The Malta Independent 22 September 2018, Saturday

Of music, maps and migration

Tuesday, 12 June 2018, 10:46 Last update: about 4 months ago

With the innovative Map of the Mediterranean poetry-and-music concert just around the corner, we chat to composers Luc Houtkamp and Guy Harries to discover the inspiration behind this very special event

There's always something magical that happens when a piece of music finds the perfect words to go with it, or vice versa. It is what translates either poetry or a melody into song.

And it's with that in mind that the '21st century chamber ensemble' POW decided to put together a concert, inspired by the 'Map of the Mediterranean' poem by Maltese poet Antoine Cassar. It is a concert of new songs, music and recited poetry that will explore how migration and travel has, over the centuries, defined Mediterranean culture, its background, language, cuisine, music and lifestyle, and will debut on 20 June to mark World Refugee Day, with another two shows on 21 and 22 June.

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"I worked as an improviser for many years," explains Luc Houtkamp, the Dutch composer and saxophonist who first founded the ensemble. "With a background in jazz, I barely composed anything for the first 30 years of my career. But, at some point, I got involved in electronic music because I wanted to explore other musical areas than the ones that were possible with my saxophone. That all meant I needed to plan ahead much more while producing music, so you could call that my first serious experience with composing."

Later, when Luc founded the POW Ensemble, he started to write real compositions because he wanted to do more than just freely improvise. "At the same time artistic freedom became very important to me," he says. "I don't really try to compose masterpieces (that might be for future generations to decide!). I write music for this moment; for people and situations that I know. As the context of the music is different each time, I want to use all the stylistic elements that are around me. So music can contain everything from experimental sounds to cheesy pop songs, and influences from jazz to classical and everything in between."

For Luc, the idea behind the POW Ensemble was to have a unit that uses new electronic media in combination with acoustic elements. So, from day one, they have been a computer music ensemble, with an emphasis on 'ensemble'. "A lot of live electronic music happens by soloist, whether they are a DJs or an experimental musician," Luc continues. "I think that there are a lot of possibilities to be explored in an ensemble context, and not many people have. So this makes the POW Ensemble rather unique."

Composer Guy Harries chose to join the ensemble in 2001, when he was still living in the Hague. "I was mainly playing and composing with live electronics at the time, so, when Luc told me he wanted to start an ensemble playing electronic music, I was really interested to join. I also loved the very open approach of working in the ensemble, where songwriting, contemporary composition, popular music influences and improvisation all come together. This is very much my aesthetic approach: not limiting myself to one style or approach but fusing whatever musical materials I feel could work well together to tell a story. Since then I've had lots of adventures with the ensemble, working in Indonesia, South Africa and all over Europe and working with Middle Eastern, jazz, blues, pop, free improvisation and classical music."

And although there have been many highlights for the ensemble so far, both men (who will perform with poet Antoine Cassar and Tom Armitage on keyboards on the night) believe Map of the Mediterranean will be a very special event.

Asked why he wanted to take part in it, Guy explains that, having grown up near Tel Aviv, he feels very connected to the Mediterranean Sea, and it is a major part of his childhood memories. "I have visited many countries around the Mediterranean over the years and love their cultures and musical traditions. A recurring theme in my work is migration and how it has enriched, and still enriches, human civilisation. Taking part in this project is an opportunity to integrate the musical influences I love so much and relate to the beautiful poem written by Antoine that engages deeply with the nature of this geographical area as well as the current issue of migration."

Meanwhile, Luc also thinks that migration is a very relevant theme for Malta. "Of course we all know the sad stories from the recent refugee crises, and they will certainly be part of the project. But there is so much more. Migration has formed the Mediterranean to what it is now: an amalgam of many different cultures. And Malta is right at its centre!" he says.

"We didn't want to only tell of all the misery, but also show the positive things: the mixing of cultures, religion, music, art, food. One of the songs in the programme is about the aubergine, for instance; it's everywhere in dishes across the Mediterranean, and has therefore become a symbol of migration like so many others. This will be an opportunity to celebrate exactly, as well as to honour all those who have struggled for it."

 

The 'Map of the Mediterranean' concert will take place at Maori in Valletta between the 20th and 22 June. Tickets are free. This event forms part of the Valletta 2018 programme.

 

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