Soft Drugs in Antwerp

I did a Saturday/Sunday trip to Antwerp to visit the Livelooping Festival, the 3rd one organized by Sjaak Overgaauw. Except for the bad traffic jams that I got into on the highway, I found that Antwerp is not really far from here – less than 3 hours.

 
I had booked a hotel that looked cheap and good on the website. Well let us say I will look for another hotel should I come back to the next loop festival. But the area was interesting – it was a Jewish quarter of town, and I saw lots of Jewish couples walking around the place wearing very traditional cloths and very strange cylindrical fur hats that I haven’t seen before anywhere.

Living in Germany, I’m not used to seeing traditional Jews because understandably, very few of them live here. I saw lots of people from many countries in Antwerp, and I heard many languages. A young man talked loudly into his mobile, in a language that I didn’t recognize, while taking a leak standing beside me in the toilet of some cafe. Antwerp somehow reminded me a little bit of Manhattan – even the relatively small city park with its ponds and bridges reminded me of Central Park. I liked that a lot.

 
Lots of interesting shops, some of them selling things that I didn’t recognize. And the chocolateries – oh my god. Soft drugs (I am clearly addicted to chocolate), and beautifully set up. And expensive.

 
I visited the bank of the Scheldt, a broad river flowing by the city into the nearby Atlantic.

 
A ponton made loud and deep water noises. I recorded a few minutes using my little digital recorder (this time it was wearing its new wind protection, and looked like a muppet with a wild hairdo) – click the arrow to hear water, seagulls, church bells, and traffic noises of Antwerp.


 
Hungry from walking. Apple pancake and coffee. Good. Then back into the city roads and early evening. Time to walk to the venue.

 
I first met with Kirstin, Facebook friend, synth player, and fan of Sjaak’s music. It was nice to talk face to face instead of using facebook (we hardly knew each other in real life). Then to the venue together for a couple of hours with ambient music, drones, and loops.

 
Some of the livelooping music was quite amazing. Sjaak’s ambient synthscapes were deep and hauntingly beautiful. Welsh guitarist Simeon Harris also created sounds and textures that were very beautiful, shimmering and complex – I wish I knew his trade secrets … but I think gear is involved that I cannot afford at the moment. Flute and sax player Theo Travis used relatively modest gear, but his playing technique and compositional skill was outstanding. A very enjoyable and inspiring evening.

I walked home to my less-than-convincing hotel, slept for a few hours, and got up early. I drove through the Schelde tunnel and visited St. Anna, a popular recreation area for Antwerp citizens. You can see the city from there. If you walk around a bit, there are also views of, er, modern architecture and chemical industry areas, maybe not quite as beautiful as the Antwerp skyline, but in the early Sunday sunshine, everything looked shiny and fresh.

 
After a croissant or two for breakfast, I drove to Sjaak’s and Ingrid’s place for coffee. The boys had just gotten up and were busy transferring video files to portable hard disks. I also met Coco again, the cheese loving red tomcat that can make funny faces.

 

Livelooping in Antwerp





The spoken word on this track is from a Hugo Ball poem that I found on Ubuweb.

After a gig on an electronic music festival in a club in Cologne on May 9 (which went so-so for me partly because the sound sucked, I was not yet used to my new music software, and I was sick), my little European livelooping tour started with a gig in Antwerp, Belgium, hometown of Sjaak Overgaauw. Sjaak had visited the Cologne livelooping festival that I had organized in May 2008, and liked the concept so much that it didn’t take much to persuade him to organize a livelooping festival of his own.

So a day before the festival, livelooping festival inventor and multiinstrumentalist Rick Walker and guitarist/singer Luis Angulo arrived here, coming from southern Germany. Before we went
to my place, we had dinner in Cologne, meeting Julia Kotowski, a singer/songwriter/multiinstrumentalist/livelooper who was invited by Rick Walker to this year’s Y2K9 livelooping festival in Santa Cruz, CA. Rick was a little surprised at her young age meeting her in person on that evening, but we both agree that she has lots of talent and has developed a very interesting song style of her own which definitely deserves to be presented at the festival.

 
We spent some hours on the autobahn to Antwerp the next day (during a long hot stop in a traffic jam, Rick used the time to program his musicbox for the gig) and arrived in the afternoon at the Arenberg Schouwburg, a beautiful venue in the center of Antwerp.

 
It was so great to meet old livelooping friends, and some new ones. Yes, the music is at the center of this, but the chance to spend time together with this very nice and creative bunch of people who I get to see only once in a couple of years is at least as important to me.

I was especially happy to meet Os, Mike Bearpark, and Andrew Booker from Darkroom who I had the chance to play with in London in November 2007. And of course there was Fabio Anile from Rome, he had played on the Cologne festival in May 2008 and got inspired enough to organize a livelooping festival in Rome a week after Antwerp (more about this later). I also met Dirk Serries again, he had filled last year’s Cologne festival venue with his “Fear Falls Burning” drones and got to Antwerp to present his new “Microphonics” project.

Sjaak had done a perfect job organizing this festival. Venue, staff, technical things, food, everything was perfect. Thanks again Sjaak!!

 
This evening’s loop shows were very diverse as usual. This time I especially liked Luis Angulo’s vocal loops and his amazing Flamenco style guitar loops. Darkroom played a wonderful set that made me feel real good for some reason. I crawled around on the floor while they played, Os had given me his hitech camera and I had the job to take photos of the group which I gladly did.

In my own set, I tried to make use of quite a number of toys (such as Os’s wonderful XFadeLooper plugin), some of them new … and I improvised … so the result, as often before, was a collage like mix of different styles, and my own feeling afterwards was also mixed, although the audience seemed to mostly like it.

I’m not sure where my creative impulse is leading me in my livelooping work. I hesitate to control it too much, so I try to let it find its own way. I wonder if it will eventually end up in some recognizable style, something that more experienced liveloopers like Markus Reuter or Robert Fripp or Dirk Serries or Rick Walker have developed. At this time, it is much more tempting for me to jump into completely different pools at every gig, sometimes even with sudden breaks, instead of trying to paint stylistically similar pictures every time. Rick told me that he loves the diversity of styles and sounds in my sets, and he thinks that the audience does too. We’ll see how it will work in Rome next week, and in Santa Cruz where I plan to perform in October.


 
(photos were taken by Sjaak, Os, and me)