Willem Boogman


notes – no notes

»no la persona, ma la sua figura«

Talk on transformations in music

Willem Boogman talks about transformations in his music on the occasion of ›Composer Portrait: Willem Boogman‹ | February 24th 2019, in the Orgelpark, Amsterdam.
[Voor de oorspronkelijke Nederlandse tekst zie: writings]

composer portrait: talk by Willem Boogman
Willem Boogman | Photo: © Co Broerse

[performance of the Waltz from Nous le chant III arranged for The Busy Drone, organ, accordion and dance]

Welcome to the Orgelpark, sanctuary for music, welcome to my composer portrait. I am Willem Boogman.

You heard (just now) the opening up of the local acoustics, so our auditory space for this afternoon has been somewhat explored. The listening space into which we are going to project another seven compositions for you.

First I would like to tell you something about what is going on in the background of these compositions. It is tempting to go on and on about the different backgrounds which played a role in my ways of composing through the years. Time is lacking though, to sketch all of those developments. I will restrict myself to explain one departing point which to a large extent determined my work in recent years. To do this I will go back to the 13th century.

In a sonnet the 13th century poet Giacomo da Lentini seriously asks himself how his beloved one, »who is rather large«, can enter into him through his eyes, »which are quite small«. He answers himself that just as light penetrates glass, it is »her image, not the person«, »no la persona, ma la sua figura«, that entered his heart through his eyes. [Agamben, Stanze. La parola e il fantasma nella cultura occidentale, Torino, 1993]
I like how he said it: we don’t internalize the person, but the image, ›figura‹, of this person.
Giacomo da Lentini is also very enthusiastic about this phenomenon of the senses. Even if his beloved would actually be absent, she is still present in his imagination. Even better: the image of his beloved awakens his desire and relishing he sings of her in verse and sound with »a never ending joy«, a »gioi che mai non fina«.
When I read this I asked Sandra Macrander to write verses for a madrigal cycle about love with the motto ›never ending joy‹.
From this cycle, of which two parts have already been performed, you will hear the premiere of Liefde een woning, nr. 1 later this afternoon.
This cycle called Gioiosamente Canto [› I sing with joy‹] is about celebrating in song the unity of imagination, enjoyment, word and sound in relation to the beloved one who is present.

But let’s take a step ahead.

The person, ›persona‹, gets a figure, ›figura‹, in our imagination. And our imagination can manipulate this figure. So can I! For me as a composer the figure is a musical figure. It is even tempting to speak of a musical personage. This personage, or figure really exists! It is a melody you can whistle, or can remember, or that pops up in your memory. The fact I can do things with it is because a melody is constructed from elements, the DNA of the musical figure. This DNA contains a very own world. The world of the elements. These musical elements form the material with which I as a composer work and which I handle every day.
The handling of the musical elements is the theme of a series of solo pieces which bare the overall title Genieting (›Enjoyment‹). This afternoon you will hear two compositions from this series: Genieting VI for piccolo and the premiere of Genieting VI for piano. These pieces are, among other things, about discovering and using the physical aspects of the instrument. Resonance is a particular characteristic of the piano: when you press the pedal a softer reflection will ensue above the notes you play, in which notes fade into each other. This fading is something I can compose. For the large part the piccolo itself dictates the dynamics. You can’t do much about that as a player.
The point for a soloist to play a Genieting is to master and use the particular characteristics of his or her instrument to attain a personal, musical expression. On top of that the soloist can show what he or she is capable of. For me all these aspects form the starting point for inventing the notes and shape of a composition.

But let’s take a step ahead.

In my imagination I investigate, test and measure the musical figure. Sometimes I call this measuring investigation ›modulation‹. This is a musical term which has existed for centuries, known already from the start of our era, meaning among other things measuring, measurement, singing and playing. In later days the term also implies a transition from one constellation of sound, figure, to another. Sometimes I use ›modulation‹ as a subtitle, as I did with the Intermezzi you are going to hear this afternoon: Modulationes super Passionem secundum Joannem.
›Modulationes‹ indicates that I used a technique of transition which in this case had Saint John’s Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach as a starting point.
I transformed motives from the arias of Saint John’s Passion into an entirely new music of my own, in which Bach occasionally may sound through.

Let’s take a step ahead and consider what is actually going on here.

What goes on is that I metamorphose musical figures into another musical reality. I can only do this because a musical figure consists of different elements, which can each by itself be composed. This becomes clear as soon as one inactivates one of the elements, by connecting a certain value to it. I can for instance fix the pitch of a melody on one note, while keeping the rhythm active [sings]. In another voice of the same piece I can give the notes an equal duration, thus fixing the rhythm, whereas the melody remains unchanged [sings]. The elements of one and the same melody now move independent of each other, forming a polyphony.
Once penetrated to this musical DNA it is also possible to combine elements of different melodies. The pitch of one can be combined with the rhythm of another [sings]. Thus new melodic shapes are generated.

These and many other transformation techniques I applied in the already mentioned Intermezzi, in Duik langs het Koraalrif, The Road to Here, and somewhat in Genieting VII for piano.

These techniques have been described by Stockhausen in his article Musikalische Metamorphose (1983) and have often been used by him.

But let’s take another step ahead.

I can vary the extent to which the new melodic figures can be related to their donors, also within a certain composition. This means there are many gradations possible in abstracting from the figure which served as a starting point.
This process of abstracting can be compared with the work of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, in which he makes the transformation visible from a tree to a constellation of small lines, which only remotely reminds one of a tree. Or need not even make one think of tree.

In The Road to Here I stayed relatively close to the different styles of the original melodies. - In other words: one somehow keeps seeing Mondrian’s tree -. Stylistic characteristics are very determining for the identity of a musical figure. In The Road to Here I explicitly wanted to make style the subject of the transformations. Said otherwise: In The Road to Here I transform classical music into popular music and vice versa. Of course I could have had the metamorphoses end in very abstract music, in which you would hardly have recognized anything you ever heard. But in this case, that was not my choice.

But let’s take one more step ahead.

I make musical figures change shape and thus create new music. With modern techniques like transformations and interpolations on the level of their DNA I make the identity of the figures flow like clouds moving along and over each other against a blue sky. I definitely deregulate the identity of the known. And along gradations of abstraction I can make perspectives audible, an ultimate polyphony, in which you experience more than you think you hear at first …

But let’s jump back to what is to come now.

I hope you will enjoy yourselves this afternoon. Enjoy the Orgelpark, the musicians and the sound.

Thank you.


»… finding - inventio, invenire - of something real, true.«
[Claudio Magris, Non luogo a procedere | Blameless, afterword (2015)]

Find things as they are and make up as little as possible.

Lately I work with readymades (found objects), fragments of music, which regularly play through everybody’s head. These are the building blocks for compositions I now work on. By changing their shape I create completely authentic and new music. With modern techniques like transformations and interpolations at the level of their DNA (modulations) I make their identity fluid as clouds that float by and past each other against a blue sky. This way I compose my ultimate polyphony. (Listen to Distant Voices, Intermezzi, Ihr Tore...) Of the reflection of the known I make the opening to the unknown. Not driven by dreams but by desire.

Recent work to which the above applies: The Road To Here for brass quartet and organ (based on popular music from different styles) and Dive Along the Coral Reef for accordion and five or six instruments of choice (with Bach, Schumann and Reich).

With this way of creating new music I find myself in a longstanding tradition in classical music. Through the centuries composers have often made use of fragments, musical themes or melodies of their predecessors, colleagues, or for instance folkmusic, to create their own works.

Impulses – 3 (interpretation & performance)

writings notes-no notes
In my music impulses are clearly defined and are characterized by their attack, speed and rotation. Impulses within one constellation are basically all the same pitch, although they may occur as noise.

The first requirement for the performance of impulses is to place the musicians according to the instructions in the score. A good spatial arrangement is essential for the achievement of the rotation of the impulses. The basic principle is that the musicians pass the impulse on to one another.

The impulse’s attack is always accentuated (though without exaggeration,) short, and clearly perceptible. The speed of the impulse is determined by the interval between entries. These must therefore be performed with as much rhythmic precision as possible.
A rotating impulse moves clockwise or anti-clockwise, and can change direction. This will work particularly well if the musicians are aware of the direction in which the impulse is moving: where is it approaching you from, and in what direction are you going to pass it on? The rotations can assume any number of motion patterns: see the example from Axis/Ashes.

An impulse can be identified in the score by a circled dynamic mark.

All other composed elements of the impulse are secondary: the held impulse tone (i.e. the tone that follows the attack,) dynamics and pitch should be performed
as neutrally as possible.

Impulses are seldom tones that should be cut off! Even with short notes the attack leads to an impulse tone that ›stays floating in the air.‹ Where I have notated longer impulse tones, it is purely and simply to show that I do not want silence until the following entry.

The dynamics indicate nothing more than the
average volume of an impulse tone within the context, and do not relate to the strength of the attack.
In the case of rotation, the musicians take the impulses over from each other. In this process the differences and alterations in timbre are more important than the pitch, which is no more than a
reminiscence of the tone which provides cohesion within this ›Klangfarbenmelodie‹ (melody of sound colours,) which incidentally possesses no melodic quality.

(Translation: Robert Coupe)

rotation click here to see motion patterns in Axis/Ashes

6(b) Impulsen – 2 (interpretatie en uitvoering)
In mijn muziek zijn impulsen gedefinieerd en profileren ze zich door de aanzet, door de snelheid en door de rotatie. In principe hebben impulsen binnen één constellatie allemaal dezelfde toonhoogte, al kunnen ze ook als ruis voorkomen.

Het eerste waarop gelet moet worden bij de uitvoering van impulsen is de opstelling van de musici conform de partituurinstructies. Een goede ruimtelijke opstelling is een voorwaarde om de rotatie van de impulsen te realiseren. Uitgangpunt is dat de musici de impuls aan elkaar doorgeven.

De aanzet van de impuls is, zonder te overdrijven, altijd geaccentueerd, kort, en duidelijk waarneembaar.
De snelheid van de impuls wordt bepaald door de duur tussen de inzetten. Deze moeten dus ritmisch zo exact mogelijk worden uitgevoerd.
Een roterende impuls beweegt met de klok mee of tegen de klok in en kan van richting veranderen. Dit zal extra goed werken als de musici zich bewust zijn van de bewegingsrichting van de impuls: waarvandaan komt hij naar je toe en waarnaartoe stuur je hem door? De rotaties kunnen allerlei bewegingsvormen aannemen: zie het voorbeeld uit Axis/Ashes.

In de partituur is de impuls te herkennen aan een omcirkeld dynamisch teken.

Alle andere gecomponeerde elementen van de impuls zijn bijkomstig: de (aangehouden) impulstoon – dat is de toon die volgt op de aanzet –, dynamiek en toonhoogte moeten
zo neutraal mogelijk worden uitgevoerd.

Impulsen zijn zelden tonen die moeten worden afgesneden! Ook bij korte noten gaat de aanzet nog over in een impulstoon die ›in de lucht blijft hangen‹. Langere impulstonen zijn alleen maar genoteerd omdat ik geen stilte wil tot de volgende inzet.
De dynamiek geeft niet meer aan dan de
gemiddelde geluidssterkte van een impulstoon binnen de contekst, en betreft niet de sterkte van de aanzet.
In het geval van rotatie nemen de musici de impulsen van elkaar over. Daarbij zijn de timbreverschillen en -veranderingen belangrijker dan de toonhoogte. De laatste is niet meer dan een
reminiscentie aan de samenhang gevende toon in deze ›Klangfarbenmelodie‹, die overigens geen melodische kwaliteit bezit.

Impulses – 2 (their role in my music)

notes-no notes
Within the context of electronic music, an impulse is a current surge that you hear as a click. The impulse is in itself musically neutral, but it can cause an object to vibrate, thus producing something that is musical. In this process the ›momentum‹ of the object alters.
This phenomenon has splendid physical implications which have inspired me: such as the transfer of the angular momentum from the one element to the other in a system where the elements are circling around. In this way stars can be formed from rotating protoplanetary disks.

In much of my music a circling impulse opens up a space in which a moment can settle itself. (Cf. Music and Space in: Notes – No Notes.) Thus impulses render the emptiness of space audible – emptiness versus silence – as the entry and exit for music.
But the rotating impulse constellations are also the world of elements made audible – elements that are not yet music, or are no longer music. The philosopher Levinas calls this indeterminate world of the elements ›the elemental.‹ [See: Emmanuel Levinas,
Totalité et Infini, The Hague 1974; part 2, chapter 2.]

The rotating impulse constellation is an interval in the manifestation of musical significance, where the musical presence is reduced to a state of not-yet-existing or no-longer-existing; an in-between moment during which the musical elements redeploy or gather together in their neutral quality; a zero moment at which the identity of musical forms dissolves or is prepared.

Impulses, at least in theory (see: ›Impulses – 1‹,) give elements the initial impetus to interact with each other to arrive at musical forms: groups, shapes, gestures, melodies, harmony…; potential forms which can become embedded in our memory.

In ›Impulses – 3‹ I shall explain how the impulses in my compositions should be interpreted and performed.

(Translation: Robert Coupe)

rotation in astrology
The protoplanetary disk HH-30 in Taurus
(Source: NASA/ESA; http://hubblesite.org/)

5(b) Impulsen – 2 (hun werking in mijn muziek)
Vanuit de elektronische muziek gezien is impuls een stroomstoot die je hoort als een klik. De impuls is zelf muzikaal neutraal, maar het kan een object in trilling zetten waardoor er wél iets muzikaals ontstaat. Daarbij verandert het ›momentum‹ van het object.
Het bovenstaande heeft fraaie natuurkundige implicaties die mij hebben geinspireerd: zoals de overdracht van het impulsmoment van het het ene element op het andere in een systeem waarin de elementen rondcirkelen. Op deze manier kunnen uit roterende protoplanetaire schijven sterren ontstaan.

In veel van mijn muziek stelt een rondcirkelende impuls de ruimte open voor een moment dat zich er kan vestigen. (Vgl. Muziek en Ruimte, in: Notes – No Notes.) Impulsen maken dus de leegheid van de ruimte hoorbaar – leegheid versus stilte – als in- en uitgang voor muziek.
Maar de roterende impulsconstellaties zijn ook de hoorbaar gemaakte wereld van elementen die nog geen muziek zijn, of niet meer muziek zijn. Deze onbepaalde wereld van de elementen noemt de filosoof Levinas ›het elementale‹. [Zie: Emmanuel Levinas,
Totalité et Infini, Den Haag 1974; deel 2, hoofdstuk 2]

De roterende impulsconstellatie is een pauze in het optreden van muzikale betekenis, waar de muzikale tegenwoordigheid gereduceerd is tot nog-niet-iets-zijn, of niet-meer-iets-zijn; een tussenmoment waarin de muzikale elementen zich hergroeperen of zich verzamelen in hun neutrale kwaliteit; een nulpunt waarop de identiteit van muzikale vormen oplost of wordt voorbereid.

Impulsen geven, althans in theorie (Zie: ›Impulsen – 1‹), de aanzet aan elementen om, in interactie met elkaar, tot muzikale vormen te komen: tot groepen, gedaanten, gestieken, melodieën, harmonie…; potentiële vormen die zich in onze herinnering kunnen vastzetten.

In ›Impulsen – 3‹ leg ik uit hoe in mijn partituren de impulsen moeten worden geinterpreteerd en uitgevoerd.

Impulses – 1

notes no-notes
For a long time it was my dream to start the day by playing sequences of electronic pulses which would move around my study at different speeds, with the distance between the pulses’ entries being able to be varied, from long intervals to coagulations so dense they would – just for a moment – give rise to a held note. I have never made this dream reality at home, but I have in many different ways in pretty well all my compositions.

The notion of these ›impulses‹, with the fascinating properties I’ve described, came, of course, from Stockhausen. Around the time of the conception of La disciplina dei sentimenti and Genieting 1 I was engaged in a prolonged study of his Texte zur elektronischen und instrumentalen Musik (Cologne, 1963.) An account of this period of research can be read in the Dutch Journal of Music Theory under the title ›Een lezing voor New York‹ (Amsterdam, 2001.) The article is based on a lecture that I gave in New York in 1995.

The most important aspect to emerge from this article was the idea that impulses determined the structure and the course of my music, and that they did so from within and at any moment: that is to say that they could immediately bring about something in the music; as opposed to prefabricated structures, which were designed prior to the genesis of the music.

Whether I have succeeded in applying impulses in this way remains, for as long as I continue applying them, an open question. It is, however, a fact that they still fascinate me, also for other reasons, which I will write about in ›Impulses – 2.‹
In ›Impulses – 3‹ I shall explain how they should be interpreted and performed.

(Translation: Robert Coupe)

impulses in one of my compositions Click here to see impulses in La disciplina dei sentimenti, page 120
Lange tijd was het mijn droom om de dag te beginnen met het afspelen van reeksen elektronische pulsen die met verschillende snelheden door mijn werkkamer bewogen, waarbij de inzetafstand tussen de pulsen kon worden gevarieerd van grote pauzes tot samenklonteringen die zo dicht waren dat – even – een aangehouden toon ontstond.
Ik heb dit bij mij thuis nooit gerealiseerd, maar wel op vele manieren in vrijwel al mijn composities.

Het idee van deze ›impulsen‹ met bovengenoemde, fascinerende eigenschappen kwam natuurlijk van Stockhausen. Ten tijde van de conceptie van La disciplina dei sentimenti en Genieting I was ik langdurig bezig met het bestuderen van zijn
Texte zur elektronischen und instrumentalen Musik (Köln, 1963). Een verslag van deze onderzoeksperiode is te lezen in het Tijdschrift voor Muziektheorie onder de titel ›Een lezing voor New York‹ (Amsterdam, 2001). Het artikel is gebaseerd op een lezing die ik in New York gaf in 1995.

De belangrijkste uitkomst van dat artikel was het idee dat impulsen de structuur en het verloop van mijn muziek bepaalden en wel van
binnen uit en op ieder moment: dat wil zeggen dat zij onmiddellijk iets teweeg konden brengen in de muziek; dit in tegenstelling tot geprefabriceerde structuren, die vooraf aan de wording van de muziek werden ontworpen.

Of het mij gelukt is impulsen op deze wijze toe te passen blijft een open vraag zolang ik er nog mee bezig ben. Want het is een feit dat ze me blijven fascineren, ook om andere redenen, waarover ik zal schrijven in ›Impulsen – 2‹.
In ›Impulsen – 3‹ zal ik uitleggen hoe ze moeten worden geinterpreteerd en uitgevoerd.

Music and space

notes - no notes new writing
The primary experience of music is the manifestation of sound in space. The musician carefully projects a sound into the space: sound breaks free from the source – the instrument or voice – establishes itself for a while in the space, and fades away. This fleeting life is the germ and the tragedy of music. For me it is also a physical miracle.

The second spatial aspect of music is the location of the sound source and the way in which sound is transmitted from it. In Axis/Ashes and Elementale the musicians stand around the audience; in La disciplina dei sentimenti, in Moving and in Sternenrest the listener is surrounded by loudspeakers. In my work I have always paid a great deal of attention to the placing of the musicians: not only in order to achieve the best possible sound balance so that the characteristics of each individual instrument are preserved, but also in order to render the sound movement – the direction from which the sound moves, where it moves to and at what speed – as audible as possible.

And finally, space is a place kept free so that something such as music, sound or a musical idea can drop by. Something that concerns us.

(Translation: Robert Coupe)

De primaire ervaring van muziek is het optreden van klank in de ruimte. De muzikant projecteert met zorg een klank in de ruimte: klank komt los van de bron – het instrument of de stem –, vestigt zich een poos in de ruimte en sterft uit. Dit kortstondige leven is de kiem en de tragiek van muziek. Het is voor mij ook een fysiek wonder.

Het tweede ruimtelijke aspect van muziek is de locatie van de geluidsbron en de manier waarop klank zich van daaruit voortplant. In Axis/Ashes en Elementale staan de musici rondom het publiek; in La disciplina dei sentimenti, in Moving en in Sternenrest is de luisteraar omgeven door luidsprekers. In al mijn werk is er veel zorg besteed aan de opstelling van de musici; niet alleen om de klankbalans zo optimaal mogelijk te krijgen waarbij de eigenschappen van elk afzonderlijk instrument behouden blijven, maar ook om de klankbeweging – de richting waarvandaan, waarheen en met welke snelheid de klank beweegt – zo duidelijk mogelijk te laten horen.

En ten slotte is ruimte de vrijgehouden plaats waarin iets zoals muziek, klank of een muzikaal idee kan binnenvallen. Iets dat ons aangaat.

The function of music

notes - no notes
Wat is de functie van muziek en met name van de eigentijdse muziek? Of is zij autonoom en dient zij nergens toe? Maar als zij autonoom is hoe krijgen we er dan toegang toe? En als zij samenvalt met haar functionaliteit is zij dan niet platvloers, commercieel en tè voor de hand liggend?

Bestaat de functionaliteit van kunst er niet in dat zij een relatie met de werkelijkheid onderhoudt door die werkelijkheid na te bootsen of weer te geven? In deze populaire voorstelling van zaken staat kunst tegenover de realiteit. Het zou de taak zijn van de kunstenaar de gapende afgrond daartussen te overbruggen waardoor de overkant voor ons herkenbaar wordt.

Maar is het niet eerder zo dat kunst vanuit een zekere belangeloosheid werkelijkheid sticht die zij
ook symboliseert en zelf is, en wel zo dat die als die ene, unieke realiteit voor ons verschijnt? Dan zou je dus moeten spreken van een soort sublieme functionaliteit van kunst. Ook één die vooral opgaat voor muziek. Cf. Die Rose

Ohne warumb.
Die Ros’ ist ohn warumb
sie blühet weil sie blühet
Sie achtt nicht jhrer selbst
fragt nicht ob man sie sihet.

What is the function of music, and in particular of contemporary music? Or is it autonomous and does it serve no practical purpose? But if it is autonomous, how can we gain access to it? And if it coincides with its own functionality, is it not then banal, commercial and too obvious?

Does the functionality of art not consist in the fact that it maintains a relationship with reality by imitating or representing that reality? According to this popular view, art stands opposite reality, and the task of the artist is to bridge the yawning chasm between the two, thus making the other side recognizable to us.

But is it not rather the case that, out of a kind of disinterestedness, art brings reality into being, and does so in such a way that this appears to us as the one and only, unique reality, which it
also symbolizes and indeed itself is? This would mean that art has a kind of sublime functionality, and one which particularly applies to music. Cf. Die Rose

(translation: Robert Coupe)


notes - no notes
Een goede luisteraar is iemand die de muziek in de muziek hoort. Of de stem in de stem. (Henri Meschonnic: »la voix dans la voix«, zie Nous le chant).
Voor die luisteraars schrijf ik mijn muziek. Als ik aan luisteraars denk, denk ik niet aan publiek.

Deze luisteraar is ook iemand die getuige is en eventueel kan getuigen van wat in muziek aan het werk is. Of van wat muziek ›zegt‹ maar niet kan zeggen, omdat muziek zelf geen taal is. Dat wat muziek niet zegt, zegt de luisteraar.

A good listener is someone who hears the music within the music. Or the voice within the voice (Henri Meschonnic: »la voix dans la voix«, see Nous le chant).
It is for these listeners that I write my music. When I think of listeners, I do not think of an audience.

This sort of listener is also someone who witnesses - and may be able to bear witness to – what is going on in music. Or what music is ›saying‹, and yet can’t say, since music itself is not a language. What music doesn’t say, the listener does.

(translation: Robert Coupe)

My website

I have discovered having an oeuvre to be proud of. That isn’t self-evident. When I completed my first large-scale work La Disciplina dei sentimenti after many years’ labour, I could not think of just writing one work after another. It turned out, however, that music itself, the source of my effort, was just being about to unfold itself to me. About the time of La Passione della Parola I have noticed how the different compositions were forming each other to something that looked like an oeuvre. Now, after more than thirty years of composing music, it looks like I have just started!

It’s time to arrange this oeuvre and make it more accessible by building this website. Here you can get a survey of my work and find a lot of information about each composition. On this opening page I’ll give you frequently a sign of life, and this I’ll do, in the English-language context of the website, in my poor English or in Dutch, whenever it suits me.

Although being part now of the ›small-world network‹, I still expect my music to be ›
seven degrees separated‹ from the nearest ›hub‹, or, in other words, to have more ›nodes‹ than anyone ever can imagine.