Mini Interview: Jan-Bas Bollen


Jan-Bas Bollen is a composer, bass player, programmer and educator.

What got you started?

It is hard for me to trace the beginnings of my fascination with music, since both my parents were professional musicians. It was a coming and going of musicians and artists. Music was always around and my bed was situated next to the upright piano on which they were studying the classical repertoire several hours a day. A lot of Bach, Mozart, Schumann, Debussy, etc. By the time I left house at 18, I almost finished my violin studies at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. I also started to write my own music back then and from the very beginning technology has been a theme in my development. Not surprisingly, since as a young boy I was already fooling around with reel-to-reel recorders (cutting and splicing the tape, playing it in reverse) and tube radios (creating noise by turning dusty dials).

How do you know when something you are working on is finished?

In composition, it is not so much a matter of how long a composition should become, since I usually plan its length beforehand after having assured myself that I can hear the piece internally from beginning to end. However, this phenomenon does not give me an entirely detailed impression. So it is more a question about how much more detail I can put into a work. I’m constantly asking myself: How deep should I go? At any time, the employment of a particular refinement is weighed against its contribution to the language, idea and scope of a new work. In improvisation, there are other forces at work, but I rather not talk about that here since it should remain a mystery, it is more powerful unsolved.

When do you like to use chance or random processes?

I hardly use them as structural tools, only in a contained environment. In composition often to create momentum, in sound design to make the sounds come alive.

What’s something that you would like to be able to do with technology in your work but you can’t at the moment?

Writing more pieces and doing more programming – in less time. Alas, they all remain painstaking jobs. And there is an eternal contradiction at play. I notice some of my students spending a huge amount of time struggling to write complex code while the job that it is meant to do could be achieved by hand in half the time. When I point this out to them, they usually tell me that they are working on a tool that they can then use for new projects in the future. But they often do not realize that in the electronic arts almost every new work needs new code, a new approach.

What inspires you?

Anything can inspire me, but there are a few recurring elements.
Classical music can still inspires me and there is a lot of contemporary written music I totally admire, Boulez, Ligeti, Grisey…
Also, any sound I’ve not heard before. There’s a lot of interesting sound design going on in recent Drum ‘n Bass.
Dance music in general, but especially IDM and oldskool Funk and HipHop.
Abstract visual art.
Experimental film.
Great Asian food.
And many, many more things and ideas.

What is the most difficult obstacle you need to overcome in order to do your thing?

Feeling imprisoned by life itself or my experience and interpretation of it. Not feeling free. The Earthly Bounds, in short. Technology is not helpful, never solves any fundamental issue. Art does not solve any fundamental issue, either. Both are tremendous fun, though. Playing the electric bass can bring them together for me and can deliver a panacea.

Jan-Bas’s website

Some recent work: