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Barely Dry Ink (4): Rafaele Andrade

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: Rafaele Andrade on her new works with the Knurl, which will be presented on the Wednesday and Thursday night of Gaudeamus Festival 2023.

by Sofia Chionidou

Rafaele Andrade is not new to Gaudeamus. For the past three years, we accompanied her in the creative development of the Knurl, the electronic, cello-based instrument she invented. This year, she will present four collaborative works with this instrument, each one focusing on one of the endless potentials of the Knurl. A couple of weeks before the festival, we had a fascinating conversation about Andrade’s balance between instrument development and music making, and how her practice reconsiders the role of the 21st century musician.

The life course of the Knurl
Before inventing the Knurl, Andrade was already a cellist and composer, and had begun her studies in Sonology at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague. In our conversation, she reminisces about the inspiration for the Knurl’s invention. It was during a Sonology masterclass, when she first encountered an electronic, open-source cello and was immediately mesmerized. In the period after this masterclass, she and three other students formed a cello quartet, in which everyone ended up developing and producing their own instrument, Andrade’s being the first version of the Knurl. In the beginning, she mentions, her motivation for creating it was practical: carrying less equipment, having an electronic instrument integrated into her own cello and not as something extra. However, she soon started questioning the potential and the wider significance that building your own instrument has. Fast forward to today, the Knurl’s latest version can be described, in Andrade’s words, as “an electronic cello with 16 strings that are touch sensitive and remappable”, materializing her years of musical, programming, 3D-printing experimentations.

While she is often labeled as an instrument inventor, Andrade prefers the identity of composer. “I just want to make something that works for me”, she explains. She believes that the role of the musician in the 21st century should include an awareness of the tools available out there which can contribute to musical practices. “Do they make your life easy? Do they complicate it?” The important aspect is that tools shape the musician’s way of thinking, whether they are traditional instruments or new technologies such as creative programming or 3D printing. In her own practice, she integrates various technological tools to address concerns such as sustainable instrument production or the distribution of creative agency between artist and audience. At the same time, these tools provide her with a wider range of possibilities for music making. When asked how her musical practice has been influenced by the Knurl, she explains: “Sometimes the music comes first and sometimes the creative programming”, revealing the versatility of her practice.

What’s new?
In her trajectory so far, Andrade has researched and presented various experiments with the Knurl. “It is amazing to give space to young artists to realize their projects, no matter how imperfect they are”, she says, thankful for Gaudeamus’ support in earlier stages of the Knurl’s development. This year, it has started maturing as an instrument, gradually becoming fine-tuned and perfected. As a result, her works take the form of musical performances, focusing on artistic ideas and collaborations, instead of the practice of instrument making.

When I ask her more about the works that she will be presenting this September, I am overwhelmed by the amount of work and ingenuity each of them entails. On the Wednesday night of the festival, she will present one of her older performances, titled This isn’t solo. Despite what the title of the work suggests, Andrade will be on the stage only with her Knurl, but sharing its control with the audience through a web platform. On the same night, she will also present a new performance, titled Morph, in collaboration with Timo Hoogland. With her on the Knurl, Hoogland on drumcode (a percussion and live-electronics instrument) and a projection, the audience will experience an inquisitive combination of the two instruments’ sound sources, with each of them morphing the sound of the other interchangeably.

On Thursday evening, she will present her work with Adam Pulz, Sound Energy Harvest. Transforming the vibrations of their live music into energy which is then transformed to light, they bring to the table the topic of energy consumption, especially in music, where we are used to the “plug-n-play” logic, as Andrade points out. All three of these projects present Andrade’s questioning of the practice of music, negotiating its relation with the audience, other musicians’ instruments and energy consumption. They reflect wider urgent topics, namely concerns around authority, interconnectivity and sustainability, showing how her creative practice is grounded in a global contemporary reality.

One of her concerns is also collaboration, as she sees the distribution of the creative agency as a key feature in democratizing future musical production. This is a main component of her fourth work in this year’s festival, the performance of the Knurl Quartet. Through an open call last year and a three-month residency with Gaudeamus, three musicians and Andrade had the opportunity to work together and explore the ensemble potentials of the Knurl. Since it is more of a multi-band instrument, Andrade mentions she was really interested in finding out what happens if you put four of them together. Each musician contributed their own skills, character and experience, and they collaboratively created the program we will hear in the festival.

How to grow from here?
Having come so far with the development of the Knurl, Andrade’s plan for now is to let go of it and explore the ways she and others can play with its latest version, allowing it to mature. She plans on sharing the Knurl itself, but also her own instrument-making knowledge, working with people on customizing their own instruments and exploring their potentials. For our part, we are eager to see in which direction her practice will take her in the future but, for now, we are excited to see her musical explorations in this year’s festival!