Jan Klug

Jan Klug
At Splendor, Amsterdam
(Photo: Paul Glazier)

Jan Klug (1971) is an Aachen-born musician, composer and media designer who focuses on the use of computers and programming as creative tools for live music- and cross-media performances. In 1999 he graduated from studies in jazz saxophone at the Prins Claus Conservatory in Groningen, and since then has worked on several projects in dance, theater and film. In numerous performances, he blended acoustic and electronic music, video and programming – solo and in collaborations. Since 1996 he has been a permanent member of the Dutch group “Poets from Epibreren”, where he specialized in the musical accompaniment of poetry and literature, a practice he continues to pursue today through projects with Dutch writers Christine Otten and others. Since 2008, Jan is a core teacher of the master study MADtech (previously called ‘Interactive Media and Environments’) at the Frank Mohr Institute (FMI) of Academy Minerva in Groningen, an interdisciplinary programme of advanced education in technology-related art and experimental art research. In 2014, Jan Klug graduated from the degree program 'Instruments & Interfaces' at the Institute of Sonology (Royal Conservatory in Den Haag) and STEIM, Amsterdam.

Why do you make music?

To transcend into an augmented and transformed state of being. To experience the 'now' moment in free improvisation, and the altered perception of time within that moment. To communicate with others in a non-verbal, playful and challenging way, and collectively discover unexpected sonic landscapes. And to invite an audience to join the trip.

What music do you make?

The creation of soundscapes and sonic explorations by use of live instruments and free improvisation. Sometimes solo, sometimes with other musicians, but often also accompanying performers from other disciplines - mainly poets and writers, but also in theatre or modern dance.

How do you make music?

In my 'standard setup', I transform sounds from different sources - mostly tenor & soprano saxophone, theremin and my self-developed pataphone - into layered soundscapes, with the help of an array of electronic tools. I generally rely on live-produced sounds, and avoid pre-recorded elements. The core of my setup is a modified (and rusty) DD3 Delay stomp box, which in recent years is joined by a sampling- and transformation engine written in Max/MSP. Also reverb plays an important role.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘musicʼ as such and, if not, what is it?

That really depends on the context, and the expectations one has about 'music'. Sometimes my contribution can be seen more as an augmentation or alteration of the sonic environment, for example in a theatre performance. But I am generally not concerned with clear delimitations of what I do; I embrace vagueness.

How do you describe yourself (e.g. are you a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else) and why?

A combination of these indeed. Definitely a performer, as reaching the performance state - that special state of being, where perception shifts and mind processes melt, is essential to my music making. The compositional element not only comes into play when a piece has to be settled down in a defined and definite shape, but compositional considerations also take place in free improvisation, reminiscent of 'instant composing'. Being somebody who likes to tinker with soft- and hardware to bend technology into something that can be used for audiovisual creation I guess made me a technologist; I like to engineer my own sonic tools according to my musical needs and ideas, and in the process continually do research and training to extend my horizon and freedom.

What is the cultural context for your work - how are you influenced by music from other cultures or the other arts?

My first performance experiences and explorations were within experimental bands with a certain punk attitude (i.e. not knowing how to do something not being a reason not do do it). Other influences (that mainly arrived via the radio) were the music of John Coltrane, with the rest of Jazz in its entourage; (European) free improvisation; EBM (Electronic Body Music). I played extensively to records from bands like Can, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Sonic Youth - all of whose sounds I tried to accomplish with the saxophone. Later 'World Music' - classical Indian, Persian, Japanese music, and music from all over Africa. All these influenced me through 'absorbing ideas by improvising along'. And then, through collaborations, came poetry and literature. modern dance and experimental theatre, and fine art. The influence is not a direct one; more a growing understanding of the inner functioning of their universes, and images or energy patterns leaking into my practice, like the rhythm of the words within a poem, or the memory of an energetic mo(ve)ment of a dance performance.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a musician?

Being there, listening, to allow for an attentive openness in acting and reacting, in giving and accepting musical /improvisational impulses. Harvesting the emerging musical potential and inserting it into the (shared) musical environment, with a dynamic and collective energy management, i.e. giving content, but also space. Not being egocentric; having a readiness to collectively sync or swarm (see Borgo). Finding the entrance to a trance state of mind (performance mode); envisioning possible sonic spheres and materialise them by exploring, and inviting others to join.

How do you combine acoustic instruments with digital controllers and software?

In the setup for my Hybrid Instrument (i.e. the combination of the acoustical / physical instruments, the electronics, and me) I have multiple entry points for controlling the soft- and hardware. I aim to negotiate the 'control wish' to manipulate the parameters of the processing apparatus while playing a 'real' instrument like saxophone or theremin within the available gestures of the body that don't interfere with playing that instrument. The hands may be busy holding a tone on the theremin (please excuse the stretching of the term acoustic instrument), so twisting a knob is not within reach; for these occasions I developed wireless hand controllers with an accelerometer and buttons to control a defined set of parameters. I bundled parameters in pairs, so I can think of them as a two-dimensional entity, thus spatially (basically an XY-control field). These I mapped so that I can intuitively apply hand gestures to navigate this space, making use of the natural limitations of hand rotation and proprioception. The same set is mirrored on an iPad for multitouch control, to provide a different mode of access, and of course foot pedals and switches tend to hang around, too. Whenever hands have to also play keys of a saxophone, controlling gets messy. Combining foot switches with torso twisting; one-handed playing - it's an ongoing research to provide intuitive control freedom for diverse, quickly- transitioning situations... How does digital technology help with improvisation in a performance situation? My setup for the Hybrid Instrument aims for the creation and treatment of an additional layer, in direct dialog / exchange with to the direct sound (which might still be filtered and / or digitally altered otherwise). It re-purposes the played material to provide improvisational impulses to me and / or others. The transformation engine 'samples' the control gestures, and loops them in a non-synchronized way, so that complex patterns might emerge. I encourage the machine to surprise me. More extreme treatment helps to shape sounds to the extended range of sound imagination; glitches and harsh fissures, extreme pitch shifting and distortion, and so on. The control layer preferably should have instant access to all relevant parameters to rect in no-time to the speed of free improvisation.

What are the processes you typically use and why?

As a basis, I use delay and live sampling with a modified DD3, and diverse sizes of reverb. All these help to weave the breath-limited wind instrument output into longer strands of sound, and provide a way to escape monophony; one sampled or reverberated tone providing the backdrop for new ones, which might again be included in (or replace) the accompanying layer, etc. I guess the origin of my use of these came from the experience of playing saxophone in huge concrete hallways in a bunker, and from working with friends for a recording with their ambient / drone band. When performing together with poets or writers, I tend to see my music as a carrier wave, on which their layer of information and emotion is travelling. In those cases, I like to not push too much into the foreground, and reverb & delay help to establish the feeling of a stream of sounds, as opposed to a 'jazz solo' feeling. I apply resonant filtering (like with a wah pedal) and pitch shifting, to re- interpret the sonic qualities of the sampled material. And a custom sampling engine built in Max, to chaotically re-use sounds, introducing rhythmic and chaotic looping. The aim is to nurture and tame a layer that has consistency & variety at the same time, and is entirely based on input that happened within the specific performance - sound input, and also control gesture input.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a musician in the digital age?

Some tips for musicians about to entangle with technology: When tempted to change your setup, it's useful to test additions and changes in real-life performance situations - but always maintain a 'playable core', so you have a fallback in case something behaves strangely. Keep the core of a setup unchanged long enough so you have a chance to become familiar with it, and focus on the music instead of the technology. It is rewarding to pull controlling-processes (or at least gestures) from the mousepointer-navigated world into the physical world. Visit STEIM in Amsterdam for help & inspiration!