Started out at age 13 with bass guitar in pop bands. Had lessons in double bass and played in the National Youth Orchestra.
Lived the double life of the classical double bass player with roots in pop or jazz: having an instrument attached to wires and being amplified.
At 19 won first price at the famous Laren Jazz festival (the 'predecessor' of the North Sea Jazz Festival) and later I was accepted to the Muziek Lyceum.
Our trio played improvised music that fused the traditional 'Hilversum' jazz of Piet Noordijk with the 'Dadaistic' BIM music of Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink. Playing both bass guitar and amplified double bass and doing totally crazy free improvisations.
At this Festival I met an amateur bass player Henk van Zalinge, who happened to be a famous race car driver. He had studied mechanical engineering in England and had just developed and launched a so called ‘stick bass'. An amplified instrument with the same scroll, neck and bridge as a double bass attached to a sort of 'Flintstone-like' banana shaped mini corpus/soundbox. Link Sting
The name of the instrument is the Z-bass, after van Zalinge. It was in use by the famous jazz double bass player and one of my all-time heroes Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who played with the Oscar Peterson trio and Count Basie. Sting also used this creation on the first Police album.
I spent many hours at Van Zalinge’s huge garage in Naarden surrounded by the most fantastic Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s that a 19 year-old boy ever saw. The van Zalinge bass worked great when plucked, because it was originally built for jazz and pop players, and not to facilitate the use of the bow. We collaborated to see if his invention could be adapted to an instrument that could also be bowed.
When I finished my studies at the Conservatory, I attended a concert by the great bass virtuoso Gary Karr and wound up studying with him for a couple of years in the United States.
After that I became principal bass of the Residentie Orchestra, started teaching at the Royal Conservatory the Hague.
After a few years of doing the classical stuff, I became a member of the Schönberg Ensemble and found my way back to the world of improvisation and electronics.
New instruments, players and composers through the centuries
New instruments are not usually conceived in the context of classical music, as illustrated by the history of the violin, introduced for the first time at the end of the 16th century. During this period the gamba was the instrument of choice, primarily used in churches and in concerts of composed music. The loud and garish violin was considered an outdoor instrument, producing enough volume to cut through noise encountered on streets and at fairs. Much more brash than the gamba and considered a non-sophisticated cousin of the string family, the violin eventually took over because of its power and beauty.
However, the introduction of new instruments has not always proven successful throughout history. The collaboration between composer, instrument maker and player has not always yielded enduring results. Schubert, composer and guitarist, commissioned a new guitar-like instrument which enabled him to use the bow. The arpeggione was born and although it inspired a beautiful, incredibly popular sonata, did not survive. Musicologists explain this by proposing that too many new instruments were being invented at the time of the arpeggione’s introduction.
When it comes to the instrumentation of the last century, not much has changed. The ‘set ups’ of symphony orchestras and ensembles have remained relatively unaltered for the past 100 years.
Both John Adams and Heiner Goebbels, two very important composers in today’s musical life have called for the birth/introduction of new instruments to inspire and create ‘new music’.
But, how will this happen?
Digitalisation is changing our daily lives as well as our musical environment. The computer has become a strong component in new ways of creating music. Digital soft synths containing ‘sound banks’ which are comparable to gigantic candy stores for ‘digital composers’, are improving the quality of the content at a very a rapid pace. We’ve all seen films, under the assumption that the music was performed by an orchestra, when in fact not a single live instrument was used.
Bach had his students write out his music by hand. Modern composers not only have the aid of Finale and Sibelius but can also use the computer as a contributor to the development of sounds.
As a performer I feel the need to reconnect and challenge the composer with an instrument that is a bit closer to the tools they are using, while preserving the skills that I have worked on my whole life. This is how I came to develop my Hybrid Bass. My playing routine stays intact, and the bass retains its identity.
My research is not only about the bass itself, but ultimately about the music evolving from this newly equipped instrument: a new tool in improvisation and composition where the analogue and digital world connect.
By using this hybrid bass, I have created a multi-faceted situation as player and improviser, without compromising my possibilities as an instrumentalist, altering the nature of the traditional double bass, or altering the way I relate to my instrument by way of pedals, keyboards etc.
ASKO Schönberg Ensemble
As a member of the Schönberg Ensemble I had the privilege of working directly with composers like Adams, Kagel, Ligeti, Kurtag and Gubaidulina.
Here a selection of compositions that I have participated in over the years and that specifically utilized electronics:
- Louis Andriessen - ‘Staat’ 1976’ 'Orpheus’ 1979
- Steve Reich - ’Music for Large Ensemble 1978
- Kaija Saariaho - ‘Lichtbogen’ 1986
- John Adams - ’Nixon in China’ 1987
- van der Aa – Various
- Richard Ayres - ‘The Garden’ 2018
- Michael Beil - ‘Black Jack’ 2011
- Simon Steen-Andersen - ‘Black Box Music’ 2012
- Frederick Neyrinck - ’ICON’ 2018
- Kate Moore - ‘Space Junk’ 2018
1. Louis Andriessen
In the years 1977 – ’79 I collaborated as a bass guitarist on 2 important projects with Louis Andriessen: ‘De Staat’ and the conception of a new opera, ‘Orpheus’. One of the five instruments of the ensemble in this opera was a Lyricon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjB1bsE5nDU&t=1m21s
The electronic clarinet was my first musical encounter to an almost traditional instrument that had the possibility to connect to the world of electronic sounds. The first Wind instrument that had the capacity to drive a Synthesizer.
This was a pivotal moment where the traditional instrumentalist, Hens Otter in this case, was able to link the world of traditional instrumental practice with the world of electronics.
2. Steve Reich
’Music for Large Ensemble’ 1978 had it’s first performance with the Netherlands Wind Ensemble and 2 double basses in the original score. This was the first time that I participated in an ensemble that was fully amplified. The ensemble consisted of musicians from traditional classical environments like the Concertgebouw Orchestra and we all felt that our playing had to deal with a new musical dimension: dynamics where not in our own hands anymore.
3. Kaija Saariaho
The composition ‘Lichtbogen’ written in 1986, was a next step in handing over the control over the outcome of your playing to composer/technician. Every instrumentalist was amplified/recorded and linked to a computer program that manipulated the sound.
4. John Adams
’Nixon in China’ 1987, we played with the Holland Festival Orchestra and Edo de Waart. This was the first time a polyphonic synthesizer was musical centre in the orchestra for an opera where both instruments and singers where amplified.
5. Michel van der Aa
The music of van der Aa is often lead by a conductor who is using a click track, while the musicians are mostly required to sound as robotic as possible. Not only are the players subjugated to following the computer-generated click track, but all phrasing, expressivity and timing are outlawed. The player partakes in a world dominated and dictated by electronics.
6. Richard Ayres
In ‘The Garden’ 2018, the ASKO|Schönberg players were part of a concertante opera that made use, not only of traditional instruments but also of soft synth synthesizers. However, the traditional ensemble instruments were left out on the side-line as the significant musical role was taken over by this computerized music.
7. Michael Beil
‘Black Jack’ 2011, not only involves electronics but also Video. Players are conducted by a click tracked Maestro and are part of a very strictly choreographed staging with camera’s linked to the score.
8. Simon Steen-Andersen
In ‘Black Box Music’, 2012 the Ensemble is ‘scattered’ all over the Hall in 3 different groups. They need to align with a digitalized ‘pupped – show’, that is linked to a shared click track that determines the actions of all the players from headphones.
9. Frederick Neyrinck
’ICON’ 2018, a small opera for 5 players, where the I pad has replaced the use of sheet music. Conductor launches Soft Synth Loops and ensemble aligns itself. Technique can unfortunately be unreliable.
10. Kate Moore
In ‘Space Junk’, 2018 the conductor uses Ear Defender Headphones with a click track and is therefore totally unable to hear the ensemble: the conductor is imprisoned and handcuffed. As a result, all the musicality and swing that could be generated from the players, is completely annihilated.
In 2003 I reconnected to composer Ernst Oosterveld. I was the soloist in a new piece written for the Schönberg Ensemble and played on a newly designed stick bass that was Midi Compatible. Coincidently this instrument was also called a Z-bass. Z for Zeta, the company that manufactured the instrument in California with a bridge patented by Stanford University.
The process of flowing from a traditional to a non-traditonal instrument became quite natural for me.
Ernst Oosterveld has strongly contributed to the development of the Hybrid Double Bass through his specialization in writing software that can be engaged as an instant composing tool. This departs from our traditional ideas of composition as this interaction and response from the computer may lead to a different way of creating music in the future.
After the solo concert with the Schönberg Ensemble, Ernst and I formed a new group called ZEQ-Attack.
We launched a series of concerts at the Dolhuys Museum in Haarlem (the only museum in Holland, or possibly in the World, dedicated to the history of the mind, the psyche). We created a digital environment to improvise with guest artists like Theo Loevendie, Marco Blaauw, Ab Baars, Focus drummer Pierre van der Linden and Leo van Oostrom. We made electronic samples of our guest soloists that were used during one-hour concerts. During these concerts I played the new Zeta stick bass.