Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: I tend to call myself a musicmaker, rather than a musician or a composer. That’s because my involvement in music is much broader than whats covered by those traditional namings.
Aos. At what age did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in Music?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: I got enrolled in the conservatory of music at age 6, but only at age 16 I decided to go for music, new music exclusively though.
Aos. I understand you studied Musicology and Philosophy at the Ghent State University along with studying Piano, Clarinet, Percussion and Composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music of Ghent. Do you feel your Musical Education helped you become the Composer you are today and what particular musical style of composition have you worked on? Can you tells us briefly about your Compositions from Chamber Music, Electronic, Electroacoustic to Sound Poetry?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: My university studies in retrospect, may have contributed a lot more to my musicianship at the end than what we got to learn at the conservatory. Almost nothing of what I realised in composition was thought at the conservatory, new music being a real taboo there. It’s mostly through my international contacts and collaborations that I’ve been able to build a solid ground for relevant contributions to the realms of composition as well as instrument building. As to my compositional work: very much by decision, I have not written anything for the sclerotic symphony orchestra nor for the opera. Chamber music though, where people closely work together in a much less hierarchic format, has always been my favorite format.
Aos. What year did you create the Logos Foundation and can you tell us your vision behind the organisation and how it has evolved since?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: I started with logos in the academic year 1968/69, a bit by accident. I wrote a piece called ‘Logos 3:5’ performed by a small group of students at the conservatory. That piece caused quite a scandal, eventualy leading to our ban from the conservatory. The group stayed together, with changes on the road of course, and in 1976 became the Logos Foundation properly speaking. It had always been a new music production centre ever since.
Aos. The Robot Orchestra is a really interesting innovative music ensemble in terms of music and technology. I also believe it is largest Robot orchestra in the World. Can you tell us about ‘the Robot Orchestra’? How and why did this ensemble come about? how many robot instruments are in the orchestra? Did you have a creative team to help you assemble this orchestra?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: The robot orchestra is the result of a long history. The insight that new music also requires new tools for musical expression, lead me to instrument building from an early age on. In the late sixties and seventies, this consisted almost exclusively in designing electronic equipment (synth’s and modulators). At some point we realized that electronic sound virtualises sound as it is invariable produced by loudspeakers. These things dissociate sound from its acoustic base. Moreover, electronics undermine the rethoric so essential in conveying music to an audience. Therefore, some 25 years ago, I went back to pure acoustical sound, but this time taking profit of the possibilities of modern technology. The musical robot was born. Automated instruments that by far exceed the limitations of human performers. It’s a work in progress. Machines always get better if you work on them, the same cannot be said of people. By now the orchestra consists of 67 robots. There is no larger robot orchestra in the world in as far as I know.
The robots are all made and designed by me. Some assistence from internal and external collaborators came in handy at times, but still, it’s mostly my work. Nevertheless, the orchestra is used by a pretty large group of collaborators as well as composers, locals as well as internationals. It’s made and designed for them, not in the first place for my own useage.
Aos. I believe an automated ‘Snare drum‘ (the Ludwig Snare drum) made by yourself (Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes) was commissioned by the electronic artist ‘Aphex Twin‘ (Richard D.James) in 2014. Why did ‘Aphex Twin’ order you to make a Robot Snare drum? Was their any specific request in the creation of this particular Robot musical instrument?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: The snare drum robot I made for him was commissioned after I finished the HAT (Hit Any Thing) robot for him some time before. My machines are very professionaly made and very precise and reliable.
Aos. Have you ever had any other requests from musicians or artists?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: Yes. I did build all required machinery for Georges Antheil‘s Ballet mechanique (Propellers, bell-machine, sirens…). For now, I cannot disclose further names though. Also, being alone for the construction, I do not have the possibility to respond to all requests.
Aos. I believe there has been some confusion on how some people may interpret the way in which you and your staff perform with the Robot Orchestra. Pictures of performances with you and your staff members fully naked engaging with the orchestra and instrumentation. I understand their is a logical performance and philosopical reason for this nudity. Can you explain these various reasons for our online audience please?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: If I would only make an entire robotorchestra, then the public would be confronted with nothing but automated music and be deprived of the convincing force of human performers. Therefore a designed different systems making it possible to interact and play with the robots based on expressive gesture. The technology is based on Doppler shifted reflections from the body skin, using either microwave of ultrasound. Nothing reflects better than the naked body, hence all performances using this technology are bound to be naked. It’s also part of a philosophy of course. Dance, being body expression is always best performed naked. At Logos we work with a small cast of highly trained and specialised dancers such as Emilie De Vlam and Dominica Eyckmans. The robots, by the way, are naked as part of their design and esthetic as well: they are fully readable machines lacking hidden parts.
Aos. Can you explain the benefits in terms of musicality between a Musical Robot Instrument over a human being playing an Instrument? Take for example ‘the Player Piano’
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: The player piano has 16 bit resolution in velocity of each of its 88 separate fingers. No human can ever get even close to this. The limit in reality is the piano itself. The hammer mechanism is not capable of performing more than ca.12 to 16 repeats a second. Obviously the robot itself does not ‘understand’ the music, nor will it interprete it, unless it’s told it in all its details by a human programmer. So, the still is a lot of human work and artistry involved.
Aos. Musical Robots are certainly instruments and machines that can create sounds of the future. I understand you are an innovative Composer of music, sound and technology who would prefer to develop a futuristic sound of your own rather than replicate a sound from the past. Do you challenge yourself on a regular basis in every aspect of your musical understanding, creation and ability?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: Indeed. I do use old music on the robots as a point of reference. By doing that you can compare their performance to the ‘known’. It gives them a degree of commensurability. However, I make them in order to create new sonic worlds and to make new compositional concepts possible. There are still many challenges and huge unsolved problems…. My life will certainly not last long enough to even touch with the required deepnes on them.
Aos. ‘How have you seen your career evolve over the past few decades?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: From composer, via composer/performer, to instrument builder and producer/ stage director.
Aos. Who is your favourite Composer / Artist and what Music do you listen too?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: I do not listen a lot to music, unless in concerts of course. Composers I particularly like are Xenakis, Barlow, Harvey, Stockhausen, Antheil, Nancarrow as well as some great old classics such as Strawinsky, Bach, Da Venosa, Monteverdi, Machault, Weill, Piazzolla… I tend to skip the 19th century.
Note that some of my favorite composers just do not work in recordings: Raaijmakers, Kagel, Riedl, Otte, Cage, Lucier.
Aos. What does the future hold for Godfried-Willem Raes, Logos Foundation and the Robot Orchestra?
Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes: Too many dark clouds to see through..
Aos. Many Thanks to Dr. Godfried-Willem Raes for Speaking, Sharing and Contributing to ‘Architect of Sound’. A pleasure talking to you Sir.
'Architect of Sound' wants to shed some light on the current situation surrounding a commission which has advised the Flemish Government to stop all funding for the Logos Foundation, an artist run centre for experimental Music and Sound Art based in Ghent, Belgium.
The Logos Foundation needs your support. Please spare a moment to Sign the petition (link below) and urge the Flemish Government to keep funding the wonderful Logos Foundation.
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