“Every sound has to live and have some kind of movement”
Boris Bezemer in the Envelope
What “Spring”s, sweeps through space like a flock of metallic birds, and whistles atonal melodies while it walks? What’s that you say, the awakened spirit of Stockhausen? Well possibly, but in a more lively and vital sense the music of Nijmegen-born and Amsterdam-based composer Boris Bezemer has been taking ears by surprise with recent works that define an envelope in time as original and personal as those he uses as motivic material for his electronic and acoustic compositions.
Bezemer relies on simple means to produce complex texture. The drawing above, rather than representing a collection of snakes on their way to tea, instead shows the overlapping trajectories of some of the events in one of a family of recent works collectively titled Spring (2014). The Springs all consist of sounds with the same amplitude envelope, or its mirror image, as diagrammed above. “Jump – rest – shake…” as Bezemer puts it “A steady pitch fades in from silence and then jumps to another pitch. This jump should be clearly accented. After the jump the sound shakes subtly six times, the last shake being the slowest. Shaking could happen for example by modulating loudness, but can also happen otherwise. When the sound has stopped shaking the sound is static again and it rests like this for a short while. Then it stops.”
In addition to the stereo version above, an 8 channel surround sound version is slated for premier later this month in Huddersfield, United Kingdom, and the score for an experimental version for ensemble can be seen below.
So what unifies these works, which can be heard to be located within completely different sound worlds? What links the electronic version in the recording linked to above with the ensemble version below? For one thing, they are all based on Bezemer’s “Spring”: a single motive, defining the temporal trajectory of the sound in terms of its volume (an amplitude envelope) can be seen here as the common factor between the many divergent textures it can produce. Bezemer, is his exacting manner, is equal to the task, and explores each option presented carefully. What is important, and lends a special sense of poetics to the works is that he follows these paths not only with rigour but also with pleasure:
“It seemed to me like a beautiful experience to all spring together….”
In the Spring works, Bezemer expresses two of his key interests- the emergence of a line or even an entire texture from a small motivic shape, and pure joy. “Contemporary music”, and in particular electronic music produced in University studios is not generally known for its emotionally expressive nature, and where emotional content can be found it often tends towards Sturm und Drang, rather than joy. Although Bezemer is a careful student of the great modernist master of Köln, and even pays a great deal of homage to Stockhausen in some of the titles of his works there is in his music a need to express something distinctly human, and the sounds maintain a human scale. They neither drown nor dwarf one, and they do not set about to create fear in the listener. He uses no extreme durations, nor grand Mahler-esque gestures, nor are there to be found those effects so ubiquitous in the world of electronic music production. In the ensemble text score above, he even states, “It is a light, happy and jumpy piece.”
Bezemer takes this pursuit of happiness seriously and deeply. The pursuit of beauty in music and in the world is as important to his compositional process as his design of the previously discussed small motives, and their subsequent development. When asked about his influences and plans for the future, he responds that he would like to make something like painter Wassily Kandinsky:
“In the future I would like to make dance music like Subotnick with beautiful synthesis sounds that are fast and happy. Also I would like to continue on the “one material” road with for example a composition made with only percussive envelope sounds. Cowbells, electronic pulses, bells, dings, dongs, wood hits, everything hits, plucked guitar strings, piano. And all this in a big wave of twenty minutes that consists of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves that consist of smaller waves in which slowly or sometimes fast a group of plucked guitar strings changes into wine glass pings but also maybe finally into a river just for a surprise because maybe I’m also tired of all these strict one material rules. I would like to continue in becoming more virtuosic with sine waves and making them dance like Kandinsky does with his points and lines and planes. All the shapes and colours are present and it looks like a big party, a big celebration of colours and points and lines and planes.”
A quick look around the composer’s extremely spartan website and with reference to the drawings he uses to model the envelopes and textures within his works would also suggest he might mean to follow Kandinsky visually as well, after all he has already made multimedia works (especially in his duo project, VONK, discussed briefly below) and animations like this one:
Aside from the Spring works, and the occasional animation, Bezemer’s soundcloud presents a treasure chest of works in which he explores a variety of approaches to composition, touching on the basic materials of music, as well as the previously discussed motivic design and development. Yet he while retaining a respect for the human scale in both sound and scope of the works, and with the playfulness one finds in the Spring works. Some examples to be discovered by the curious include examples of composition with acoustic instruments (such as a quartet playing violin, alto saxophone, bassoon and cello, commissioned for the closing of an exhibition in Museum IJsselstein, which is part of a long collaborative relationship with Gerjan Piksen called VONK). Experiments with the basic materials of electronic music: sine waves and noise can be heard in his 2013 work STR and Noise , which show the influence of Stockhausen’s seminal electronic music etudes Studie I and Studie II. Also there are experiments with composition using recorded sounds, about which Bezemer says: “This piece is a bit a different fish in my pond because it’s sound is very different than all the others, to me at least. It’s more lively and more like the real world outside of my window.”
One can gain a sense of Bezemer’s work and working methods in their native habitat by following their unique footprints though the creative course of their development. One has the opportunity to do this on the composer’s soundcloud and website, which contains sketches and works in progress and well as finished pieces, and see below for an example of his multimedia collaborative project with Gerjan Piksen, VONK. Finally, if you have already explored the many works presented in those places and still want more, you can always make some springs yourself`:
“A spring can be made with your voice or with an instrument. If you are singing, use mostly light vowels….Remember to make the jump really jump out with a strong accent. Voice jumps could be accented with a consonant like b, d, g, k, p, or t. A possible spring for voice is ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooToowoowoowoowoowoooowoooo.” (from the score to Spring, reprinted above)