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Choreographing the sound of PVC pipes

Composer Paul Craenen (1972) is actually a pianist, but as part of his PhD ceremony, he performed a composition on PVC pipes. Craenen studies the position and role of the body in music. ‘I am interested in what precedes the resulting sound’.

Old: the sound product comes first

Paul Craenen
Paul Craenen

The movement the percussionist makes towards the drumhead or the hand as it strokes the piano keys: what can you, as a composer, do with the choreography of thse movements which are themselves part of the musical message? Classical composers and choreographers want to eliminate this human element as much as possible and render it invisible. For them, it is all about the pure sound of the instrument or the illusory weightlessness of the dancer. The performer has to be absent as far as possible. He or she is a servant to art, whose efforts are intended only to enchant the audience with their result.

New: the musical process is key

Paul Craenen, who defended his dissertation ‘Composed Performers: The music-making body from a compositional perspective’ on Tuesday 29 March, feels more of a connection with composers who have an eye for the whole musical process. He has carried out his PhD research under the DocARTES programme for musicians. Musicians on this programme not only have to produce an academic dissertation, they also have to show that their research has changed the way they perform.

Craenen’s research started with a fascination with the music of German composer Helmut Lachenmann. According to Craenen, ‘This is music in which a change of perspective takes place. It is not so much the resulting sound in itself that is important here but rather the conditions in which it develops. The physical movement towards the instrument, the effort that is made and the sorts of techniques that are used are also part of the musical message.’ Craenen wants to give this ‘total approach’ a compositional meaning not just by putting the spotlight on the sonorous product but on the musical process as a whole.

Dancing PVC pipes

The result is a kind of ‘sonorous choreography’, as he demonstrated with his performance with PVC tubes on Monday 28 March. 'I have built a kind of installation of PVC tubes combined with microphones that cause feedback. We can manipulate the sound by moving the tubes in relation to the microphones and speakers. We have made a musical construction that becomes a kind of choreography: we and the tubes are moving.’ Craenen also plays with the identities of the performers: one minute they are acting as musicians, the next they seem more like technicians and the next again they are dancers. ‘Exploring the boundaries is at the forefront of my artistic practice.’

Audiences influence the sound

He can foresee a future role for the audience, or the bodies of the audience: ‘I have built installations where the position of the listener influenced the sound. This means that soon everything and everyone will be able to participate in the musical process. It is an old dream but compositionally speaking it is a formidable challenge.’

Three-day PhD ceremony

Craenen gave a lecture about his dissertation on Sunday 27 March, and a performance of his work on Monday 28 March, both in Scheltema (Marktsteeg 1). He defended his dissertation on Tuesday 29 March at 16.15 in the Academy. His supervisor is Professor Frans de Ruiter.

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