Bram Kortekaas interview

‘Classical music is a journey of discovery’

interview with composer Bram Kortekaas
by Frederike Berntsen

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The interactive piece Luistermutant by Micha Hamel zooms in on the 19 century ideal of listening. Hamel stresses how music at the time was socially important and served to uplift humanity; it was the highest art. Composer Bram Kortekaas was recruited by his colleague Micha Hamel to take care of part of the music for the project. He wrote a composition of around eighteen minutes long.

‘To open ears and inspire curiosity: this is the challenge I feel with Luistermutant. We, the makers, hope those who participate will discover what fun it is to listen well during the piece.’ 

Listening positions
‘In Luistermutant, we start from three ways of listening: listening with your body, your heart and your head. My piece swings back and forth between these listening positions.’

‘When you listen with your body, you fully surrender to the music, close your eyes and listen passively, for which I write music that slowly develops. Think of sound fields, fragments, sound clouds. The listener’s experience is at the same time highly physical: certain instrumental effects can sound as if you are experiencing pin pricks or feeling rain drops; corporeal music. 

In the mode where you listen with your heart, you need to think of film music. The sounds tell a story and are associative. This music is varied and exciting. 

For listening with your head, I compose something that has clear rhythmic and melodic components that can also be perceived as such. An example: Frère Jacques - everyone knows this - builds up as a canon. You gain something from being able to hear the structure in music. All of a sudden, a piece gets direction, a beginning and an end in your experience.

We invite the audience to utilise all three modes of listening. The lights in the venue also do their part, a different colour for every mode - listeners go on a journey through the music as per these modes.’  

Perceiving new things
‘When I look at myself: as a professional musician, I was mainly trained to listen analytically. I can hardly turn off this mode. To close my eyes and take something in unbiased is difficult. While working on Luistermutant, I became aware of the ways of listening that are less developed in myself. In this way, you discover new things in the music, things you had not perceived before because you are stuck in that one mode of listening you are used to.’ 

Slowing down
‘Slowing down is what our society needs. We desire an experience away from life’s everyday pace. A concert hall is a great place for this. Everyone inside knows: I need to turn my phone off now and remain seated and listen. This is a modern concept, is it not? This prospect of no distractions is wonderful to many people.’ 

Multiple journeys
‘Classical music lends itself well to the experiment in listening that is Luistermutant. There are always new things to discover in this genre because of how layered many compositions are. Pieces of a certain length and quality have just about everything: timbres of all shapes and sizes, different themes, instrumental effects. Classical music is not “What you see is what you get”. It is a journey of discovery that requires multiple journeys. You hear something, and you get curious: what instrument is making this sound? Another time, your attention is drawn to a different sound or a different part of a melody. The journey of discovery is effectively endless.’ 

Symphonic orchestra
‘Luistermutant features not just my own music but also that of the 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn. What I write has nothing to do with Mendelssohn, apart from that I compose with the same instruments he did: the symphony orchestra. Only there are two hundred years separating us, and I add some percussion and a bass trombone. An orchestra lets you go in any direction. I can inspire a whole range of emotions like Mendelssohn, but in my own way, because I use the instruments in a slightly different way. The main thing is that the music I wrote for this performance is playful.’ 

Luistermutant 2021
20 June, Muziekgebouw
info & tickets