It doesn't make much difference how the paint is put on, as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement. - Jackson Pollock
When I was in New York in the nineties I had one important mission; to visit MoMA and see the paintings of Jackson Pollock. I had become familiar with the output of this pioneer of abstract expressionism and founder of the action and drip painting movement, through reading a number of articles, an informative biography by Leonhard Emmerling and the Ed Harris biographical “Pollock”. What had always fascinated me about his work was that these seemingly chaotic paintings, apparently the result of some arbitrary, unconstructed process could manifest such a wonderful sense of harmony and coherence.
I’ve always found there were some very striking parallels between the way Pollock’s work originated, and how the music of WPP is created. It is never a clearly defined idea, nor a preconceived melody that suddenly presents itself out of the blue. Some melodies of course reveal themselves while improvising on the piano, but I can’t count the times when totally unintentional acts lead me to that feeling of euphoria and shed a completely new light on a composition or arrangement.
A wrong chord or note, a computer glitch generating the wrong information, or just some random notes improvised out of frustration, boredom, (or even due to the creative influence of a few drinks!), within the frame of a work in progress. The wrong riff in the wrong song or place, they can all lead to fascinating twists and turns of events, and suggestions of the direction in which I should be heading. Obvious one can not deny his musical heritage and sometimes it seeps through into the composition. I started playing drums when I was about 7 years of age Deep Purple’s Ian Paice being my great example. I was deeply touched by the “Concerto for group and orchestra” composed by the great, late Jon Lord. From there on it was just a small leap to music with a more orchestral textures, adventurous harmonies and rhythms rather than the more riff orientated rock of Deep Purple.
In the progressive rock scene I found just that, with Yes being my all time favourite rock band. During my music education I got to know the music of Stravinsky, and “The sacre du printemps“ in particular. This masterpiece truly was a revelation for me and much to the relief of my parents I stopped playing the drums in favour of studying the piano, for I wanted to compose music.
Aside from classical music I gradually became aware of jazz and improvised music. Especially the music of Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek, and mainly Lyle Mays.
I never intend to make music that can be categorised in a well framed direction, for the composition can take me everywhere. And that is why I always think it is more of a compliment rather than an insult when people say the music of Wallpaper Poets is difficult to classify.
The state of today’s digital recording technology also makes it possible to work with musicians from all around the globe simply by forwarding an MP3 or WAV file and this offers a lot of creative freedom to a composer.
Through the collaboration supported by this technology I was able to finalise “The other side of maybe suite” just as I had it in mind, but without the interest, energy and contributions of all musicians involved, it would not have been possible.
1. What's in a name.... "Wallpaper Poets"
It must have been 1992 when after an evening in the pub and far too many beers, I returned home and started playing the piano. Suddenly this catchy chorus came out and I started to improvise some lyrics. My relationship just stranded I was quite moody at the time and mumbled:
But every now and then I got to make it on my own
but every now and then I got to brake away from it all
In order not to forget these words when I was sober the next morning, I grabbed a pen but couldn't find a decent piece of paper so I scribbled it on the wallpaper...
When working on this project some of the first songs I started toiling around with were those which were later to become “Morning prayer” and “Tabula rasa”. The basis of these compositions stem from the random manipulations as I tried to become acquainted with my new digital playground.
I had no more than this broken rhythm, and a nice loop with some chords on top. One day my very dear friend Joris B.B. came over to our house to introduce his very charming wife Ping Ren. Interested in what I was doing musically these days, I took them to my studio and by means of demonstrating what this programme was capable of, I played the tunes mentioned above..
Suddenly Ping, who I met for the first time just an hour before, started singing this Chinese folk tune on top of all this directionless sound and rhythm. I immediately connected with that, and installed the microphone to capture her wonderful vocals.
Afterwards it took me a load of work to compose the final arrangement, and nearly drove my wife nuts with these “ Pingeling vocals” as she called them, she must have heard them pass by in the studio a thousand times whilst I was arranging the music. But I think it was worth it, my wife apparently still traumatised, skips this track.
3. Ladies and Gentleman: Mister Jack Van Poll
Apart from the other four core members, I knew there was one man I wanted to feature on the album, my good friend the Dutch jazz legend Sir Jack Van Poll.
I went over to his house and gave him a listen to the demo of “Tabula rasa” beginning with that nervous sequence line. He said ok, and we arranged to meet up in my studio a couple of weeks later.
When Jack arrived round 16.00pm that very day at my house he was quite nervous, informing me that he only had time till 18.00pm as he was expecting guests that evening.
It was a beautiful September afternoon and my charming wife Yolande suggested that we first have a drink on the terrace, before heading to the studio. No problem as the studio was already installed in operation mode.
Jack informed me, between sips of wine, that he hadn't had time to figure anything out yet. Obviously enjoying the wine, the nice weather and the company Jack started telling these hilarious stories about his time out on the road in America, but studio time was fast disappearing!
Somewhere around 17.20pm I carefully commented that we still had a recording session to be done. "Yes that is true, I still have some playing to do", he responded enthusiastically. We went over to my sonic lab, and he asked me what exactly I had in mind, not really prepared for this question I must have responded something like “an electric piano solo in the vein of Chick Corea…or so”. I let the tape run and pressed the recording knob. Somewhere around 17.46pm we were sipping our wine on the terrace again and Jack left at 18.00pm sharp. The fabulous solo on the CD is what happened that day!
When the recording was progressing I became aware I needed some saxophone solo’s and flute parts. I only know one man who could handle that job, my old friend Paul van Laere, who I hadn’t seen for about 10 years. As it happens with musicians, ego’s, and especially two very stubborn characters such as Paultje and me, we had some very memorable moments in the past but unfortunately also some less memorable.
So with a very small heart, and after a beer or three, I found the guts to phone him, preparing myself to be sent walking with an excuse: no time, too busy etc…. When I caught Paultje on the telephone I told him what I was doing at the moment, he asked me to mail him a song and he would see what it suggested to him. That same day I sent him “When the city sleeps”, exactly 24 hours later I found an email in my mailbox containing 5 (!) saxophone solo’s. It was from these solo’s that I arranged the final solo, featured on the CD, with multi tracking 5 different solo parts on top of each other in the end section.
A week later I went over to his studio to record the flute and Soprano saxophone sections. Listen to the flute riff on “Tabula rasa”, it’s Paultje playing 3 different parts on each instrument: (9 parts in total!) Piccolo flute, Alto flute and flute. This was one of the most rewarding sessions I was ever involved in, not only music wise, but I became aware our bond and friendship was unbreakable.
5. The kempi word
When the saxophone solo in “When the city sleeps” takes off, I mumble: “Come on Kempi take it away”. This is a small dedication to the best friend a man can wish for, considering you don’t have a dog, my dear friend Peter “Kempi” Kempenaers. He was a generous sponsor during our stay at Music City when band economics didn’t flourish as forecasted. Kempi lives in the hill’s of Kempiland surrounded by his kempians.
Playing in a band creates a magical bond between musicians. When goals are equal, progress is made, ambition is sky high and individual talent is put to the test every time you enter that
rehearsing room or hit the stage. When Wallpaper Poets resided in Music City no doubt this was one of the most intense, happy and satisfying periods in my life. Not only did we create some great
music but the camaraderie, that uncompromised faith in ourselves and the realisation that we always could rely on each other was priceless. But as it happens economics, misunderstandings, pride and
the dreaded intersection between music and the rest of the world made us drift apart. As time passed and the disillusionment was processed, I became aware what an indelible mark of friendship was
left on my heart by this bunch of pleasantly insane guys
Settled in our new life’s and with revised musical goals I figured out that making a Wallpaper Poets album without a contribution, however small, from Schram, Gouskov, B.B. Liégeois, and Tops would be a mockery of our own little music history how insignificant that may be for the rest of the world.
7. Bart Schram
Bart Schram is the lead vocalist of the Belgian progressive rock band M!ndgames. He has a unique high pitched voice that perfectly blends with the powerful arrangements of Wallpaper Poets. When he enters the studio he usually starts pounding on the piano in his own very peculiar style. To a chord sequence he roduced on the piano I added a chorus and intro, this song became the prologue of the suite Journey’s end. He often is referred to as the Egg person, for he has a thumb with the size of a smartphone and the shape of a Goose egg.
8. Vladimir Gouskov
Vladimir Gouskov no doubt is the most challenging person I have ever had the honour to work with. Not only the way he plays the electric guitar, but also his distinct views on music and harmony are
utterly exciting but sometimes hard to comprehend. During the Music City days we often had our escalating threats, but we always settled and cherished a great and deep respect for each other.
I very much wanted to involve him in the project realizing that this would not be easy, for Vladi nowadays is focused on writing music software, or something related. When I asked him if he was
prepared to contribute some guitar parts, he answered quite unexpectedly: “We shall see, ...maybe…”. I gave him the demos and waited.
A few weeks later, during one of our two annual trips, when I go pick him up at the airport as he returns from Moscow I asked him for the casually if he already had some ideas for the demos I had handed over to him. Realising he suffers from motion sickness this maybe wasn’t the best moment to inquire, but he surprisingly answered in a super cooled tone: “We shall see, ...maybe…”. When we arrived at his place he assured me about the tunes that: “he would see,... maybe…and I certainly had not to pressurize him”. Message taken.
Day’s, even weeks went by… then suddenly I got this telephone call: “Geyrd, (that’s my name with a Russian inflection) I recorded some guitar parts for your music. Delighted and utmost curious I jumped in my car. When I arrived at his home he enthusiastically let me hear this wacky arrangement of what must have been about a hundred multi-tracked guitar parts. Satisfied and confused I returned to my sonic lab having enough guitar parts to write an opera with. All guitar parts and - mutated guitar synthesised sounds - on “The other side of maybe “(the track) and “On the eve of a brand new day” come from this session. I must confess I didn’t use them all !
9. Joris B.B. Liégeois
After a less successful encounter with a cellar door playing the bass guitar became a perilous job for Joris B.B. Liégeois due to an injured finger. He now sings and plays the acoustic guitar in a band that is inspired by folk, klesmic and gypsy music. Being a very talented vocalist he was responsible for the majority of the backing vocal parts on the “The other side of maybe suite”. For those who wonder where the B.B. stands for, he is also known as the action figure Boris Beffer who together with his best friend Billie Banger survives all sorts of amazing adventures in a novel that will be published in an unspecified time in the future. I wonder who the hell that Billie Banger figure might be…
10. Ivo Tops
Ivolius Tops, Ivo for the friends, is a very skilled and versatile drummer who is active in the blues and roots scene. He assisted me during the production in the drums and percussion department.
Being a strong supporter of the back to basics concept he downsized his drum kit with the size of an airplane carrier to a Yambù and a hi-hat. This particular percussion set up will be prominently
featured on the next Wallpaper Poets album Pazuzu. Ivolius is also highly valued for his wise reflections and one-liners. Here some samples of his oeuvre:
- What good is a great talent, if in life you are an asshole
- There is only one straight line in life, -The Line- from the cradle to the Grave, and even that line is a curve.
How I love these guys!
Gerd Willekens - Brecht, July 2012