Subtempo Guest Mix 044
Adriaan Swerts (Leuven, b. 1989) is a Belgian composer and producer specialized in post-classical and ambient music with a heavy focus on sounds from nature.
As a child he learned to play the piano and clarinet, but found the restrictions of his traditional musical education unfulfilling so he quit taking lessons. It was not until he got his first synthesizer that a world of freedom and exploration opened up and he started to make his own sounds and music in a basement home studio. In 2007, he had a life-threatening accident which caused a lifelong disability and which drastically changed his life. Because of the injuries, he constantly suffers from pain, which alleviates when he makes music.
He has always felt a very strong connection with nature and tries to give nature a voice – especially in these difficult times of climate change and pollution. The characteristic sounds in his music are field recordings of places he visits, which he transforms into instruments and uses almost solely to compose. With these ingredients, he always composes music from the heart that is deeply personal and minimalistic by design. He hopes it can provide as much peace and stillness for other people in this always busy world as it has helped himself.
Hi Adriaan, first of all, thanks so much for doing this mix for us.
It’s my pleasure! It was so nice to put together music that has been playing regularly at home for years and also to add some music in the mix from my colleagues at Piano And Coffee Records that has impressed me more recently.
I’d like to start by asking what tools did you use to create this mix.
Most of the tracks came from my personal CD collection. There were also certain old vinyls that I recorded and afterwards I mixed everything together in Logic Pro.
Is there a theme to this mix?
I think, since I will soon become a father for the first time, that especially the feeling of new beginnings does linger in the back of my mind. Of course spring is also gradually coming, so there is also that promise of new life again. That's the principal theme I guess.
You’ve recently released your debut album ‘One’ via our beloved Piano and Coffee label, run by Sergio Diaz de Rojas, who did a mix for us a while back. How did you and Sergio meet?
When I had a lot of time on my hands during corona in 2020 I realized that I had actually written a full album together over the past years before that, recorded at long intervals. So I finally thought why not try to hear around if anyone might be interested in releasing it. Of all the labels I came across in my post-classical ambient genre Piano and Coffee Records stood out to me because of the talented people who had released wonderful things on the label and because it felt like a musical family to me rather than pure "business." That attracted me tremendously. Sergio was very enthusiastic when I sent the demo and we got to know each other afterwards in the many meetings about how we would plan the release, etc. It took some time due to unforeseen circumstances, but last October 2022 we were finally able to release it with a lot of love.One of the locations that inspired Adriaan in his field recordings explorations is Iceland.
Congratulations on the release, it’s beautiful.
Thank you so much, very nice to hear. I appreciate that!
What are some of the themes you were trying to explore in the album?
I wrote the album during a very difficult period in my life where I had to learn to cope with a physical disability I sustained after a serious accident. Also, my grandfather had passed away during the writing period. So searching for the meaning of life, saying goodbye, acceptance of limitations and finding beauty were important themes. I also felt like a lot of those themes were mirrored in the way nature works so that aspect was also woven into the music.
It must have been a very healing process to create with such deep themes running through your process. What are some of the things that stood out for you while creating it?
The creative process really felt like self-administered medicine for my soul. It was what I needed at that moment to go on, to find meaning and to give everything a place. The recording process was a good memory for me: I was making this music just for myself and nobody else. There was no outside pressure whatsoever, there was no bigger plan. I also never had any intention of releasing it. So the creation was completely free. It was very intimate and felt like a protected cocoon in which I could express my sadness, something I didn't always get said with words. But despite the personal nature of the music's origins I am very happy that it can now have meaning for others and hopefully provide comfort for those with grief.
I understand nature plays a big part in your creative process. How do you find it affects what you do?
I feel very connected to nature, also on a spiritual level, so I wanted to give nature a permanent voice as an instrument in my music. Especially given climate change, it seemed crucial to give nature the voice it doesn't have. I always make my own field recordings in nature all over the world wherever I go and transform these sounds into instruments: it's actually my most important instrument and the most distinctive element in my music next to piano and strings. On the whole album there is actually only 1 synthesizer, despite how it might sound all the rest of instruments are actually nature sounds.An old piano where Adriaan recorded his recent album on Piano & Coffee Records.
For this album you gathered field recordings from a bunch of different places. Did you travel to all these locales for this specifically or had you been gathering recordings over time?
The field recordings on the album come from Iceland and Scotland, among other places, and were recorded by chance when I was over there on vacation. I don't actually think in advance about what kind of sound I need to then take a journey, but only make field recordings or music when I have something to say. For example, these were 2 places where I felt tremendously inspired. So I made field recordings there with which I could then later express my feelings musically. Like other people make a photo book of their vacation I make audio collections of field recordings from everywhere I go and these auditory memories are always woven into my music. Music for me is a very personal process and by making all my sounds myself from scratch I feel I can express myself most honestly.
And your primary instrument is the piano, correct?
Indeed, I mainly compose my music on the piano. Although I must say that the musical idea usually comes first in my head. I hear the melodies and actually all the arrangements that should go with it. By the time I sit down at the piano, it's really just an expression of what I already knew. But it remains an indispensable instrument: it is like one of my limbs. Without it, I certainly come up short. And it certainly also happens that I sit down at the piano in a certain emotional mood and that by playing the keyboard something flows out of me that I didn't know was in me. In that way, the piano will always have a certain magic for me that I hope to never lose.
Are you classically trained or self-taught?
That's a difficult question: both my parents were classical musicians, so I was surrounded by classical music all my childhood. This both at home and at all the classical concerts we attended. So that definitely shaped me somehow. As a child I studied piano for 2 years and clarinet for 6 years, but then I stopped playing these for a long time. Only from my adolescence did I begin to experiment with music again in the form of recordings and synthesizers, and only from then did I begin to express myself musically. I learned all that stuff on my own. Even as an adult I didn't take a course in composition or anything like that, so in that area I'm completely self-taught. So I suspect the right answer might be a little bit of both.Nature-inspired composition. What came first? Or is it a feedback loop between artist and the world?
What other instruments or tools are essential for you when you are creating music?
The computer is definitely number one next to the piano: it's the heart of my recording studio where everything comes together and where I can also get to be the most creative in my experience. I feel limitless when I can do sound design in the computer. I also use a lot of analog outboard gear to give my recordings analog warmth and also all kinds of tape machines to degrade my sound: by partially destroying the sound, but still allowing it to run, I can express how it feels to have a disability.
How do you feel this project has influenced what you will do next?
Most of all, I felt with this project that I found myself musically. My own voice, my own sound: especially in my combination of piano with natural field recording manipulations. And that's something I'm already building on in full. It's not an end point, but definitely a starting point.
What’s next for you?
I am already working on my second album (Two) which is already outlined in broad terms. I moved not very long ago, so a lot of my music studio and equipment was locked away for a while and stashed in boxes. I had to record with limited means. But this week I will finally be able to reassemble my final recording studio, so I am looking forward to finishing this second album with all my musical resources at my disposal and hopefully sharing it with you all in the near future.
Well, we wish you the best in integrating all these deep lessons and themes. Thanks again for doing this mix for us.
Thank you all again for having me! With great pleasure.
- Adriaan Swerts - Adieu (Piano And Coffee Records)
- Max Richter - Spring 1 (Deutsche Grammophon)
- Air - Dream Of Yi (The Vinyl Factory)
- Kraftwerk - Heimatklange (Philips)
- Ryuichi Sakamoto - Andata (Milan)
- Skúli Sverrisson - Volumes (Sería Music)
- Jakob Lindhagen - Tomorrow (Piano And Coffee Records)
- Leif Ove Andsnes - Grieg’s Arietta (EMI)
- John Adams - Shaker Loops: A Final Shaking (Philips)
- Booka Shade - You Don't Know What You Mean To Me J's Lullaby (Get Physical Music)
- Nils Frahm - Re (Erased Tapes Records)
- Brian Eno - An Ending Ascent (EMI)
- Sergio Diaz de Rojas - Porcelain (Piano And Coffee Records)
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