dinsdag 11 oktober 2016

Ziemba - Spirit Figures, Feminism and Empowerment

On the eve of her first ever European tour, which has kicked off by now, I had the pleasure of talking to Rene Kladzyk, perhaps better known under the moniker of Ziemba. Under that name Kladzyk has been creating wonderfully crafted dream pop, combined with alternative folk and queer theatrics.


After a couple of EPs Ziemba released her first full length album 'Hope Is Never' earlier this year, and last month already she released her latest EP, called 'LALA'. Even more than on its predecessors, 'LALA' showcases the enormous strength of Kladzyk’s voice and her lyrical prowess. “Well, I love singing, so I think that’s a good thing! And I like to see myself as a strong lyricist. For this EP I initially wrote a lot more songs, which I eventually boiled down to the four that are on it now. There was one song for which I wrote around seven pages of lyrics... that was quite psychotic, so it didn’t make it. Another song which didn’t make it to the cut had the line ‘time is a victim of the body’, which I really liked. It was hard to let that one go, but in the end a common theme appeared in the four songs that did make it. It felt like these were the best songs and together formed the most coherent whole.”

Spirit figure

The overall atmosphere on the EP is a very mysterious and brooding one, something that Kladzyk wasn’t necessarily looking for in the first place. “It was a bit terrifying in a way to realise I had written these songs from a specific perspective without intent. They deal with the mystery of this spirit archetype of the succubus, a sort of femme fatale or demon woman. My first conscious encounter with it was when I had an artist residency in Morocco, back in 2011. I came across this spirit figure called Aisha Qandisha, which some say is a semi-mythic figure, but others see her as very real. Women revere her and see her as a symbol of empowerment and sensuality. Men fear her and see her as a curse. She seduces them in their dreams and then they are forever haunted. Or she just kills them..! Some even say they are married to this spirit figure and therefore can never marry a real woman.”


Kladzyk became rather fascinated with this archetypal figure, in which the Jungian concept of the anima can also be recognized. After her residency in Morocco, she encountered the spirit in different forms in different places and became aware of many (pop) cultural references to the figure. “There is a novel from the late nineteenth century called 'She', which also deals with a she-demon. It takes place in a completely different part of Africa and has this fucked up colonial take on African myth and tradition, but it is a very interesting piece of work. The myth of sexualised evil, of a power through sensuality. The she-figure both curses and is cursed, because she is tied to what she is and cannot escape her fate. In a way I got tied to this figure as well, became almost subconsciously obsessed with it, which eventually showed through my lyrics.”

Photo by Standa Merhout

Power geometry

The depiction in myth of women having power through sensuality is something that still plays a role in many aspects in the world today, in particular pop culture. “Being a female musician, or a queer musician that is mostly understood as female and presents herself that way, I am definitely aware of the fact that being seen as a woman steers the terms I have to deal with. That goes for many different industries, of course, but I think that in the music industry especially power relationships are very much influenced by how women are being perceived. There is more and more friction though, and there is definitely some change happening, but the long history of this issue in the music industry makes it a difficult and long battle.” In the world of heavy music there seems to be a change visible, with women being more and more present in the role of screamers and grunters. See Svffer, The Charm The Fury or Employed to Serve, for example. I point out the paradox that often goes hand in hand with more women being in bands, when a rock band all of a sudden becomes a ‘female fronted rock band’, or a punk band consisting of all women becomes an ‘all girl punk band’. Kladzyk has first hand experience with this. “I’m frequently put on bills that say ‘all women line-up’ or ‘ladies night!’. I’m happy to see more women playing music, and also more queer musicians and more musicians of colour, but I’d rather be put on a bill based on the type of music I make.”

Ziemba is on quite a few bills all across Europe the coming month. Make sure to be around when she hits your town! You can also check out her Mixcloud page for a great collection of mixtapes she made. For an extension of this interview in Dutch, see my article on Gonzo (circus).

Ziemba Goes to Europe
Oct. 13: Rotterdam, Netherlands; WORM
Oct. 15: Berlin, Germany; Madame Claude
Oct. 17: Berlin, Germany; Schokoladen
Oct. 18: Prague, Czech Republic; (A)void Floating Gallery
Oct. 20: Gdansk, Poland; Kolonia Artystów Gdańsk
Oct. 24: Paris, France; Le Pop In
Oct. 25: Paris, France; Le Motel
Oct. 27: Brighton, United Kingdom; The Marwood
Oct. 29: Bristol, United Kingdom; Roll for the Soul

dinsdag 27 oktober 2015

The Self Presents: The Collective Unconscious Pt 2

Second episode of my show The Collective Unconscious, recorded for Fnoob Techno Radio. This episode aired October 3rd, 2015 and features the likes of Juho Kahilainen, Cavalerra, A. Mochi and Milton Bradley, among others. A total of 18 songs in one hour. To give you all a taste of what's out there.

Inspired by the works of Carl Gustav Jung.

“Very early in history men began trying to express what they felt to be the soul or spirit of a rock by working it into a recognizable form. In many cases, the form was a more or less definite approximation to the human figure – for instance, the ancient menhirs with their crude outlines of faces, or the hermae that developed out of boundary stones in ancient Greece, or the many primitive stone idols with human features. The animation of stone must be explained as the projection of a more or less distinct content of the unconscious into the stone .” - Carl Jung, Man and his Symbols

"When the fantasies reach a certain level of intensity, they begin to break through into consciousness and create a conflict situation that becomes perceptible to the patient himself, splitting him into two personalities with different characters."

maandag 26 oktober 2015

The Self presents: the Collective Unconscious Pt 1

Here's the first episode of my show The Self Presents: The Collective Unconscious. It aired at September 5th, 2015. As always in my techno sets, this set is influenced by the writings of Carl Gustav Jung.

The collective unconscious - so far as we can say anything about it at all  - appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious... We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual. (Carl Jung. From The Structure of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 325.)

Archetypes constitute the structure of the collective unconscious - they are psychic innate dispositions to experience and represent basic human behavior and situations. Thus mother-child relationship is governed by the mother archetype. Father-child - by the father archetype. Birth, death, power and failure are controlled by archetypes. The religious and mystique experiences are also governed by archetypes.

The most important of all is the Self, which is the archetype of the Center of the psychic person, his/her totality or wholeness. The Center is made of the unity of conscious and unconscious reached through the individuation process.

donderdag 1 oktober 2015

Three times the road

three times the road
always the wrong turn
keep passing by
the gas station
the gas station
where the air is full
of gasoline fumes
and scents
of rubber rubber

if wheels fail to spin
pull the plug
pull the plug
get in the car
murderers won't go there
hide the axe
murderers won't drive there
spill the poison
murderers won't go to
the gas station
the gas station

it's home on the road home on the road home on the road
meet me there
i will pull over
meet me there
the gas station
gasoline fumes
i will love you there
the gas station
make love to me there
drive three times
three times
murderers won't go there

i'll hide the axe
if you swallow the poison

- NT 2007

donderdag 30 juli 2015

Interview met Merlijn Poolman

"In veel scenes gaat het tegenwoordig meer om een goede hype dan om echte muziekkwaliteit. Dat is wel eens jammer."

Onlangs sprak ik met Robert Smit over onder meer Poptrash, een terugkerend evenement in Amsterdam met aandacht voor live muziek gecombineerd met dance. Deze keer aandacht voor een andere organisator uit een andere stad: Merlijn Poolman uit Groningen. Ik sprak Merlijn over zijn organisatiebezigheden, feesten in China en hernieuwde aandacht voor de offline samenleving. 

Merlijn Poolman is nog onderweg als ik hem bel voor het interview. Ik hoor de wind door de telefoon, maar Merlijn rijdt niet rond in een dikke cabrio -hij zit op de fiets. Dat staat een interessant gesprek alleszins niet in de weg en op mijn vraag of Merlijn eens uit de doeken kan doen wat hij precies doet in Groningen geeft hij enthousiast en uitvoerig antwoord. "Ik beschouw mezelf als cultureel ondernemer. Ik ben een ondernemer met twee horecazaken -een restaurant en een nachtclub. Waarbij mijn compagnon meer het restaurantgedeelte doet en ik de club." Merlijn doet uit de doeken hoe hij nu precies is gekomen tot zijn huidige positie. Het lijkt een weg van toevalligheden. "Ik ben eigenlijk begonnen in de metalscene, gewoon met het organiseren van concertjes en dergelijke. In 2009 zat ik op de Academie voor Popcultuur, daar heb ik voor een schoolproject een tour voor mijn eigen band in Zuid-Amerika geregeld. Daar had ik subsidie voor gekregen en dat heb ik met de stichting Nederlandse Muziekexport opgezet. Dat is eigenlijk een beetje de basis geworden voor mijn verdere verloop als organisator. In het derde jaar van de studie heb ik stage gelopen bij Jeroen Brom, de manager van Epica. Toen heb ik bij het poppodium waar hij ook werkte een scholierenfeest georganiseerd, je weet wel, met van die slechte R&B. Dat was stiekem eigenlijk wel heel erg leuk om te doen, en dat was eigenlijk voor het eerst dat ik iets organiseerde dat heel erg buiten mijn eigen smaak lag."

Ondanks dat de muziek ver buiten zijn eigen terrein lag, beviel het hele proces Merlijn wel en smaakte het naar meer. "Die scholieren vonden het mooi, een vriend van mij draaide en iemand kwam mooie lampen ophangen en zo. Ik kwam er toen achter dat ik het leuk vond om iedereen dingen te laten doen waar ze goed in zijn. In het vierde jaar werd ik gebeld door een maat van de middelbare school, Jurriën, en die gaf aan samen met iemand anders, Rico, regelmatig een technofeestje te organiseren in de Pin-Up Club. Die club ging echter failliet ging, terwijl het technofeestje wel altijd goed liep. Techno was toen eind 2011 onder studenten in Groningen echt groot aan het worden. Jurriën vroeg toen aan mij of ik het niet zag zitten om een club te beginnen. Daar moest ik wel even over nadenken, want ik hield echt helemaal niet van uitgaan of dance enzo, dus dat voelde aanvankelijk wel apart. Maar ik had nog een afstudeerproject nodig, en ik vond ook dat feestje dat ik eerder organiseerde erg leuk, dus ik dacht: "Fuck it! Waarom niet? We beginnen gewoon!" Toen zijn we die tent gewoon begonnen. Dat werd Subsonic, voor de openminded dance liefhebber, van melodische house tot aan breakcore. Op cheesy R&B en EDM shit na kon eigenlijk bijna alles."

Naast Subsonic is Merlijn inmiddels ook elders actief in Groningen. "Vorig jaar ben ik aan de gang gegaan bij poppodium Simplon. Dat was failliet gegaan, maar is inmiddels weer opnieuw gestart. Daar ben ik programmering gaan doen, voornamelijk van dance en metal. Vervolgens mocht ik ook voor Bevrijdingsdag de dance programmeren. Nu zijn we weer bezig om Simplon te laten herrijzen. Dat was toch een beetje op sterven na dood." De andere omgeving van Simplon is ook weer een mooie uitdaging, geeft Merlijn aan. "Ik leer hier als programmeur weer veel bij. Bij Subsonic is het allemaal wat laagdrempeliger, met een lage entree en veel doorloop. Bij Simplon betaal je toch vaak minimaal 12,50eu entree ofzo en dan kies je echt voor een bepaalde avond. Het is een andere manier van programmeren. Niet altijd even makkelijk, maar wel erg leerzaam."

Buiten Groningen richt Merlijn tegenwoordig zijn pijlen ook nog op andere plekken, en dan heb ik het niet over de Randstad. "We zijn op dit moment ook bezig met China. Daar zijn we nu drie keer geweest. Ik las vorig jaar een artikel op Vice over een Nederlandse jongen die daar met zijn Chinese vriendin de scene een beetje aan het verbouwen is en een club heeft in een kelder daar." Merlijn besloot contact met hem op te nemen, iets waar nog een stevige investering voor moest worden gedaan. "Ik heb hem opgezocht op Facebook en een berichtje gestuurd. Dat kostte overigens 70 cent om dat aan te laten komen in zijn postvak, want we hadden geen gemeenschappelijke vrienden!" aldus een lachende Merlijn. "Ik zei hem dat het ik erg tof vond wat hij aan het doen was en dat ik ook een kelder had met een club, en of we niet eens met elkaar konden Skypen. Toen bleek dat hij heel graag eens de jongens van Kamara wilden hebben, uit Arnhem. Die hadden al eens in de Subsonic gestaan. Ik kon ze helpen aan subsidie, zodat we daar heen konden. Uiteindelijk zijn we met hen en Dr. Lektroluv heen gegaan en hebben daar een tourtje gedaan. Dat was fantastisch."

De attitude van de mensen in China werkte verfrissend op Merlijn. "Ik merkte dat mensen in China nog heel erg open zijn en niet zo gekaderd zijn binnen bepaalde genres. Dat was heel tof om te zien en het was heel erg gaaf om muziek die met passie gemaakt wordt daar heen te brengen, in plaats van al de overgehypte shit. Zo organiseren wij daar volgend jaar, als alles een beetje meezit qua organisatie en dergelijke, het eerste hardcore feest in China. Ik houd eigenlijk echt van 'kutmuziek' en ik vind het mooi om die steeds meer de wereld in te brengen. Ik vind het mooi om mensen even uit hun comfortzone te halen en hen een andere zone in te brengen, die uiteindelijk ook wel weer een andere comfortzone voor hen kan worden." De openminded scene in China staat volgens Merlijn in contrast met hoe het er meestal in Nederland aan toe gaat. "Een nadeel tegenwoordig in de house en techno scene, maar eigenlijk bijkans elke scene, is dat mensen minder bezig zijn met de line-up, maar meer met het feit of het een druk feestje is waar je gezien kunt worden. Het gaat meer om een goede promo of hype dan om de echte muziekkwaliteit. Dat is wel eens jammer, en maakt het ook moeilijk."

De veranderende scenes ziet Merlijn echter ook weer als een uitdaging. "Zeker in techno en house, en dan voornamelijk de toegankelijk segmenten daarvan, vind ik het heel lastig inschatten wat nu nog werkt. Ook omdat Groningen wat dat betreft totaal niet representatief is voor de rest van het land. Ik ben soms wel jaloers op Rotterdam, die scene daar, waar goede punkertechno, met gave artiesten van een goed label, trekt gewoon nog steeds 300 man. Dat is toch een beetje de stijl waar we een paar jaar geleden met Subsonic ook mee bezig waren, maar dat kan hier eigenlijk niet meer." Toch ziet Merlijn veel pluspunten van het werkzaam zijn in Groningen. "Iedereen kent elkaar, iedereen gaat naar elkaars feestjes en helpt elkaar ook. Natuurlijk is er wel concurrentie, maar op een gezonde manier. We werken elkaar niet tegen. We hebben echt het gevoel dat we het met elkaar moeten doen, dus we hebben ook belang bij samenwerking. We leven ook een beetje geïsoleerd in het noorden. We werken daarom ook leuk samen met bijvoorbeeld organisaties in Leeuwarden. We houden ons ook een beetje verre van wat allemaal hip is enzo in de Randstad. We houden ons daar niet echt mee bezig."

Naast zijn werk als organisator voor Subsonic en Simplon, richt Merlijn zijn pijlen ook op een ander groots plan. "We zijn vanuit Groningen bezig met het ontwikkelen van een nieuwe soort internet: Subciety. Een samenleving onder de 'normale' samenleving, waarin we vooral inzetten op verbindingen in real life. We worden al jarenlang eigenlijk geacht alles zoveel mogelijk online te doen, terwijl eigenlijk de meest interessante dingen gebeuren als we gewoon in het echte leven elkaar ontmoeten en bier drinken en ouwehoeren. We willen met Subciety inzetten op ontmoetingen in real life, of dat nou bij een technofeestje is of gewoon een fucking modelspoortreinenvereniging. Dat je een overzicht hebt van wat er waar gebeurt als je ergens bent. Dat je bijvoorbeeld in Rome bent en wilt weten waar nou een goede metalbar is en dat je dan via twee klikjes in een kleurensysteem kunt zien waar gelijkgestemden zijn. Dat je alles van Airbnb tot aan Whatsapp tot aan je Facebookvrienden eigenlijk comprimeert tot een hele basic verbinding."

Stimuleren van ontmoetingen
In zekere zin sluit zijn werk als organisator erg goed aan bij zijn plannen voor Subciety. Beide draaien om het in contact brengen van mensen. "Precies. De focus ligt dus op het stimuleren van ontmoetingen in het echte leven. Je daadwerkelijke aanwezigheid en real life verbindingen worden dan ook beloond, met een soort van puntensysteem. Dat je aangeeft dat je ergens heen gaat en er dan ook daadwerkelijk bent en ook lang blijft. Je kunt dan bijvoorbeeld ook punten krijgen als je 6 uur lang niet online bent, omdat je aan het slapen bent of aan het sporten of aan het feesten. Het doel is om in 2020, als het internet zo'n beetje 20 jaar bestaat, weer een beetje meer hier aanwezig te zijn, in deze wereld. We willen dat stimuleren door in eerste instantie een overzicht te bieden van wat er is, en hoe je zo snel mogelijk in contact komt met leuke mensen die je wil ontmoeten. Daarnaast willen we ook spammen zoveel mogelijk voorkomen. Als je bijvoorbeeld 50 mensen uitnodigt en er komen er maar 2 opdagen, verdien je weinig geloofwaardigheid. Dat willen we vooral doen aan de hand van kleurencombinaties en niet met cijfers, omdat cijfers teveel afhangen van de willekeur van de beoordelaar. We willen juist meer de associatieve kant op. Het is een heel groot plan om uiteindelijk het nieuwe Facebook te worden, maar dan beter!"

Kijk, zulke plannen kunnen we alleen maar omarmen. Tot het zover is, kun je in ieder geval altijd langskomen bij de Subsonic of Simplon om in real life bier te drinken met anderen. Grote kans dat je met Merlijn zelf ook ergens een biertje kunt drinken en tijdens een gesprek tot interessante ingevingen komt. Dus, sluit je browser na het lezen van dit blog en hop, de wereld in!

zaterdag 18 juli 2015

Interview: Robert Smit talks about Poptrash and Pitchphase

"I love the freedom I have right now."

Next Friday the 24th of July marks the return of Poptrash. Those in the know will probably remember those wonderful nights at the Melkweg years ago, when Poptrash was one of the most fun nights out with a group of friends. The founder of Poptrash is Robert Smit and he also happens to be working at releasing new music under a new moniker: Pitchpase. More than enough reason to have a chat with the lad!

Poptrash Origins
I talk to Robert about those early Poptrash nights at the Melkweg, back when there still were fun nights at that club. I ask him about the early beginnings of Poptrash. “It all started when I was sitting at Leidseplein with a friend and we were chatting about music. We both went to places like Korsakoff, where alternative music got played, but also to Noodlanding in Paradiso, which is more pop music orientated. We were thinking: we need a night where this stuff gets combined! I already worked at the Melkweg as a dj on concert nights, and asked them if I could start a night there where people can dance to both Marilyn Manson and Britney Spears, and everything in between. Luckily, they agreed!”

Poptrash back in the days
The nights under the name Poptrash quickly were a huge success and Robert extended its reach to other places like the Mezz in Breda and the Waterfront in Rotterdam. After a few years though, Robert decided to lay Poptrash to rest for a bit. “Up until 2009 the parties were a great success, then you noticed the influence of the recession making it too expensive for some clubs to keep continuing in the same manner. Also, I got busier with making and playing my own music as well, so it was hard to keep the focus on both at that time. It felt like a good time to focus more on my own productions and do something new.”

Robert has always been very musical and has been writing and playing music since he was a kid. “I’ve played in lots of bands, from 1995 onwards. Punk, noise, rock, you name it. The thing with playing in a band is though that it always costs so much time. All the practicing together, the logistics of every one being available all the time. I had been working on some solo material for a while, on cassettedecks and Garageband and stuff like that, when I was working on Poptrash. During that time I got in touch with a lot of acts and labels and different kinds of music, and I thought: maybe I should just focus on producing and releasing some solo stuff. I already was always the arrogant prick and the big ego of the band, so I thought let’s put my money where my mouth is and try to make it work on my own.”

Robert Smit as Sick Boy
Sick Boy
Pretty soon Robert started to make a name for himself and he even landed a high profile collaboration. “I started releasing music and to dj as Sick Boy. It was really great for a while, but after a couple of years I started to become a bit fed up with the type of music I was making. Elektro, fidget, the style of Bloody Beetroots and Steve Aoki. There’s still some really great stuff in that scene, but a lot of the arrangements were starting to become the same. I wanted to challenge myself more as a musician. The last thing I did as Sick Boy was the release of a single together with Steve Aoki. I thought to myself: alright, this can either make me or break me. The reviews were very positive, but somehow I couldn’t manage to get myself a good booking agency here in Holland. While the shows I did do always went great, with lots of people showing up and going mental. I played shows in Germany, France and Spain, on the website Allmusic.com I got mentioned as one of the highlights of the Steve Aoki album. It was kind of frustrating that there was such a lack of interest from booking agencies in the Netherlands.”

Robert can now say that that frustrating time might have been a blessing in disguise. “I confronted myself with the question: what is it you really want to do? I had already been working for a long time on more classical orientated compositions, soundscapes and industrial, but I never really went all the way with it. But then I decided to start Pitchphase and delve more into those musical worlds. With Sick Boy I got stuck within a genre, and now under this new name it felt like I had all the freedom of the world again. The first things I made as Pitchphase got great reviews from people and that strengthened the idea that what I was doing was the right thing. I no longer felt like Sick Boy anymore, I am a different person than the one I was a couple of years ago and it feels wonderful to now really focus on this music that comes from within me. It is interesting though, because with my previous music the focus has always been on dancing, on making people dance. Now with Pitchphase, it is much more music to listen to. Music for an open air space where I can hopefully pull people into a trance.”

Repetition and difference
The music that Robert makes as Pitchphase sounds contemplative, yet emotional. When he talks about his production process, both elements seem to be present. “Inspiration works in mysterious ways with me. I could come home and then just start playing a few notes, and as soon as I have recorded those first new notes, I could just go on and on. I really love repetition in music, but with little additions in every repetition. Kind of like krautrock, but also like Nine Inch Nails. I mostly work at night, or after 9pm. During the day I find it much harder to create. Also, rain and dark skies really help to get myself in the right mood.”

“I love the freedom I have right now,” Robert continues. “The only thing that could become a problem is the question of pushing things too far, in the sense of how to keep a right balance in the tracks. I don’t use many beats in my songs, but when I do I have to refrain from turning an ambient song halfway into a speed metal song. I use a lot of guitars in my songs, in a kind of prog rock style like Pink Floyd, and I sometimes wonder if I should put that in every song. Same goes for piano pieces. But I don’t want elements to become a gimmick, everything has to be in favour of the song.”

One thing that is still heavily on Robert’s mind, is how to translate his music to a live setting. “It is very important to me that I can play my music live in a way that really shows the music. I really want to play it live, and I will need some extra multi instrumentalists around me to do that. I’m talking to Ben Spaanders of Cosmic Force and Aller Aalders, who have a studio, Sonar Traffic, in Kytopia. They both have an enormous understanding of analog synthesizers. I want to have synthesizers, electronic drums, guitar and laptops all to work together and really perform as a band. Also, I love working with imagery with my music. I want to have great visuals that accompany the music. All in all still quite some stuff to delve into before I can hit the stage. But I would also love to do something on a smaller scale, like doing something solo live at an art exhibit, where I could do more textural jams for example.”

Robert has been very productive and already has music ready to be released as Pitchphase. “In September my first ep will be released, on 9G Records. Normally they focus more on dance, so I think it’s a cool and bold decision to release my music. There will also be a free track for people to get acquainted with Pitchphase. That track has a Blade Runner reference, because it is the main source of inspiration for it. The ep will have 5 tracks, and after that there will be a few remixes, for Hanin Elias for example, among others. I am also talking to some other labels, more in the industrial and avant-garde areas, so we will see what comes of that. In a way it’s scary, it feels like I’m walking into uncharted territory. Like I said, I’ve always focused more on dance music, and now more on careful listening. But it is good to confront yourself with something new and daring to take a step in an unknown direction. I’m optimistic and excited about it all!”

Poptrash 2015
Back to Poptrash for a bit. Next week will see another rebirth of the by now classic night. Initially, there will be more of a focus on live artists than on dance parties. “Originally Poptrash was all about the combination of alternative and pop music, of live artists and dj’s. I want to go into that direction again. Poptrash has turned into a small company now: Poptrash Productions. We want to do several things under that umbrella. At De Nieuwe Anita on July 24th, we will host the first ‘new’ Poptrash and from then on every month. The next one will be August 28th. There will be a wide variety of artists on these nights, ranging from singer-songwriters to Nintendo punk. We really want to focus on Amsterdam, on supporting the local scene. I’ve always aimed at getting local acts involved.” Besides the live artists, Robert also plans to get the oldschool Poptrash dance parties back. “In the future we will also include other venues that can stay open till late, where we will do the real dance parties. With music ranging from the Prodigy to Taylor Swift, from Rage Against the Machine to classic Madonna. And we will keep the entrance fee low, so it’ll be very accessible. We just want to throw some fun fucking parties.”

Check Pitchphase on Facebook and Soundcloud.

dinsdag 14 juli 2015

Arboreal Affects -Intensities in Trees in the Paintings of André Derain and Emily Carr

I remember the first time visual art really struck a chord deep within the centre of my being. It's about five years ago, at the not so tender age of 28 years old. With music I've long had that experience, and even quite a number of times (probably from age 14 onwards). It is almost as if you need to learn the how to first, before you can enjoy the sudden strike of lightning more than once, because since that first time I've been moved to passionate tears by paintings a number of times. Although learning how to isn't something you can just pick up from a manual or a guide. I think the time has to be right for you as a person to be able to pick up on those fine and fragile fibres of affects that suddenly somehow seem to be radiating from certain works of art. Perhaps music, with its rather direct quality of vibrating frequencies tapping your eardrums, traveling through your body and gently (or sometimes brutally) wrapping itself around your heart and soul, is a more accessible branch of art in that way.

Back to that first time. It was during an exposition in the Hermitage museum in Amsterdam, entitled 'From Matisse to Malevich', that I encountered a painting that not only stopped my world, but made it slowly spin around, giving me a dizzy feeling. At first I thought it was a pure physical deficiency taking hold of my body, but when I returned to the painting a couple of minutes later almost the same thing happened. After a while, the dizzying feeling gave way to a different sensation -an overwhelming emotion that gave me the chills all over my body. I felt something profound taking a hold over me as I examined the painting more closely. I could not pinpoint any particular aspect of the painting as the source of this strange magnetic influence it had over me. I loved the colours, the greenish grey and greyish green. I realised the colours reverberated deep within me, but could that be the only source of this enormous and inspiring feeling? There were trees in the painting, but until that very moment I had not had any special feelings about trees or anything related to them. In fact, as a Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari enthusiast I had (in all earnest silliness) even come to resent the symbol of trees and the hierarchical structure they seem to represent. "Thought is not arborescent." [A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari]. But this painting, with its strange trees that seemed to be in perpetual motion, as if they were still in the process of becoming... A painting of becoming trees suddenly seemed very Deleuzian after all. But there was more going on and till this day I cannot exactly say what it is. Although I did find the theoretical term for what happened to me: Stendhal Syndrome. According to Wikipedia: "Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art."

I often went back to pictures of the painting, online and in books, but it never gave me the same feeling again. Still, even the pictures stirred something within me and even moved me to tears at times, but on a less profound level, almost as if the experience was an afterimage of the original one. I realised that coming face to face with the original work had had a magical effect on me. It could have been the actual size of the painting, perhaps seeing the paint and canvas from up close. Maybe even it was the actual aura of the work of art. Maybe Walter Benjamin was right, and were the "Unnahbarkeit, Echtheit und Einmaligkeit" [Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Benjamin] of both the work of art and my observation of it key elements in the construction of my experience. Of course seeing a original painting up close gives way to an altogether different experience than seeing the same painting mediated and on a smaller scale. When one can see the details of the brushstrokes, the texture of the canvas and almost feel the vibrant intensity of the colours -that is what characterises an encounter with an original painting in its full size. And boy what an encounter this was.

On a side note -I love how Benjamin constructs aura and the loss of aura by mechanical reproduction in a mutually exclusive relationship. Without the reproduction of a work of art (or nature for that matter -Benjamin includes both these worlds as capable of having aura), the original doesn't have as much as an impact as it has when there are reproductions scattered around the world and seeing the original one becomes almost a pilgrimage. I haven't seen the original painting The Grove by André Derain anymore since, unfortunately. Yes, that indeed is the painting that I have been talking about above. I am hesitant to add a picture of the painting here, since it will be so far removed from its original aura, but I think it would help clarify what I will be talking about next, when I move from Derain to an other painter of trees: the Canadian artist Emilly Carr.

André Derain - the Grove (1912)

An academic (whose name I cannot seem to trace) talks about a different painting by Derain (The Pine Tree) in words that in my opinion can very well be applied to The Grove as well: "It hearkens to a pre- or posthuman period in which elemental nature reigns supreme. The use of these simple hues: raw umber, dark greens, deep grays, cool tans, stormy blue, emphasizes the natural element and helps convey a sense of the pure force of nature." [The Aesthetic Roots of The Pine Tree by André Derain, unknown author]. It is this sense of a force of nature that we can also see in the work of Emily Carr, especially in her paintings in which she focuses on forests and trees. I am not quite sure which part this exactly plays in my response to both Derain's The Grove and a number of paintings by Carr, but I think it is one of several elements that together lead up to the intensity I feel when looking at these paintings.

Emily Carr - Indian Church (1929)
But let me first talk about how all of a sudden I became so involved in the life and work of Emily Carr. Apparently I must have seen some of her work somewhere, because I wrote down her name in a notebook. With no added notes -just her name. A long time later I was looking for interesting things in that notebook when I came across her name. I had no recollection whatsoever who she was or where I had written her name down. When I think about it now, I believe it must have been sometime in the Summer of 2012, most probably when I was in France. Chances are I have seen a painting by her in a museum in Nantes or Bordeaux, but I am not completely sure about it. Anyway, intrigued by the name with no info I just googled her and quickly found out she was a painter. When I opened a website that showcased a number of her paintings I was struck with the exact same feeling I had when I saw The Grove for the first time. Perhaps 'feeling' isn't the right word, because it seems to be so much more. A profound series of affects that effected me both physically and mentally. A dizzy feeling, a coldness, goosebums and tears that slowly (without me noticing at first) found their way down my face. At the same time the world seemed to come to a halt, time expanded and for a moment it felt as if I could touch the very fabric of my existence.

Overwhelmed, I looked away and started doing some other things. When I returned to the pictures of the paintings a while later, the same affects got a hold of me, albeit in a less intense way, as if the first shock had subsided and I was slowly coming to terms with what I was seeing and experiencing. In a way, it was as Emily Carr herself describes her encounter with the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian painters who focus on landscape paintings. Carr is more than impressed by their collective and creative force: "Oh, God, what have I seen? Where have I been? Something has spoken to the very soul of me, wonderful, mighty, not of this world. Chords way down in my being have been touched. Dumb notes have struck chords of wonderful tone. Something has called out of somewhere. Something in me is trying to answer. It is surging through my whole being, the wonder of it all, like a great river rushing on, dark and turbulent, and rushing and irresistible, carrying me away on its wild swirl like a helpless little bundle of wreckage. Where, where? Oh, these men, this Group of Seven, what have they created?--a world stripped of earthiness, shorn of fretting details, purged, purified; a naked soul, pure and unashamed; lovely space filled with wonderful serenity. What language do they speak, those silent, awe-filled spaces? I do not know. Wait and listen; you shall hear by and by. I long to hear and yet I'm half afraid (...)" [Hundreds and Thousands, Carr] Later on Carr links this experience to a understanding of godliness, but being the atheist I am I will stray away from that direction.

Emily Carr - Metchosin (1935)
Impressed with the works of the Group of Seven, Carr started to focus with her paintings on natural scenes and in particular on the presence of trees. On the website Artchive.com the following description can be found: "To speak of Emily Carr's trees is to seize on the central subject of her work, both as metaphor and form. Like a great axis mundi, the tree centers and grounds most of her paintings." Carr herself wrote a lot a about her life and the way she approached her work and she acknowledges this importance of trees to her: "Trees are so much more sensible than people, steadier and more enduring" and "I ought to stick to nature because I love trees better than people." Her paintings definitely seem to echo these statements, with an almost vibrant force radiating from the trees she portrays (almost as if they possess wild untamed personalities indeed). There are a number of articles (for example on the aforementioned Artchive website) that delve deeper into an analysis of Carr's use of trees (in a more profound way than I could), and I will not try to do the same here. I am more interested in why these works by Carr have this influence on me. It definitely differs per painting though -some I find mildly interesting, others hit me like a high five in the face. I'll show a few of her paintings here so we know what we are talking about:

Emily Carr - Vanquished (1931)

Emily Carr - Old Time Coast Village (1929)

Emily Carr - Mountain Forest (1936)

Emily Carr - Scorned as timber, beloved of the sky (1931)

These trees, both as entities and as groups of entities, have a magical power over me. Not in the way that the Tree of Knowledge has so often been described, nor in the sense of any hierarchical structure. To me, these trees seem to move, seem to overlap with the surroundings they are portrayed in. They seem constantly and continually on the verge of becoming something else. A recurring movement while their place on the canvas obviously doesn't change. Yet every time I look at these paintings (an act of repetition in a sense) something seems to have changed (a difference in perceived affects). Despite the anti-arborealism that Deleuze and Guattari seem to advocate, I experience very Deleuzian elements in my experience of these paintings. Each time, the impact of looking at them seems to me an event (as in Alfred North Whitehead). As Steven Shaviro puts it in his great article 'Deleuze's Encounter With Whitehead': "At every moment, then, the continuing existence of [the work of art, NT] is a new event. (...) At any given instant, my encounter with the [work] is itself an event."

I dropped a few typical terms in this last paragraph. I will try to describe them in relation to my experience of the paintings by Carr and hopefully by doing so elaborate on these ideas. More on that coming soon in a new post.