Interview with Michiel van Poelgeest: the profession of composer is becoming increasingly more technical

The Seven Sirens, the new album by Michiel van Poelgeest, was released on May 21st by Blue Spiral Records. Michiel is a Dutch music composer. His output is very diverse: ranging from electro-acoustic piano scores to dystopic hybrid synthesizer soundscapes. Van Poelgeest’s musical education started when he was seven years old and took up piano les-sons. His classical education went on for ten years, after which his interests shifted towards elec-tronic music and songwriting. In 2010 he produced and released a modern pop album under the pseudonym Villeneuf. A se-cond album would later follow. The band toured the Netherlands, played countless venues, and performed on live television during prime time. The albums were very well-received. He then went on to write music for film and television and has been doing that ever since.


We met the artist for an exclusive interview that you can find below.


Welcome Michiel and thank you for this interview.

When did you start composing – and what or who were your early passions and influences? 

I started writing music when I was about ten or eleven years old. I wrote songs in Dutch and later in English. So not just the music, but the lyrics as well. And I sang too, even though I knew nothing about vocal techniques or anything. Still don’t by the way. But I really went for it and pretty soon I started to form bands around those songs, as I discovered making music together is a lot more fun.

What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your work and/or career?

Well…the release of The Seven Sirens is certainly one of those moments. For the longest time I was trying to describe to people what ‘my music would sound like’ if I ever got around to writing a purely instrumental album. But you know what they say: talking about music is like dancing about architecture. I had to stop talking about it and just do it. So when I was finally listening to the mastered tracks for the first time in my studio late one night…that was a big moment for me.

Can you tell us something about your last release “The Seven Sirens”?

I set out to create music that would work really well with picture on the one hand, to sort of show my skills in this department if you will, but even more so, I wanted to make something that is simply unique and interesting to listen to. I’ll be honest: I never thought I would be this proud, but I am! I’m just over the moon with how it all turned out in the end. It was quite a process.

Improvisation and composition are both such important aspects of making music. I mean, the smallest little improvised note can do big things in the ear of the beholder. But also the manner in which parts are played is of course hugely important.

How long did it take to prepare the album?

About a year or so. I had it finished in the spring, but we waited a while before releasing it. I could have finished it a lot faster too, obviously….but I didn’t want to, haha.

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?

Improvisation and composition are both such important aspects of making music. I mean, the smallest little improvised note can do big things in the ear of the beholder. But also the manner in which parts are played is of course hugely important. For instance, on The Seven Sirens there is this track called ‘Mnemosyne’ and it has this lovely cello part in it. When I gave Christophe Luciani the sheet music I basically said to him: do whatever you want with it. Go nuts. Surprise me. And he did! It turned out beautifully. If you want the benefits of improvisation there needs to exist a certain amount of trust between the composer and the musician.

 

The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?

One the one hand, the profession of composer is becoming increasingly more technical in my opinion. Production is becoming more and more important. People might have a romantic image of composers just being creative all the time, and experimenting with anything that makes sound. Taking long walks until inspiration strikes… Sometimes that’s true. But more often than not, what I do looks more like programming than it does like making music. You’re figuring out plug-ins, learning software, making near-perfect demo’s, et cetera. On the other hand a composer needs to be able to communicate with directors, producers, musicians and engineers in order to achieve the desired result. Oh and don’t forget to update your instagram account while you’re at it, haha. Anyway, to sum it all up: you’re an entrepreneur. At the end of the day, professionally I simply try to never settle for anything less than perfect. And I expect the same from the people I work with.

Foto Eelkje Colmjon.

What equipment do you use to compose your music?

The three most important pieces of hardware in my humble studio are my Apollo Twin X, my Mac and an SL88 masterkeyboard. Logic is my preferred DAW. When it comes to virtual instruments, ’m a big fan of everything by Spitfire Audio.

How, do you feel, could contemporary compositions reach the attention of a wider audience?

Well I already think both Spotify and Apple Music are doing a great job in this regard, with their curated playlists. This really helps people to find music for all moods and purposes.

Could you tell us something about your future projects?

I’m in a sprint towards the summer right now, finishing up all kinds of different projects, like a documentary score. Looking forward to some downtime after that. It’s been a crazy year.

Where can our readers find more information about you?

I invite people to follow me on instagram, where I post stuff about what I’m up to. If you scroll through my timeline you can find out all sorts of things about me. Like the fact that I have three beautiful kids. Or that I do yoga (sometimes). I enjoy a little chat with interesting people I don’t know from time to time. So… see you out there?

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