Michel van der Aa (Netherlands, 1970) is a truly multidisciplinary figure in contemporary music. A unique voice, he combines composition with film and stage direction, and script writing. Classical instruments, voices, electronic sound, actors, theatre and video are all seamless extensions of his musical vocabulary.
Before studying composition (with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen), Van der Aa trained first as a recording engineer at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. In 2002 he broadened his skills with studies in film direction, at the New York Film Academy, and in 2007 he participated in the Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab, an intensive course in stage direction.
1: Music is only truly exciting when the poetry and form within it are inextricably bound to one another.
2: A whole generation of listeners have Spotify and Apple playlists that move from Bach to Beyoncé, from Radiohead to Ligeti. I think genre boundaries no longer exist for many young listeners. I also feel that my music is genre-less and I try to escape the artificial boundaries that genres impose.
3: I’m a humanist with a weak spot for science-fiction.
1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
I’m a real art omnivore, I get inspiration from so many artists including Bill Viola, Anish Kapoor, Aphex Twin, Ligeti, Bach, David Lynch, Fernando Pessoa, Jiří Kylián, and more.
2. How and when did you get into making music?
As a boy, when I was a soprano in the youth opera company that my parents ran in a small town in the north of The Netherlands. I once accompanied my father to the clockmaker who was painting a set for them. What I saw was revelatory. He had a fan onto which he had added pieces of crepe paper, putting red lights under it. When he turned on the lights suddenly it transformed into fire. I realized that with these very simple means, you can do something incredibly poetic. This is when my love for art and music theatre was born.
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?
Argh, this is difficult, as I keep returning to different albums… at the moment
OK Computer – Radiohead
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Glenn Gould – J.S. Bach
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Spirit of Eden – Talk Talk
Selected works – Bill Viola (DVD)
4. What do you associate with Berlin?
My wife was pregnant with our first child when we stayed in Berlin one very cold winter, she was studying German at the Goethe institute. We had such a lovely time! Another association I have with Berlin, is my publisher Boosey & Hawke who have offices there. Also in an earlier part of my career I had quite a few German premieres of my work at the Berliner Festspiele.
5. What’s your favourite place in your town?
There are some amazing new art spaces that I visit frequently in Amsterdam, like the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, and the Eye film museum.
6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?
Make films, interactive art-games, or mixed reality projects. I find that there are a lot of similarities between film-making and composing – in the way you deal with time, in the way that you edit a film. For me it is a very natural extension to my music, stretching my vocabulary so that I can explore more ideas.
7. What was the last record/music you bought?
Magdalene – FKA Twigs (amazing album!).
8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Thom York, Charlie Kaufman, Kate Bush.
9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?
I feel really grateful to have had performances and premieres in so many amazing places and festivals over the years. One recent performance that springs to mind is the US premiere of my opera ‘Blank Out’ at the New York Park Avenue Armory. I felt the piece was really well received, and it was wonderful to be able to bring in such a young and diverse audience.
10. How important is technology to your creative process?
We’re surrounded by technology, and it’s in the DNA of our time, thus I always felt it be strange not use it in my work. When I put together my work, I like the idea to be explainable in one sentence. Then I think how this idea can be communicated to an audience and what tools can help me. It could be just a string quartet, or it could be a full-blown ensemble with film projections. Technology is therefore for me a fantastic tool to bring about the bigger idea or concept of the work, never the other way around.
11. Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career/art?
Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career/art?
I have one sister, she’s a psychologist. I believe she appreciates what I make, and really gets the deeper meaning in my work. She is also incredibly supportive, attending all my important premieres.
Michel van der Aa is set to release debut indie-pop album featuring Kate Miller-Heidke ‘Time Falling’: A kaleidoscopic concept album centred around the theme of infinity.
Available on all platforms from 27th February 2020, with limited edition high definition vinyl double LP and CD also be available through Disquiet Media and Bandcamp.
Image credit:Sarah Wijzenbeek