Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
The intention to become a musician came very early. As a small boy I was mainly concerned with percussion. When I was sixteen composing started to fascinate me, especially after hearing a concert with Stravinsky’s .The Rite of Spring’.
Making music continues to captivate me. It is so elusive.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
I believe my travels. Africa taught me to experience a special joy in life and a new sense of rhythm and movement. India and Nepal inspired me in the area of spirituality. These foreign experiences were an inspiration to support my work with a deeper meaning. The link between music and spirituality became particularly important.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
There are multiple ones! For instance composing my first major orchestral work, my first opera, basically any new commissioned piece is another big challenge. But the most ambitious project so far was definitely my work Antifoon (A resonating bridge) (2014) for multiple orchestras, wind bands, choirs, different ensembles, carillons and two solo voices. Composing this work was one thing, but also taking the musical direction of 500 musicians on different stages on a large bridge between Hasselt and Genk (Belgium) was an almost undue risk. I had conducted my work before, but this was certainly of a different caliber.
It was quite a relief when it all worked out great.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Knowing who you compose for and working together with particular, often excellent performers can be very enjoyable. I work with very diverse musicians and cultural institutions, but I am also artist-in-residence for the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and for Muziektheater Transparant. Both of them give me a lot of credit, I can shape my ideas in my own way, what I experience as an incredible luxury.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
You can go into the depth of a work and to the extreme. You can compose for people who are anxious to perform your work and often for an audience that is getting to know you. Also the feeling that the performance will be in good hands, is wonderful and reassuring.
How would you describe your compositional/music language?
I start from my own Western contemporary language, which I developed over the years, undoubtedly influenced by idols such as Ligeti, Messiaen and Xenakis. I am also highly fascinated by the musical language from other cultures, including rhythmic structures such as tala’s from Indian culture, microtonality from Arabic music culture and rhythmic grooves (also ostinatos) from African culture, which I try to apply in my own way into my music. Furthermore, I am always looking for new performance techniques and new sounds. My greatest aspiration is always to connect with the audience through my music.
How do you work (as a composer)?
I start from inspiration around a certain idea or sound performance, which I intuitively try to understand and write down. I let my ideas flow, often at the piano. Then I search for certain systems, rhythmic or melodic motifs, harmonies etc. that are present in this inspiration. Subsequently I structure them in order to get a logic system and then I make a visual overview of the overall form, on one page. From that moment on I can start to work everything out in detail.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When you can develop or realize what you personally had in mind. When a composition or performance sounds as you had imagined it and when a part of the audience can go along with your story or make their own interpretation of your composition / performance.
Tell us more about the new CD ’Nostalgia’
When David Ramael, artistic director of Boho Strings, approached me about the idea of recording my works for string orchestra, I immediately responded with great enthusiasm. Many of my orchestral works have already been recorded on CD, but none of my works for string orchestra. The openness and creativity of this young ensemble and their search for new ways to introduce contemporary music to the public, also inspired me to make new versions of two of my works, Nostalgia and In Deep Silence III. With five very different works, this recording spans a large part of my compositional life and in a few works also shows the influences of various cultures on my work, as an outspoken western composer. A fantastic added value is also that three top soloists, flutist Valerie Debaele, marimba player Lin Chin Cheng and clarinetist Roeland Hendrikx, made a great contribution to this project. I have the feeling and hope that we have made a very accessible and listenable recording.
How has your interest in Eastern philosophy influenced and shaped your composing?
It became the foundation of my artistic thinking. It has also influenced my musical experience of time.
Which works are you most proud of?
Tejas for orchestra and Disappearing in Light, but I think Void the most, a work for music theatre in commission of Muziektheater Transparant. There was no semantic text, only sound combinations I had designed myself. I worked without a libretto or a story. A deep and spiritual performance of 75 minutes arose from an abstract, Buddhist yantra inspired form, and the impact on the audience was huge.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
They are very different in styles, historical and geographical, ranging from contemporary music to jazz, pop and ethnic music. Some names: Ligeti, Xenakis, Messiaen, Harvey but also Miles Davis, Björk and Frank Zappa. Also musicians from various ethnic regions.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
A concert that probably determined my musical evolution the most, was that with the Indian bansuri player G.S. Sachdev, in Antwerp in 1993.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Work hard and never give up. Have a positive attitude, an open mind, faith in your own abilities. Sometimes go against the flow, if you feel that it is right. Enjoy what you are doing. Communication is essential, both in terms of artists among each other, as with the audience.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to compose really vast works, an opera for example.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Experiencing life intensely, with people I love and with music of course.
What is your most treasured possession?
Naturally you don’t possess people, but my family is very important to me.
Also health in the broadest sense – and of course music.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Very simple: composing