Experimental Sounds of Jaap Blonk
Jaap Blonk is tall. Really tall. That’s the first thing Gustavo Matamoros, founder and artistic director of the South Florida Composers Alliance (SFCA), Subtropics Experimental Music Festival, and now director of the outdoor Listening Gallery at the ArtCenter/South Florida, has to say about the Dutch experimentalist. Also, that he’s big enough for Matamoros to book for two nights on his visit to Miami, first at the ArtCenter on Friday and then at GAB Studio on Saturday. Blonk is a self-taught composer, performer, mathematician, and poet, who uses his voice, mouth, and electronics to create sound poetry. Says Matamoros, he brings to the table “Europe’s own brand of sound poetry, a virtuosic diction in the exploration of vocal sounds, and genuine facility for free improvisation.” Matamoros first introduced Blonk’s experimental sounds to Miami during the Subtropics in 2004. Besides Blonk’s height, Matamoros comments on experimental music and sound poetry, Blonk’s contribution to it — and how the weather influences how we hear particular sound; how sound artists create new languages and new meaning; and the relationship between baseball and experimental music. Artburst: Poetry lives in Jaap Blonk’s lungs. He uses high and low air pressure in his newest work, “Polyphtong.” He uses diphthong, approximant consonant sounds, and a cheek synthesizer to create this work. What brings experimental music or sound poetry to life? Gustavo Matamoros: In general, what brings experimental music to life for me is discovery, discovery of new sound, but not this alone. Every single experience of sound, of the capacity we have of producing sound, brings us closer to a deeper understanding of sound itself and this alone is life enriching. What may happen in a piece like “Polyphtong” is a combination of things. On one hand you have two types of content, sonic and literary. Those diphthongs you refer to are not simply words or parts of a word. They are also sounds that may be utilized in other languages to deliver meaning different from English. Even when restricted to a single language, reordering these sounds will cause meaning to change, sometimes in unexpected ways. On the other hand we have the technology and the environment imposing their own character on the experience of those sounds. Both hands hold each other to become integral parts of the piece and of our experience. What’s most important: the sound itself, the artists who processes those sounds, the performance, composition, the equipment, location, weather? Having a conversation with another in a crowded gallery opening, we have the ability to concentrate on the words of the person we want to hear while those of others become noise. I believe what is interesting is what happens to people when they listen. The combination of all the elements you list becomes a complex set of autonomously intertwined conditions to draw listening value from, including the weather, which in fact does bias what happens to sound in regards to its traveling speed. Blonk will perform the a guttural poem by avant-garde German Dadaist artist Kurt Schwitters, “Ursonate.” When he performed it years ago as the warm-up gig for punk bands, he wasn’t well-received by the audience. One time guards saved him from an angry horde shouting at him to “fuck off” while they threw beer at him. Is setting or place important for a successful performance? We are performing the weirdest sounds for 13 hours through the night outdoors along a one-block long canal in the middle of Miami Beach — and get rave reviews, from 50,000 people during Sleepless Night 2009. It’s all contingent on group dynamics and expectations. Subtropics keeps rare masterpieces like Schwitters’ “Ursonate” alive through performance. How can experimental music, especially works like “Ursonate,” continue to live and breathe for a broader audience? Because they are works of great vision — at least to some. On the flip side, or B side, it’s kind of like sports. For example, I became interested in baseball at a time when I was studying tonal music — to leave “home” in order to come back seems to be the point in both. When I got interested in improvisation, soccer made more sense, but in both sports everything happens around the ball. I’m not really a sports fan, but see? I can appreciate sports because of my musical interests. Jaap Blonk performs Friday at 7 p.m., ArtCenter/South Florida, 800 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. Program: “Polyphtong,” a new 4-channel composition, and ”Ursonate;” and Saturday at 7 p.m. at GAB Studio, 105 .NW. 23 St., Wynwood. Program: “Dr. Voxoid’s Next Move.” Tickets are free; firstname.lastname@example.org; the listening gallery, facebook.com/listeninggallery. Next subtropics is earmarked for March 1-10, 2013. This story also appears in Miaminewtimes.com.