Jan-Bas Bollen: “Koord is a magical experience”

On 4 March, during Festival Dag in de Branding, the piece KOORD by Jan-Bas Bollen will premiere in Paard. In KOORD, Bollen plays the HyperTheremin, an electronic instrument he developend himself, with a traditional string quartet. We talked to him about developing the HyperTheremin, the special combination with the acoustic ensemble and playing music without a score.

What gave you the idea to develop the HyperTheremin?
Many aspects of my art come together in the HyperTheremin. Over the years I improved my craft in sound and image composition, electronics, instrumentalism, performance, improvisation, research, software design and performance and I have combined these fields before. Especially my curiosity in the abilities of sensor technology let me to a cross-roads of all these musical disciplines. It wasn’t a preconceived plan, idea or Eureka moment, rather a growth process. The development of the performance instrument itself is difficult and never completed. A new piece is always a technical challenge, requires fresh material and a specific choreography of the hands. But it is also very satisfying to create an artistic playing field and to try it out on stage. I hear from my audience that it has been a magical experience, as a performer it is magical for me, as well.

In KOORD you combine this electronic instrument with a traditional string quartet (musicians from the Nieuw Amsterdams Peil). Can you tell us more about this combination?
While string quartet is a traditional line-up, the musicians of Nieuw Amsterdams Peil embrace adventurous programming. A pioneering mentality is absolutely required for KOORD. The combination has never been tried before so it’s new for all players. In addition, there is spoken text, an unorthodox score and the piece requires a lot of practice and rehearsal time. Writing for string quartet is a huge job. It is a genre with an enormous amount of amazing repertoire in a tradition of about 250 years. What can one add to that? In terms of content, I mainly research each individual player, instrument and possible combinations, while on my HyperTheremin sounds I can continue the string characteristics in the digital domain. This way I can merge with acoustic string instruments, comment, underline or isolate myself. All the while I describe the properties of strings in the context of points and lines, through pre-recorded texts.
In short, KOORD is not a traditional work…

The score consists more of textual development than musical notes. What is that like for the musicians? Is there much room for improvisation?
The score is part graphic, part textual. In addition, it contains traditional music notation, but also as a starting point for controlled improvisations. It is not like jazz, the work is more modernist, with influences from medieval music, New York School and pop music, among others. Sometimes it is very soft, and silence is used structurally.

On March 4, KOORD will premiere at Paard, a pop stage, during Festival Dag in de Branding. How is it for you to be on the spot and what can the audience expect that afternoon?
With other projects I regularly play pop-music venues and my experiences are very positive. The atmosphere is often informal and the conditions for my amplified music are excellent, some light and projections – partly because the experienced technicians and organizers who work there are used to that.
While I’m working on KOORD another project is running, a DJ set/album with Drum ‘n Bass (DnB) for release later this year, so club music, definitely meant for dancing… What attracts me to DnB is the spectacular sound design of the genre and the high energy level. The contrast with KOORD could not be greater and that is actually nice for me. Working on the “HyperTheremin Quintet” is a pleasant change. I would like to invite the PAARD audience to experience the concert in this way as well. After your energetic night out, come to KOORD in the same hall for something really different.

KOORD by Jan-Bas Bollen is performed in PAARD together with the Nieuw Amsterdams Peil string quartet on 4 March at 3:00 PM. Buy tickets here.

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