During the many concerts of Gaudeamus Festival 2023, countless brand new works, whose ink has only just dried, will be performed. Intern Sofia Chionidou interviews several composers who tell us about the compositions that they have written – or are still writing – for us. Today: Andrea Voets on her project Millennial History.
by Sofia Chionidou
Voets is the world’s only creator of ‘musical journalism’. In anticipation of her new piece For Real, which will be presented in Gaudeamus Festival 2024, we cannot wait to get an insight into her practice of musical journalism this September. On the opening night of the festival, Voets will be presenting the multi-media performance version of her award-winning podcast series, Millennial History.
We met with Andrea on a sunny Saturday morning, in a beautiful outdoor café in Amsterdam, a setting which seemed to ideally frame her warm and welcoming personality. Slowly entering deeper into our conversation, shifting from our personal acquaintance to her own work, her dedication, assertiveness and multi-layered way of thinking shone through and drew a clear picture of the person behind the invention of musical journalism.
It makes sense!
Andrea knew she wanted to become a musician from early on. She plays the harp and has been trained in classical music. But, for her, the classical setting of performing music never really made sense. “I had a conceptual problem with the codes of playing concerts”, Andrea says.
In a happy turn of events, she created her first work of musical journalism, Xenitia, in 2016, by accident. It came from a series of interviews with Greek people who had to move to Berlin and to Amsterdam because of the financial crisis. This shift of focus, from the performer to a bigger cause, allowed her to overcome her stage fright and find the meaning she was looking for in the creative process. Then, she knew this was it: musical journalism.
“Journalism, via music. It’s real journalism on topics that need a lot of music to be understood and to be felt through. It is a combination of the rational, the emotional, and the subliminal.” This is the DNA of musical journalism, in Voets’ words. It combines in-depth social journalism with many layers of original music, in order to address what she calls “emotional blind spots” in society. By emotional blind spots, she refers to issues that affect people’s lives greatly, often in a negative way, but which cannot be easily detected. Unearthing these issues through music and journalism is the motivation for her work.
So, when, in the end of 2017, Luke Deane (composer, Voets’ collaborator) called her to suggest creating a podcast, she was ready to take on the challenge that gave birth to Millennial History. Its topic immediately came to her mind, remembering the effect that jokes about the mafia had on a Sicilian friend of hers.
As a result, the episodes of the podcast connect facets of recent historical events and personal stories of millennials in deep, emotional and tangible ways. Voets insists that it is very important that, in general, she and her team interview a lot of musicians. As she says, “musicians are political beings and actors in a society, but somehow, from the moment we hold an instrument, this is not seen anymore, not noticed”. During the interviews, she listened to her fellow musicians recall their experiences of recent historical events “just like Zygmunt Bauman”, referring to the influential sociologist in order to highlight the interviewees’ deep social understandings. Voets wants to make a stand against this injustice in her work, by giving prominence to the political voice of musicians. “So please don’t infantilise us because we are using sound!”, she proclaims.
In fact, the use of sound is what allowed the Millennial History podcast to bring the personal and emotional dimensions of the interviewees’ stories to the fore. And this required meticulous, hard work. In our conversation, Voets presents the creative process as a long line of logical decisions. She starts from the material of the interviews and slowly makes her way through the editing and the creation of music, both alone and with her collaborators. Juxtaposing the interview contents and condensing them even more, they managed to create the show version of Millennial History. When asked how it is even possible to move from 40 hours of interview material to 4 hours of podcasts, to then a 1,5-hour show, Voets answers that she finds this part of the process simple. “Once the material is there, you just grind!”
To discover which part of the creative process she finds the most challenging, we must look closer to the starting stages of her projects. We talked about the stage where her new work, For Real, is now.
For Real is a performance about the intellectual undermining of women. Inspired by Mary Ann Sieghart ‘s book The authority gap: why women still aren’t taken seriously, Voets decided to create a new work to address the implications of this gap on a personal, relational and existential level. Being a woman and an artist, this topic resonated with her and shocked her at the same time, especially when she was confronted with the unquestionable sociological data of how women’s artistic endeavours are systematically debased. Through For Real, she stands her own ground, as well as other women’s and suppressed people’s ground, and wants to see what musical journalism can do to address this topic.
For Real takes on the form of a live radio show. “I cannot wait to explore this new format” Voets says, explaining how it will incorporate quotes by women from around the world with testimonies of members of the audience and live improvised music on them. “It’s gonna be risky”, she says. And it is true that she and the two other musicians of the show – Sarah Jeffery (recorders) and George Dumitriu (violin, viola, guitar) – need to carefully and masterfully carry the weight of the testimonies with their improvisations, to create the feeling that the people are being listened to, live, in the theater. Voets is generally very reluctant about interactive performance settings. In this case, however, she finds interaction vital. “When the point is intellectual undermining and taking people seriously, you cannot make a show just sending stuff to the audience, even if it is musical journalism.” It is evident that she intends to treat this with great care.
As For Real slowly develops to find its best form, the voices it will feature and the questions it will pose, we need to sit back patiently and wait until the creative process comes to its culmination. Our meeting with Andrea Voets has revealed how this process, combining systematic journalistic material collection and musical unearthing, is bound to result in something solid and emotional, social and touching at the same time. For the time being, we cannot wait to see Millennial History in September, as it orchestrates the main ingredients of musical journalism, as Voets describes them: “an urgent topic, good music associated to it and attention”.