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Broken Music and Loop Tensions
In Conversation with Frans de Waard, Peter Duimelinks and Roel Meelkop

By Richard di Santo
22 July 2001

While in Montréal for Mutek 2001 I had the pleasure to meet with Goem and Kapotte Muziek members Frans de Waard, Peter Duimelinks and Roel Meelkop. They performed an impressive set as Goem on the first night of the festival, and two days later returned as Kapotte Muziek to conduct an afternoon workshop and a series of short concerts. One afternoon we sat down to talk about their various projects and motivations, whether together or apart, in a small room in the basement of the SAT performance space.

Kapotte Muziek has been one of Frans de Waard's pet projects since 1984, and since that time it has witnessed numerous changes, covering a wide range of styles and experimental techniques, and yet always remaining close to its central ideas of sound recycling. The name Kapotte Muziek (which means "broken music", words used by de Waard's father to describe the music he was listening to as a teenager) formerly referred to his solo work in the studio. In 1993 there was a possibility for him to tour the US with THU 20, a legendary quintet of musique concrète enthusiasts (Jac van Bussel, Guido Doesborg, Peter Duimelinks, Roel Meelkop and Jos Smolders). For some of THU 20's best documented work, consult the recently unearthed Elfde Uni recording, or the Tweede Schijf CD. The plans for a tour fell through as various members dropped out. So in the end it was just de Waard and Peter Duimelinks who set out to perform 17 shows in the US in 1993. Each of these performances would begin with the amplified sounds of a stone, "an element of melancholy" as de Waard describes it, made in order to concentrate because they had never played live together before. As a subtle reference to their origins, they revisited this old practice at the Mutek show. When they got back from their US tour they were asked to do a number of concerts in Europe, and then by Staalplaat for a music festival. It was at that time when Roel Meelkop joined the duo, making Kapotte Muziek as a performance group what it is today. They've since played about 80 or 90 shows in the past eight years.

When asked what has changed since its origins, Duimelinks responds:

First of all, we are more experienced now, this is really something you can notice, that when we start to play we really listen to each other more than in the beginning. Roel and Frans will play the objects and I will do the final mix. In the beginning we used more sound effects, and we're using that less and less, focusing more on the sounds of the objects themselves, and for some shows not at all, as in our set at Mutek. In this way things have changed, but basically it's still the same approach: we improvise not knowing where we'll start and when it's going to end. It could take 30 minutes or it could go on to 70 minutes.

It is this passion for sound that directs their projects together, which, as Duimelinks describes them, "are so much about exploring and feeling sound, about how sounds exist in a space and always trying to find the edge."

The two projects of Kapotte Muziek and Goem are at once very different but very much alike as well, their similarities having more to do with their way of working than in the sound material itself (acoustic in the case of Kapotte Muziek and electronic in the case of Goem). Meelkop explains:

There's still one mixer, which in most cases live is Peter. Frans and I will control synthesizers, so in a sense it's more or less the same setting as Kapotte Muziek, although of course the material is very different.

Goem, with its basis in electronic sound material, consists in loop-based recordings; pulses and loops generated from synths, manipulated and layered through a mixer. All of Goem's recordings are live recordings (be they in a concert or studio setting) with no further editing. Goem is not techno, nor is it microwave or clicks + cuts, and yet all of the members agree that the project plays with the idea of techno. Perhaps it has more affinities with industrial music, as Meelkop had suggested in the course of our conversation:

What you get with Goem is a repetitive music which may even be hypnotising at some parts. With very slow changes in the course of one piece I would say that it is almost industrial.

The project started out serendipitously when one day Meelkop found a strange device called a "student stimulator" in a thrift shop:

I didn't know what it was but it looked nice so I took it home and tried to get sound out of it. It worked basically as a pulse generator, creating pulses at different speeds and at different lengths. I didn't really know what to do with it, so Frans took it home and made some recordings with it. He recorded one pulse and then layered 3 other tracks of the same pulse, but with different effects or delays. The first time I heard it it was just with the pulses, so I thought the pieces could use some more body by adding synths. So we tried out this stuff and it actually worked pretty well, and so we started working together on it and that's how it all started.

Since then Goem has had numerous releases and compilation appearances on their own label, Staalplaat, Rastermusic, Bip-Hop and Mego among others.

Like their studio setup, Goem's music remains deceptively simple: it is repetitive and loop-based, with very little structure, slow shifts and few changes in each track. At the same time, however, there's a characteristic in this equation which is difficult to replicate, or even describe. Roel discusses the nature of Goem's music:

Basically Goem has no structure — or it's a very short structure: it's one loop which we repeat repeat repeat... But still we are always looking for this tension in the track. There has to be tension. If the tension is not there, the track is nothing.

The trio has an interesting dynamic when working together; you can see it immediately in the way they relate to each other, the way they listen to and respond to each other's ideas and sounds. Meelkop, who considers himself more of a listener than a composer, is not finished with a piece until he is satisfied with it as a listener. He called it a "post-conceived idea": the piece creates itself by listening to it, which is more important to him than putting the ideas first. De Waard disagrees and works in the opposite direction, putting the ideas first and the execution second, and in the execution he always stumbles upon other things in the process that lead to something else. This provides a complimentary dynamic to their working relationship and creative process. Frans thinks beforehand, Roel thinks afterward, and Peter? He's in the middle of the process, a happy medium between the pre-conceived and the post-conceived, which may be the hidden (subconscious) reason that he handles the final mix when performing live as Goem and Kapotte Muziek.

Both Meelkop and Duimelinks got their start in the mid-eighties in the collective THU 20. Meelkop describes this time with THU 20:

We discussed a lot between the 5 of us how to make a track and why make a track. That's also why it ended at a certain point because our opinions became so individual that we were no longer able to put it on a record any more. And so each of us moved in our own directions.

After THU 20, Meelkop took a short hiatus from the music scene for a while, concentrating on visual arts, until he borrowed a sampler, which as he describes it, was a "real revelation" for him:

The accuracy of making music digitally is amazing. And the medium of the CD has a really dynamic range, more so than vinyl. So that offered me the opportunity to realise things that I couldn't realise before.

Meelkop has since gone on to record some incredible solo work, most notably 7 (perceptions) and 2 (kyoku) on Staalplaat, and 9 (holes in the head) on Trente Oiseaux.

Since his days with THU 20, Peter Duimelinks has also been busy with a number of solo projects, installations, soundtracks and also doing some work with dance troupes. See the superb split 3 inch CD with Frans de Waard on V2 Archief (Nulla Di Nuovo Sotto Il Sole...) and Verklärte Tage (with Meelkop and Wehowsky, on Sonoris).

De Waard has had numerous projects since he started experimenting with sound in the mid-eighties, from the industrial drones of Beequeen (with Freek Kinkelaar) to the ambient stylings of Quest, and so much in between. His next project is called Freiband, inspired by a CD by Asmus Tietchens called Daseinsverfehlung, in which all of the tracks are titled Freiband (German for "free tape"). De Waard explains the idea further:

Tietchens made that CD by pulling reel to reel tape from a tape machine by hand and making recordings of it. Then he processed the recordings of pulling the tape into music. In my new project I'm doing the same thing but digitally, digitally scratching with sound. Last year I was recording with Beequeen, and we borrowed Roel's 8 track digital recording machine and it has a choke dial. With that you can really scratch the sound around.

A release on Mille Plateaux is imminent.

How far will this trio take Goem and Kapotte Muziek? The answer is clear: things will end only when they run out of ideas and enthusiasm. Speaking with them, it is abundantly clear that they are content to discover things as they unfold without excess planning or by preoccupying themselves with scheduling their work strategically within various festivals or compilation CDs. The passion for music and sound creation is always favoured above marketing and industry politics. It is the journey itself which is the discovery and what defines their direction. All three quickly become bored with things once they find they are doing the same thing twice. As de Waard says: "either refine the concept or stop it." I can think of no better way to end this article, with an affirmation of their insatiable passions for sound and sound art, made so clear in their projects and in their words.