Ben van Gelder is one of our newest residents. We had a talk with him to get to know him more, as well as to get a glimpse into his practice as a musician.
S: Tell me a bit about you.
B: I am a saxophonist and composer from Groningen, The Netherlands. I grew up in a musical household. My dad has a record store and is a huge fan of Jazz and Blues music; and my mom is a musician, writes songs and sang music from Jewish folklore repertoire. My brother is a pianist and my sister played the violin.
I started with classical piano, and I am happy to have that basis because now it helps me to write. At age 11 I switched to saxophone and got seriously into it from 12 years old onwards. At 17 I moved to New York to study at the New School. I studied there for a few years and came back to Amsterdam to finish my music Master's degree, but also to do a Bachelor's in Art History, which plays a big role in how I conceptualise music.
Apart from participating in music projects as side man and band leader, I made a record named 'Among Verticals', based on a work by Czech abstract painter František Kupka. I was also commissioned to compose a suite of music by the BIMHUIS in Amsterdam, which was based on a painting by Marc Chagall called 'Paradis'. I of course don't make a direct translation from paintings to music, but it's more about the ideas that I distill from the artworks that inform my music. 'Paradis' is about the fall of men from paradise. I started researching this whole notion, which is very broad, starting from Adam and Eve being expelled from the Gardens of Eden. I looked into how that story relates to consciousness and what possible answers or indications this story gives to live life as a human being. All the music that I wrote relates to consciousness in a way.
S: What are you working on at the moment?
B: Now I am writing music for church organ, which is very different to what I am used to. A jazz setting generally consists of drums, piano (or another harmony instrument) and bass with the addition of solo instruments such as horns or perhaps voice, these instrument generally work well together. The church organ is a very different animal and is set in spaces, like churches, that are not very accommodating for acoustic instruments like drums. I still wanted to make that work. The organ itself is like a whole new universe, with a spiritual aspect to it as well.
S: Do you do a lot of research before a project like this?
B: Yes and no. It's involves some research and the rest I learn by doing and experimenting. I am doing sonic research, of course. I went to Orgel Park, a venue close to Vondelpark. There are four full-sized church organs, and a few smaller ones. It is like a playground. It was a great experience to go there and just experiment because I came across musical ideas that I would not have found otherwise.
Discover more about Ben van Gelder