Carnets de voyage
On the music of George De Decker
That night, Jasper Gwyn stretched out on the floor of his studio, and switched on the “loop”. It started with what sounded like the rustling of leaves; from thereon it continued and meandered, as if by coincidence coming upon all sorts of other sounds.
The tears welled up in Jasper Gwyn’s eyes.
From ‘MR GWYN’, Alessandro Baricco, 2011.
For an interview concerning his work as a composer, George De Decker chooses a special location: we meet on the roof terrace of the MHKA, the Museum for Contemporary Art in Antwerp. There we can be in- and outdoors at the same time, he remarks. And indeed: on the roof terrace we find a work of art that is accessible to the public: Skyspace (1996), by the American “light sculptor” James Turrell. You can be seated in a 6.5 by 6.5 m cube, and enjoy the free cinema that is provided by the sky. The acoustics, a cocoon of slightly whooshing silence, is perfectly suited for a conversation about music. Only the clouds are listening in.
I ask him why he chose this location, and immediately we find ourselves at the core of his work as a composer: for George De Decker, music is a motion picture of sound. As a director, he selects locations with inspiring acoustics for each of his projects. Subsequently, he makes sound recordings there – either with or without musicians – which he later processes and edits into a soundscape that provides the basis for each new composition. The soundscape is the foundation. Only then he starts writing the music: a score that is “moulded” out of the clay that is provided by the soundscape material.
An example: CARNETS DE VOYAGE (2014) is a project in which George De Decker portrays musicians by “mapping” their respective talents & temperaments. The idea was born out of his long-time experience as a composer for television documentaries.
But how do you use music to write someone’s biography?
For a first instalment, De Decker invited his “fetish musician” for a drive in his car: clarinettist Raf De Keninck. He, unsuspectingly, was driven to the village of his youth, and confronted with his roots. Many hours were spent talking and locations in and around Rumst (B) were visited. At these locations, the composer had the musician perform improvisations, inspired by the surroundings: at the house where he was born, the baptismal font of the village church, the tomb of his father, the living room at his mother’s house, the woods that were his playground as a child, the banks of the Nete… and all of this was extensively documented in sound and images.
For CARNETS DE VOYAGE (2010-2014), this is a recurring process: collecting the “self-portrait outlines”, which will later, in the composer’s studio, serve as a basis for a portrait in music. In the case of Raf De Keninck, De Decker disposed of six hours’ worth of recordings.
He who, as a composer, chooses this approach, is literally embarking into the field of “com-ponere”, the “com-piling” of a soundscape: selecting, cutting, filtering, slowing down, speeding up, doubling, and isolating, etc. of clarinet sounds that later are to be combined with other sounds (ranging from nature sounds that are being used as “objets trouvés” to, for instance, improvisations on the clarinet on the rhythm of a flashing signal…). Eventually, De Decker created a soundscape montage of thirty minutes in length. Once this soundscape foundation was concluded, he embarked on the composition of a score for solo clarinet, a composition that was intended to be played “on top” of the soundscape. “On top of” in this case signifies “together with” in the traditional sense of polyphony: the blending of autonomous parts. The result is a wondrous symbiosis of disassembled, almost abstracted instrument sounds on the one hand, and the written score for the solo part for a clarinet virtuoso on the other, which fuses with his own source material in the soundscape.
The first time De Keninck heard the result, he was touched. The distance travelled was a mental journey first and foremost, and from all these emotional, introspective stops along the way, the composer had distilled the contours of a truly authentic and original portrait in sound.
For George De Decker, a composition above all is a strong narrative that needs to captivate the listener. In doing so, he broadens the meaning of the term composer: he directs AND engineers (recording, editing, mixing), authors a score AND directs each concert. A storyteller using sounds, with an auditory palette as his toolbox.
Guido De Bruyn
ES IST WINTER! (2016) is a trip to the vast white landscapes of the North. George de Decker has in recent years become increasingly captivated by the eternal white. He himself has never travelled – but doesn’t that just entice the imagination?
It started with ØRNEN 1897, a prestigious creation around a 35 meter long and 4.5 meter in diameter zeppelin. In November 2012, the artists George De Decker, Guido De Bruyn and Peter Maschke conceived this multidisciplinary project based on the true story of the North Pole expedition by the Swedish scientist S.A. Andrée, which took place in 1897. In a hydrogen balloon, he departed with two companions from Spitsbergen, to fly over the North Pole, but the expedition failed. ØRNEN 1897 paid homage to these balloonists, by means of a combination of visual arts, music and film. The première took place in Eindhoven, in 2013.
WE MUST SAY NO! (2008),
For the opening of his exposition ‘Bouche Cousue’ in the Gallery Van Campen & Rochtus in Antwerp, George De Decker – also a visual artist – composed a piece for solo clarinet and soundscape.
The theme for these paintings was speechlessness. The interpretation is up to the viewer/listener: we see both the dire image of the hunger striker’s mouth sown shut, as well as the freedom of opinion being suppressed and silenced by dictatorship. Yet silence can be an intensified form of speech (cum tacent clament: by being silent they call out).
Silence as an exclamation mark.
This soundscape, originally for 8 loudspeakers, was mainly constructed upon 3 female voices. During the creation process, Raf De Keninck moved around in the space between the 8 loudspeakers. He also played several types of clarinet.
RAF DE KENINCK
Obtained his Master of Music degree with great distinction under master clarinettist Walter Boeykens. For his remarkable commitment in the field of contemporary chamber music, he received the BAP-Sabam Award (1997) and the Willem Pelemans Award (1997). Moreover, he is a laureate of the Dexia Classics (1992), the international competition for the Orpheus Award (1997), the Dutch National Chamber Music Competition in Almere (2005), and a semi-finalist for the international music contest Gaetano Zinetti in Verona, Italy. In 2014, the Belgian Union of composers awarded him with the “Fuga Trofee” for his role in promoting contemporary Flemish music.
As a clarinettist/bass clarinettist, he created dozens of pieces for radio recordings and CD productions. De Keninck recorded CDs on the labels Phaedra and Vanderkrieken Classics. Notable is his long-standing cooperation with composer/visual artist George De Decker, with whom he explores the boundaries of visuals, concept and sound.
As a chamber musician and conductor, he was praised by many soloists, composers and educators. Unique is his mind-set of being committed to bringing all the aspects of the music to the audience and his fellow performers.
For 15 years, Raf has been the creative director for the Emanon Ensemble, with which he created more than 100 works, oftentimes for the major festivals or during live radio broadcasts. Together with the ensemble, he performed many concerts throughout Europe.,br />
Between 2010 and 2012, he was associated with the Fontys University of the Arts, as coordinator and professor for chamber music/percussion and ensemble conducting. Currently, he holds the position of Director of Music at the “Fontys University of Fine and Performing Arts in Tilburg (Netherlands).
GEORGE DE DECKER
composer – sound artist
Studied piano and composition at the Royal Conservatories of Antwerp and Brussels, orchestra conducting at the Lemmens Institute Leuven and electronic music at the Institute for Psycho-acoustics and Electronic Music (IPEM) in Gent. In 2013, he won the composition contest “Music for Carparks”, organised by the Concert Hall Brugge and Interparking. George De Decker’s compositions include solo works (mostly with soundtrack), as well as works for large symphony orchestras and sound installations. He also composes for film, art documentaries, television, fiction, theatre, and dance. He has his own ensemble, “SP!TSBERGEN.” with 5 young, passionate musicians.
Already from a very young age, George De Decker visited many museums and exhibits. The artists in question were his “real” mentors. He studies art history at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp. As a composer, he created music for art documentaries by, a. o. Jef Cornelis and Stefaan Decostere. George De Decker studied painting under Guy Leclerq at the Academy of Fine Arts in Anderlecht.
Sound and visuals always impact each other in George De Decker’s oeuvre. He paints monumental canvases in an abstract pictorial language, with a restrained colorite. The compositions consist of characteristic, broad keys: a robust and powerful signature. He creates sequences of compositions, rhythmic abstractions on canvas that constitute scenic impressions or pure abstractions. These are works of immense expressiveness.
George De Decker also conceives video and audio projects, through which he can simultaneously make his statement as a visual and as a sound artist, such as: Lorca 1937, Ørnen 1897, Die Bezwingung des Chaos…