“The Loop Man” is a nickname which Mike Garson gave me because of my ability to repeat rhythmic-melodic patterns with one hand and improvise on it with the other. A highly developed independence of hands is needed for this. The series The Loop Man # (indication of rhythmic cycle) consists of etudes to train this independence. The Loop Man # 17+12 on this video is dedicated to Mike Garson in admiration and friendship. It is a reflection on modal music from East-Asia. I made this video to draw the attention of the countless young pianists and other keyboard players in East-Asia and other parts of the world to the possibility of studying the technique of independent hands (and possibly feet) with me at Codarts, University of the Arts, Rotterdam, with the help of pieces by Bach, another specialism of mine (besides Messiaen and Reger). Apart from Western classical music, you can also study Indian classical music, Turkish music, jazz, pop,flamenco, tango and latin at Codarts.
Hommage to Cecil Taylor: spontaneous improvisation on the piano using a relatively exuberant body language
I often refer to my way of playing the organ as "the art of playing with relaxed precision", as I am generally very calm and economical. In August 2016, however, it happened to me to improvise on the piano and spontaneously use a by my standards rather exuberant body language. I felt inspired by Cecil Taylor and accordingly gave the improvisation a title.
On 27th April, 2017 it will be 25 years ago that Olivier Messiaen died. My main contribution to activities commemorating his death will be to refer to what in my opinion is the essence of his music. This is related to Messiaen’s sincere dedication to God on the one hand and his struggle with Evil on the other. I experienced both sides in the most intense way. The passion with which I played his music during nearly four decades at one moment caused me to believe that his demons had entered my body and soul. It drove me to insanity and almost to death. Then through what I call a miracle I managed to master the demons and transform bad into good energy, using creativity, spiritual force and imagination. I now have the strength to transmit this positive energy to audiences and younger musicians. That is the most important thing I learned from Messiaen's music.
The archetypal function of the artist is to receive creative energy and transmit it to society in the shape of art as a metaphor for life. In a very pure way this is shown in Werner Herzog’s documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), about the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France. As a musician I became aware of the artist’s role in 2009, after reading Bruno Nettl’s article Thoughts on improvisation (1974), in which he points out that Pima Indians in Arizona consider music making as receiving, unraveling and transmitting energy from a supernatural world, thereby hardly making any difference between performing, improvising and composing. Dramatic events in my life after 2009 made me look at this process as a choice you make regarding a path you follow: in the worst case the path leads to Evil, in the best case to God. By far the majority of artists dwell somewhere in the infinity of grey zones between God and Evil, which can be a very reasonable and acceptable compromise, as not anyone can handle the full intensity of God. Any form of addiction, like drugs, alcohol, money, sex, power, but also knowledge and one’s own talent and skills, will eventually lead to the sinister, left side of the spectrum. Many famous musicians —certainly not only with a jazz or pop background— ended up there. This does not make their artistic achievements less important or admirable, as these live on independently of the life of the artist, who is only the transmitter.
Playing Bach is about the purest path that I can imagine to reach God. The energy coming from there is 100 % good. Playing Messiaen is different: the message that he sends in all his compositions should be taken very literally: as a struggle between Good and Evil or Life and Death. Consequently, I play a piece like Dieu parmi nous (“God among us”, from La Nativité du Seigneur, 1935) like St. Michael fighting the dragon.
Having reached this level of reflection and performance, I could finally liberate myself from Messiaen's ego-evil energy that I had absorbed through my passion for his music. By filtering out the bad vibrations I am able now to receive and transmit his music with the same purity and transparence that I find in Bach. After this struggle I had a vision related to a piece which I composed in 1996, when my father died. It refers to my ancestors who during many centuries were labourers in the fields or peasants with a small piece of ground in Twente, a region in the east of Holland, bordering Germany:
Springtime. At the end of a hard day’s work a farm worker is resting a while before going home. He is leaning against a tree, his face in the late afternoon sun and his thoughts nowhere. Suddenly and for a very short time he sees Eternity. Some years later it happens again and after that never more. But the longing for it encourages him during the rest of his life and strengthens him at the hour of death.
This a version of Stillness with a very sensitive performance by violinist Michalis Kouloumis:
In October 2016, I gave a Bach recital at Oratoire Saint Joseph in Montreal, Canada. I bought a booklet with prayers to Saint Joseph there, which I am learning to speak in French now. One of them is:
Saint Joseph nous est proposé comme un modèle de transparence et de pureté. Jésus disait: "Heureux les coeurs purs, ils verront Dieu". Saint Joseph nous apprend à renoncer à l'égoisme et à donner le meilleur de nous-mêmes.
I also bought a candle with the image of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American Saint in the United States of America and Canada.
My friend the Indian, which like Stillness I wrote shortly after my father died in 1996, is now dedicated to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
Purifying musicianship with the help of God, Saint Joseph, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Saint André of Montreal, Bach, Messiaen and my pieces Stillness and My friend the Indian are symbolised in my project The Enchanted Desert
Adding this spiritual dimension to Bach interpretation is represented on my YouTube-playlist My New Soulful Way of Playing Bach
This week I saw a fascinating documentary on the painter Henri Rousseau, who was nicknamed "Le Doaunier". During his life he was often ridiculised by critics for a lack of traditional education and craftsmanship. Some of them said that his paintings were not any better than the work of a child. Only a number of contemporary artists, among others Picasso and Delaunay, saw this true talent and considered him as a father figure of modern art.
The overall feeling I had after watching the documentary was that Rousseau was at the very source of creativity, connected to it by purity, naivety and the power of his imagination. It helps me to further improve my Bach-interpretation and create my own music, which is occasionally as naive as the art of Rousseau, for instance in Stillness and My friend the Indian.
In the documentary Rousseau's art was compared to "art symbolique" in Roman churches and "primitive" art from Africa, shown at the world exposition in Paris in 1889 (famous in music history because Debussy heard gamelan music from Indonesia there for the first time). These examples of Roman and African art gave me the same feeling of being "at the source of creativity". When I played with African musicians in the late '90s, I used to have that feeling also, because of their naive and spontaneous attitude. Similar to creating my own music, there did not seem to be any obstacle. Regarding the interpretation of organ works by Bach, however, I have always been longing for this quality, never knowing where to find it precisely. Jan Welmers made a very important remark once, which kept me thinking for a long time, about Bach making complex constructions with simple material (I remember him singing the theme of the F major invention there). This and the examples of Henri Rousseau, Roman and African artists and my own music make me feel now like being one step closer to the source.