WITH JEROEN ELFFERICH
During this interview, I change seat, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to Dutch composer Jeroen Elfferich. The composer and improviser takes us on a tour of his polyrhythmic world through his latest release, The Essence.
Jeroen, tell us about yourself—what is your musical background? You come from the world of improvisation; how has it influenced you as a composer?
I am fifty-four, and since the age of fifteen I have been writing, recording and performing my own music. I started with Pop music, Electronic music then Jazz, and for the past ten years piano music. I played in many bands and orchestras and studied drums at the Rotterdam Conservatorium. Today I teach drums. I read and write music, but I prefer to improvise. To me, improvising means spontaneously playing an instrument, whereas composing is more about fixing an improvisation, either by writing it down or recording it. The first step in creativity must be improvisation; trying out melodies, rhythms and chords. One rule for me: never repeat yourself and always try to make something better and more exciting than before.
You have already released many albums—before we talk about your last project, tell us about your discography a little more.
I released four albums of rhythm-driven music for piano duet, with a label from New York. It’s a different kind of Minimalistic music with influences from Pop and Electronic music. The combination of two pianos works great for me because it allows me to create all sorts of polyrhythms and odd time signatures—something I was already doing before when playing Jazz and Pop. I play the piano like a percussionist, almost as if it were a marimba. I always say I play the drums on a piano and piano on the drums.
Now what about The Essence? What’s the concept behind it and how did you come to it?
Apart from writing music for piano duet, I also write for solo piano; perhaps not as exciting as the duo pieces because I never took piano lessons therefore I do not have a great technique. In some of my latest pieces, I really wanted to go back to the core and essence of music by avoiding all unnecessary notes. In a lot of music—especially piano music—I feel that too many notes are used and as a result the music becomes aloof. However, when using lesser notes and more repetitions, the music becomes more spiritual; the real emotion is not evoked by playing many notes and rhythms, but by emphasising them.
You music revolves around Minimalism—how did you come to write this sort of music and who (or what) has influenced you and brought you to it?
Of course I heard of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, but I have never been too much into Minimalistic music. I have listened mainly to Pop and Jazz; I liked very complex Jazz but also Rock from the early 1980s (Talking Heads or The Cure). I like the simplicity of this music. Around 2010, I started live looping which is all about building a groove by adding little musical ideas one after the other, bit by bit. After that, I started writing rhythmic pieces for piano duet. Looping creates limitations and composing that way seemed to me much more exciting and challenging, so I stopped live looping to focus on writing my piano music. In the past, I used a lot of odd time signatures (I even wrote a drum method about it!). It’s very easy actually, for instance one could play a pattern of five, repeated six times while another one would play a pattern of six, repeated five times, following this formula: 5 x 6 = 6 x 5.
Indeed, you compose in a very rhythm-centered manner—through the use of both odd note-groupings and odd time signatures. Can you tell us more about how you came to it initially?
As a kid I played percussion in an orchestra and we would play folk music from Serbia, which had many 7/8 rhythms. I liked it a lot, and later I discovered Prog Rock (Gentle Giant, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis etc.) which uses a lot of odd time signatures. During my studies, I met musicians and students from Turkey and the Balkans, and I played a lot of Jazz with them. So naturally, when I start to play something at the piano it’s quite often something in 5 or 7. To me it sounds more exciting and hypnotising than a simple 4/4.
A lot of your music is for piano; have you got any future projects that involve different instruments?
I would like to write for different instruments more often but the piano is at the moment more practical.
So after The Essence, what’s next?
I think I will continue to write music for piano(s) but I have also started to play in a Jazz group again, which is something completely different and almost completely centred around improvisation. I like the contrast of this freedom—in Jazz—and the concentration involved in Minimalism.
Thanks very much Jeroen. Last one for the road—one book, one album, one film—tell us about your latest cultural pearls?
I have a lot of old pearls and have enjoyed listening to old Tangerine Dream records like Ricochet and Rubycon lately. With them, it’s all about the atmosphere and the sound, and that made them absolutely unique.
With all this talk about rhythm, odd note-groupings, odd time signatures, jazz, classical, rock etc. I couldn’t stop thinking about Hiromi and her albums with the Trio Project. Voices; strongly recommended! Read my review of The Essence.