Beyond the scene: An interview with Christophe Albertijn
Beyond the scene: An interview with Christophe Albertijn, music facilitator at the first Halaqat music residency.
By Dounya Hallaq
Can you tell us what your role in the residency was?
In my professional life, I work in different fields. Now, I mainly work with dancers. Before, I also worked in a studio, in production.
I was called by Teun Verbruggen from Werkplaats Walter to participate in the residency. I have known Teun for a long time and we have the same taste in music. He trusted me for this project, which is built on improvisation, discovering new universes. This type of music is not very traditional; therefore, it requires some expertise in the fields of sound and improvisation to allow musicians to experiment and create pieces within few days, even if the structure is not very clear.
How did the meeting with the artists go?
Great. I already knew Soet Kempeneer and Mattias de Craene. Soet because we were part of a common project some time ago (a disk recording), and because I often attended concerts in which he performed. I know Mattias through his music. I was very curious to meet the other musicians, Elyse Tabet and Yara Asmar from Lebanon and Amine Dhouibi from Tunisia. I am also interested in music from the Middle East.
From the first day, everyone was very open and ready to share. They were generous, relaxed, especially on a human level. They treated me like I was one of them.
It was interesting, for example, to talk with musicians from the Arab world, because I realized that we have a lot of things in common, and it really helps to talk about music, even if we realised it was not obvious, and I did have some presumptions that were incorrect.
When we started to work, it was very intense. I immediately started recording everything so that I could listen to it again. There was a lot to rework, especially in terms of sound, and many differences in the approach too. Some musicians wanted more structure, others more freedom. Some of them work on electronics, which is different than improvising with traditional instruments.
It was all very rich! We played a lot, recorded, listened to recordings, discussed, started again. It wasn´t always easy but everyone was open and generous, so we were working in a nice atmosphere.
Were there any particular difficulties, due to the fact that they come from different backgrounds, for example?
We immediately spoke a very similar language. I talked a lot about techno music with Elyse, experimental music with Yara and jazz with Amine. Likewise, Mattias or Soet also have a wide range of (global) influences, which seems obvious in the field of jazz and electronic music.
The difficulty is more on a musical level when it comes to improvisation. There are a thousand ways to improvise. Some are coming more from a jazz tradition, others work in an experimental way more on sound and less on musical structures. The approaches are different and really personal. Therefore, we also talked about strategies to structure certain parts so that we didn’t present just 45 minutes of jamming on the stage.
Did you prepare for the concert on the first day?
Yes, from the first day we had in mind to create together, so we immediately recorded. We understood that there is, for example, a very interesting way to start, like respecting the silences. Strategies helped to create.
From this point of view, the Open Jam was a little different because we had to improvise and do something different as a project. We played with Teun Verbruggen and Stian Westerhus.
Did you record everything?
Yes. We recorded and listened to everything right away. Every day in the afternoon, we had a long 40-minute set, which we listened to the next day. We were always very surprised to see how it was different from what we had imagined.
When I listened to some recordings after the residence, I was surprised to see that it was still something new!
And did you work individually with each one?
We have always worked in group. At Werkplaats Walter, but also outside: we went for a drink together to talk about music. We also talked about the very striking situation in Beirut.
The Halaqat project also aims to create links between artists from the Arab world and those from Europe. Do you find that the residence achieved this objective?
Yes, we had some very interesting musical exchanges. And it must be said that artists from the Arab world are very familiar with musical production in Europe.
But on a human level, other moments beyond the creative space were also very important: when we went for a drink, when we had lunch together. From this point of view, five days of residence was not enough for the participants to really get to know each other. So if there was any feedback to offer, I would say that we should have given ourselves a little more time to get to know each other on the human level and to better understand each other's situation, because we were not there only for the music!
It is true that music residencies are generally shorter than in other fields such as dance, where participants really have time to live together on a daily basis.
Christophe has had a lifelong interest in music and sound recording. From home recording experiments in his early teens with tape recorders and home-made devices to studies in documentary film and electro-acoustic music composition, his passion led him to his work as a sound engineer from the late 1990s until today. In this capacity, he has worked with everything from large-scale classical music productions to engineering and mixing mainstream pop records to teaching film sound production and recording, technical production, live sound production and recording, to mixing and mastering for a large variety of projects as a freelance sound engineer. He has worked for dancers, filmmakers and visual artists on sound design, post production, and creating and performing original music. He has composed and performed music for the work of choreographers including: Uiko Watanabe; Sara Manente; Varinia Canto Vila; Nada Gambier; Jonas Chereau, Madeleine Fournier, and Marcos Simoes; Lilia Mestre; Gaetan Bulourde; Cecilia Lisa Eliceche; and more. In 2020, the label HUIS was created to document musicians and architecture. Since October 2020, HUIS has released 6 recordings and a short documentary video, in collaboration with architects, theoreticians, and developers. Currently, several more recordings are planned to be released, with future collaborations in Belgium and internationally.