Jaap Blonk is tall. Really tall.
That's the first thing Gustavo Matamoros, founder and artistic director of the South Florida Composers Alliance (SFCA), Subtropics Experimental Music Festival, and now director of the outdoor Listening Gallery at the ArtCenter/South Florida, has to say about the Dutch experimentalist. Also, that he's big enough for Matamoros to book for two performances on his visit to Miami this weekend, first at the ArtCenter on Friday and then at GAB Studio on Saturday.
Blonk is a self-taught composer, performer, mathematician, and poet, who uses his voice, mouth, and electronics to create sound poetry. He brings to the table "Europe's own brand of sound poetry, a virtuosic diction in the exploration of vocal sounds, and genuine facility for free improvisation," Matamoros describes.
Matamoros first introduced Blonk's experimental sounds to Miami in 2004. When he was finished describing Blonk's height, Matamoros told us how the composer influenced the worlds of experimental music and sound poetry, delving into some experimental topics himself: how the weather influences how we hear particular sound; how sound
artists create new languages and new meaning; and the relationship
between baseball and experimental music.
Cultist: Blonk uses high and low air pressure in his newest
work, "Polyphtong." He uses diphthong, approximant consonant sounds, and
a cheek synthesizer to create this work -- out-there stuff. What brings experimental music
or sound poetry to life for the average person?
Gustavo Matamoros: In general, what
brings experimental music to life for me is discovery, discovery of new
sound, but not this alone. Every single experience of sound, of the
capacity we have of producing sound, brings us closer to a deeper
understanding of sound itself, and this alone is life enriching.
happen in a piece like "Polyphtong" is a combination of things. On one
hand you have two types of content, sonic and literary. Those diphthongs
you refer to are not simply words or parts of a word. They are also
sounds that may be utilized in other languages to deliver meaning
different from English. Even when restricted to a single language,
reordering these sounds will cause meaning to change, sometimes in
On the other hand we have the technology and the
environment imposing their own character on the experience of those
sounds. Both hands hold each other to become integral parts of the piece
and of our experience.
What's most important: the sound itself,
the artists who processes those sounds, the performance, composition,
the equipment, location, weather?
Having a conversation with
another in a crowded gallery opening, we have the ability to concentrate
on the words of the person we want to hear while those of others become
noise. I believe what is interesting is what happens to people when
they listen. The combination of all the elements you list becomes a
complex set of autonomously intertwined conditions to draw listening
value from, including the weather, which in fact does bias what happens
to sound in regards to its traveling speed.
Blonk will perform
the guttural poem by avant-garde German Dadaist artist Kurt
Schwitters, "Ursonate." When he performed it years ago as the warm-up
gig for punk bands, he wasn't well-received by the audience. One time
guards saved him from an angry horde shouting at him to "fuck off" while
they threw beer at him. What do you expect for this weekend?
We were performing the weirdest sounds for 13 hours
through the night outdoors along a one-block long canal in the middle of
Miami Beach -- and got rave reviews from 50,000 people during
Sleepless Night 2009. It's all contingent on group dynamics and
Subtropics keeps rare masterpieces like Schwitters'
"Ursonate" alive through performance -- but it's not exactly mainstream. How can experimental music,
especially works like "Ursonate," continue to live and breathe for a
Because they are works of great vision -- at
least to some. On the flip side, or B side, it's kind of like sports.
For example, I became interested in baseball at a time when I was
studying tonal music -- to leave "home" in order to come back seems to
be the point in both. When I got interested in improvisation, soccer
made more sense, but in both sports everything happens around the ball.
I'm not really a sports fan, but see? I can appreciate sports because of
my musical interests.
Jaap Blonk performs Friday at 7 p.m.,
ArtCenter/South Florida, 800 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. Program:
"Polyphtong," a new 4-channel composition, and "Ursonate"; and Saturday
at 7 p.m. at GAB Studio, 105 .NW. 23 St., Wynwood. Program: "Dr.
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--Neil de la Flor, artburstmiami.com