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'Music shows a manifold reality in which I recognize myself, lose myself several times and find it again in unheard of places.'

The unifying factor called ‘Gaudeamus music’? It doesn’t exist. This question implies that music can be placed in an ideological context. In both negative and positive terms. That is of course possible and indeed happens frequently, seldom to the music’s benefit.

I desire music that turns against time: the ever disturbing, dangerously laughable art of Koen Kaptijn, for example, which cheerfully disrupts; or Louis Andriessen’s frozen chord pillars; the elongated, nourishing sounds of Pauline Oliveros; the finely worked out details in Anna Korsun’s music; the breaking branches in Michel van der Aa’s polished media violence; Calliope Tsoupaki’s music, sometimes tranquil, at other times lyrically loud; Yannis Kyriakides’ crystal clear fading texts, images, sounds, in an expanding music; Oscar Bettison, who propels whimsically; the playfully contrary, recognizable intangibility of Richard Ayres; or take Trevor Grahl, who moves back and forth through different styles in a short space of time and shows me the different listeners that I am; take all that music and hear it in its elusive glory. Preferably play it all at the same time.

This series of composers shows nothing but a multiform music world that can perhaps best be defined by attaching ‘composed’ or ‘score music’ to it. Or the oft-heard genuine cliché ‘new,’ or ‘contemporary’ or ‘modern music.’ If I follow that path, then I have been wrongfully ‘framing’ again. Grain de la Voix’s version of Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame is both ‘score’ and ‘new’ music. ‘Contemporary’ or ‘modern’ applies to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and the grainy J-pop band Boris.

‘Gaudeamus music’ can be found in a negative sense in the annals. Alex Manassen formulates it in the anniversary book Eeuwige Jeugd (Eternal Youth) by Peter Peters: “In Dutch composing a style was already beginning to emerge that was not in keeping with what you could call Gaudeamus music, such as grubby pieces à la Ferneyhough. […] The climate of Gaudeamus was post-serial and sometimes even still serial.” Oswin Schneeweisz wrote in the Algemeen Dagblad about the diversity of the music: “This multiformity is not reflected in the Gaudeamus Muziekweek. On the contrary, every year there are the same predictable student-like compositions. ” In the early nineties Henk Heuvelmans said that “Gaudeamus was considered middle of the road and that road kept getting narrower.”

Gaudeamus was a symbol here for grey epigone music without inventiveness, which was heard during the festival during the seventies and eighties. Colouring neatly within the lines seemed to be the motto, above a colourful music that evokes a multiple, ambiguous and unclear world. Hidden behind ‘Gaudeamus music’ was a dangerous ideology that was both inclusive and exclusive. An ideology that defines an identity: a stereotype that does not easily disappear.

In 1994 Magnus Lindberg, Luc Ferrari and Gilius van Bergeijk sat on the jury and, according to Peters, wanted Gaudeamus “to break with the almost unshakable image of predictable neo-avant-garde.” Van Bergeijk: “If you put one idiot, one non-conventional composer like me [on the jury], the image is already reasonably corrected. Moreover, Ferrari also turned out to have a good nose for strange things. Pieces do not have to be original, but they do have to be their own. Someone can link up with the tradition but still do something very authentic or personal with it.”

That year Richard Ayres won with the piece [A] Penny o’[FA] and the image of ‘Gaudeamus music’ slowly began to shift. Ayres says of his own work: “I rearrange things that were often already available. I am attracted to sounds and musical gestures that many banish from their music – I am concerned with the awkward, spurned and lost things.” With Ayres you can hear the musical tradition in fragments that reside in a new musical context. He does not convey an unambiguous message. He does not simply portray the relevant tradition but makes it elusive. He does not obscure. Rather, it is an invitation to listen and to hear yourself differently in previously unimaginable music.

In a radio broadcast from 1989 Han Reiziger and Walter Maas listen to Verdi’s Don Carlos, followed by Willem Breuker’s Anabelle. Walter says: “For me there is no light and no serious music. I don’t recognize that limit. I know only one limit, that is good and bad music. And Breuker definitely belongs to the very good music. Full stop.” Maas thus comes across a very problematic form of distinction, but he draws a dividing line that does appeal to something personal: a subjective experience of music that avoids the closed objectivity of a definition and appeals to the creativity of every listener: a listener who is never monotonous and always plural.

Maas’s good music appeals to the imagination: a music that is ambiguous, unclear and surprising. Music too, which turns against time: not new, contemporary or modern. Music that is necessary today, because today is equalizing, levelling up, and seems to want music to make a clear message part of its aesthetic reality. A music dominates that we apparently don’t have to worry about. That is music I am terrified of: the assumption that music conveys a clear message reduces it to a fill-in-the-blank exercise. Music is not a shopping list that shows you the way around the supermarket; music is the cart with a missing wheel that swerves and takes you off the beaten track.


Music is not a shopping list that shows you the way around the supermarket; music is the cart with a missing wheel that swerves and takes you off the beaten track.

‘Gaudeamus music’ is no longer strict neo-avant-garde, nor just the easy-scoring formula of pop music, no longer the flattened renewed neo-spirituality or the interminably exasperating continuations of minimalism. Gaudeamus music is no more. It is also no less. It is Kaptijn, Andriessen, Oliveros, Korsun, Van der Aa, Tsoupaki, Kyriakides, Bettison, Ayres, Grahl and can be much more. Gaudeamus music is above all not — nor should it be — the stamp that the zeitgeist puts on it, not what the present day demands or desires. I desire music that turns against time. A music that marks its own time. A music, perhaps, for eternity.

Jan Nieuwenhuis