Zeno van den Broek: “a special experience to see the piece come to life”

Composer and visual artist Zeno van den Broek and Slagwerk Den Haag present Ma(n|chine) on September 18 – an audiovisual installation for four percussionists and three robots. Ma(n|chine) explores the tension between the technology of algorithms and the human capacity to create music.The main characteristic of the musicians is the ability to interact with each other, while the three machines can reach a speed which humans cannot. We talked to Zeno about the upcoming edition of Festival Dag in de Branding, the past corona year and his fascination for technology.

For this project you collaborated with Slagwerk Den Haag, what was it like?
The collaboration with Slagwerk Den Haag (SDH) was very inspiring! It was great to be able to draw on their vast experience and knowledge while having total freedom in composing the music and images. I have always admired SDH for their enormous dedication, and focus on stage, intensity and energy also plays an important role in my work so it was a special experience to see the piece come to life with the power of the SDH percussionists.

In recent months we have been very limited in our freedom of movement, how did this affect your work?
In my work, the relationship between humans and the (built) environment has always played a strong role due to my background in architecture. The lockdowns, which I experienced partly in Denmark and partly in the Netherlands, made me even more aware of our relationship to the digital environment: the virtual meeting rooms and rooms of friends and colleagues who entered via webcam took the place of the physical spaces. As a result of this experience, the digital space has started to play a greater role in my work and I have started to use more digital resources such as developing audiovisual apps. The past few months have mainly been dominated by the research and development of these media, in a sense also a shift from the presentation of work in physical spaces to the digital domain. At the same time, I am very happy that we can now go on the physical stages again to share and experience art and music.

Where does your fascination for technology come from?
Technology does indeed play a major role in my work, but it will always have a serving function: conceptual thinking is one of the most important aspects of my work, technology allows me to create and program ‘machines’ which implement the concepts. My compositions are often built on certain principles and methods, but are not 100% fixed: within the limits that I determine from the concept, there is a certain freedom in the execution, both in image and sound. I am looking for an internal logic of the piece in which everything relates to each other and falls into place on the different levels, from the large arcs of the structure of the entire piece to the individual notes and pulses. Working with algorithms and technology makes this possible. Ma(n|chine) is all about the relationship between these forms of musical performance by man and machine: both parties have principles and methods to work with and to perform, often in relation to each other, but also independently . The piece thus begins with the percussionists scanning and imitating the installation, with the focus on interpreting and feeling the technique by people. Later on, through a part of synchronicity between man and installation, the composition develops into a form in which man is free to improvise and the machinery has been given a supporting role.

What can visitors expect from Ma(n|chine)?
Ma(n|chine) is a fairly minimalistic yet intense audiovisual piece exploring the relationship between man and machine on stage. So it is certainly not a battle between these two parties, but rather an investigation into the relationship that arises between the flesh and blood performers and the installation, in order to build a bridge between the atoms and the bits. By working with the strengths and weaknesses of the various performers, I hope to present an exciting piece that stimulates and chafes, but also inspires new insights into the relationship between man and machine.

Watch the trailer

Zeno van den Broek – Ma(n|chine) with Slagwerk Den Haag will be performed in Theater aan het Spui on September 18 as part of the afternoon block. Buy tickets

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