sonatas with all incredibly involved musicians? Is it the incredible reception of our Voorwaarts Maart/En avant Mars festival during its six-year existence? Is it Zappa’s last concert in Belgium? Is it the concert of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony at the Bozar, a composer I used to hate. Is it the concert in which I, as a conductor, created both my marimba concerto ‘Woodnotes’ and the Rastapasta that is so important to me in the Week of Contemporary Music in Ghent, as a bonus, also the work ‘Ce qu’on entend dans une salle de concert’ by Boudewijn Buckinx? (What’s in a title? 🙂 Can Iris be seen performing twice as a soloist on piano with orchestra during the creation of two major works. Is it recently in a small bookstore to feel the attention of the audience of a new project with the poet Jana Arns? Really it didn’t stop. May it never end. -) Can Iris be seen performing twice as a soloist on piano with orchestra during the creation of two major works. Is it recently in a small bookstore to feel the attention of the audience of a new project with the poet Jana Arns? Really it didn’t stop. May it never end. -) Can Iris be seen performing twice as a soloist on piano with orchestra during the creation of two major works. Is it recently in a small bookstore to feel the attention of the audience of a new project with the poet Jana Arns? Really it didn’t stop. May it never end.
What are your future plans? What big dream do you still want to realize?
Continue. In any form. I don’t want to plan anything. Volatile isn’t it. Please continue with what I have brought other people into the story with. There are also quite a few works that have not been played. Up to two evening-filling musical theater pieces. But they are no longer a dream. The dream lives especially during the making. I don’t dream of ‘making it’ 🙂
Compile a list of 5 songs that inspire you
Now you force me to look back: That is why I reach back very far. My first steps are inspired by:
The comics of Maurice Tillieux (Gil Jourdan). I got to meet the man a few times when I was 16. Maybe the one and only ‘hero’ in my life. Still feel the effects of that encounter in my heart.
‘Uncle Meat’ by Zappa in the attic studio of Kamagurka, my childhood friend, at home. Followed by ‘Dark side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd. And prints by Franquin on the wall. And torn pages of Pilote. We were 13 years old. The walls around us burst open and the rebellious poured into our lives…
‘Les noces’ by Stravinsky (‘Le Sacre’ and ‘l’Oiseau du feu’ and ‘Petrouchka’ did come earlier) but the image of that score prompted me at a certain point to get something similar on paper. Four pianos? Choir with all those voices? Such a gang of percussionists? And all those incredible ostinati?… Ah… and when I saw Igor’s autograph… drawing with notes….
MTV presented videos of The Police while I fed my first child the porridge. ‘Every little thing is magic’. Something broke in me… That was stuck just by swearing by the true art of contemporary classical composition. I may have heard things that didn’t really make sense, but six years later, in 1986, the dike broke with a work that quoted directly from ‘Don’t stand so close to me’… I’m still surfing that wave …
On a short trip through France I read the book ‘The music of John Cage’. This also opened a door in me that I didn’t even know existed. And James Pritchett’s explanation about his string quartet from 1950. It couldn’t be a nicer gift. Because it explains that music is mainly about time. Time when you can stop everything. Whichever side it comes from. So that you as a maker can have the time of your life.