Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Joram. How did you first become involved with wanting to play the piano? Who influenced you to do so, where you taught by somebody or self-taught?
Well thank you Greg! And thank you for these great, thoughtful questions! I was very little when I started playing piano, simply born out of the fact I think that my mother played piano so we had a piano at home. Also, I guess I had a creative urge early-on… so my mother was a main stimulus, and then later my piano teacher, Marijse, who I had lessons from each and every week in the little village I grew up on in the north of the Netherlands. One day she showed me the piano score of Ludovico Einaudi’s I Giorni: with very minimalist, soft, melancholic, serialistic, almost pop-music-like harmonies. That was a key moment for my musical journey up til now, which very much leans towards the neoclassical genre of which Einaudi is one of the forerunners. First playing a lot of Einaudi’s work and some other neoclassicists, later I then gradually started making my own compositions and drawing musical inspiration from a broader palette of artists and styles.
Tell us about how your relationship with the label, Bigamo happened?
When I was starting to compose and record songs, I would put them online on Soundcloud. One day, don’t ask me how, Frank apparently stumbled upon one of those pieces of work and he ended with that song in a mixtape for the Ninja Tune label. From there I remained in good contact with Frank and the rest is history, or at least: we co-produced two albums from then on through his sublabel
Your new album: Flux features a collection of music from 2017-2020. What do you seek to convey with the listener, or is it more open to personal interpretation?
I’m very much leaving it open to personal interpretation, although I do think there is some kind of generic ‘mood’ or ‘emotional tone’ that I often want to convey with my songs and I hope some of that finds its way to the listeners. But even that can be perceived differently I’ve noticed. Some works that for me are quite raw, awry and bitter can ring hopeful and sweet to others, and perhaps even that’s not such a bad thing. Life is ambivalent, so I understand when music is too…
Can you talk us through how one of the tracks was composed and tell us about how you record and then produce the music? Do you have a favourite microphone?
Almost everything is recorded with three Aston Original dynamic microphones, which I find very sensitive, and everything is going through Ableton Live. I tend to put the microphones very close to the piano’s hammers so as to also catch the inner mechanics of the instrument in the audio image.
Some tracks of the Flux LP are more experimental, such as ‘Struck’ in which I experimented with using a friend’s cello bow on acoustic guitar. Also there’s ‘Dropped’. This piece was performed and recorded in one single take, looping multiple layers over one another using a TC Electronic Flashback looping device connected to my Hammond Melodion. Consequence of the looping improvisation method is that I will never really be able to replay this piece but that’s okay!
Is music more powerful without the use of words?
Good question… for me, yes it is. Or at least it is more fitting in terms of the music I want to make and what I want to convey… for me words are maybe too precise and would give me the sense that I would be telling a rounded, rational story with the music, whereas I don’t. I seek to work under the surface and seek to convey blurry, imprecise moods – not clear-cut sharp images. I don’t want to dodge ambivalence, I’d rather express it.
You are also an Assistant Professor in Utrecht working in public policy science. Can you tell us more about that role, and how it influences what you create musically?
Yes, I teach policy science at Utrecht University and conduct research on various topics related to public policymaking, such as how the government is trying to change the behaviours of citizens using new psychological insights. It’s been an interesting journey combining this science and musician life, sometimes feeling like a split between the more rational and emotional side of my live, sometimes feeling more integrated. To give a sense of how it is integrated: in my music I try to capture personal experience alongside some of the current zeitgeist – what it means to be alive right now – and with such an ambition it can help to draw from the vocabulary and insights of historical and sociological works. For instance, last year I was teaching a course in which we talked about Max Weber, the renowned German sociologist, he talks about the ‘disenchantment’ of mass society from the 18th century onward as the result of the secularization, industrialization and bureaucratization. The world as an ‘iron cage’, producing a lot of social benefits but also coming with increased feelings of alienation and existential uncertainty… I think my music ties in with some of those latter experiences… The modern experience of feeling somewhat alienated in this mass society is a great source of musical inspiration.
What is your favourite piano? Do you own one?
I have my own Rippen upright acoustic piano, I love its soft, warm tone. There’s a few piano’s I’ve performed on that I still have keen memories from… I really loved Frank Wiedemann’s piano in the Berlin Muting the Noise record store where I did a solo concert once. It had this very mellow and authentic tone, with its inner mechanics making all sorts of little ticking and cracking sounds that made it very soothing and beautifully old.
buy Under https://bigamo.bandcamp.com/album/under
How do you feel about the way artists generate income given streaming etc? Do you think the model could be improved?
Good one… I’m still getting my head around this one actually. It’s my second album, with that I’m still finding out how the financial system works and whether its structures are fair. From what I’ve seen… it seems that for a lot of musicians it can take quite a while to earn any decent money and they have to work another job ‘by day’ to support their music activities… which does raise questions.
And finally. What plans do you have for the remainder of 2021?
It feels like I’m in an in-between-phase at the moment. Having just released ‘Flux’, a big multi-year project, now there is time for a new experimental phase and to engage in new projects with other artists. I want to do more on the electronic side, and maybe experiment a bit with cello. I’ve also started some collaborations with electronic music producers, including with the label Nie Wieder Schlafen and the music duo Esteble, which feels like a wholly new avenue to be explored.
Buy Joram Feitsma – Flux https://bigamo.bandcamp.com/album/flux