Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Pieter Nooten and review of new album Surround Us

Pieter Nooten by Adam Pryce
Pieter Nooten by Adam Pryce.

There are echoes of Brian Eno in this beautifully haunting collection of songs that straddle the definitions of classical and ambient music. Surround Us opens with Ode, which showcases the delicate strings of improv cellist Lucas Stam set against a lush orchestral backdrop provided by the electronic wizardry of pioneering musician Pieter Nooten. An End is a highlight for the dulcet tones of Stam‘s strings whilst the humming strums of Blue Wonder creates the perfect undercurrent for breathy vocals. Secret Room conjures up the world of a former recluse stepping back into life but Blue Square presents a narrative far more abstract. Belong brings the album to a beatific repose: perfect for lazy summer afternoons. Just don’t call it pop…

pieter nooten surround us album cover
You used to be part of Clan of Xymox – I will confess I know nothing of this intriguing sounding band which began life many a moon ago in the Netherlands – can you tell us a bit more about it and what your part was as a songwriter?
We signed to 4AD in the early 80’s. At that time I was intrigued by early electronica: affordable mono – as well as polyphonic synthesizers, triggering drum machines, step sequencing and so on in a pre and post-midi era. For the first two albums I contributed a lot; most tracks were distilled from my demo’s. After Xymox signed to a major US label I lost interest, mainly because the rest of the band, Ronny and Anka, decided to go for a more accessible sound. During that period I produced the highly acclaimed ambient cd Sleeps With The Fishes together with producer/guitarist Michael Brook, and decided to leave the band.

pieter nooten
How did you come to work entirely with electronic arrangements? Did you first have a grounding in traditional musical instruments and how did you teach yourself to make music?
When I was young I played several instruments: I started with drums, then played the bass guitar, a bit of electrical guitar and then moved on to keyboards. My dad was also sort of a multi instrumentalist, but totally self taught, autodidact. So there wasn’t an intention to choose one particular instrument or the other. You just picked it up and learned it along the way. This discipline has formed the basis of my composing technique.

Pieter Nooten, Surround Us by Julie Ritchie
Pieter Nooten, Surround Us by Julie Ritchie.

What has your heritage as a Dutch person contributed to your music making?
I find it hard to answer that. My influences vary from early Italian baroque, to German Krautrock, early ambient music and avant garde and new wave from the early 80’s. I am not a great pop music enthusiast. Never was. I have no interest in the archetypical anglo american pop music and I am not an R&B or rock fan. On the contrary, I find most guitar bands contrived if not reactionary conservative in their endless use of rock clichés and the puberal behaviour that seems to come with it. I am not sure if that has anything to do with my heritage but it could be. In other words, I like my music authentic but above all emotionally honest and subjectively personal.

You are quoted as being more influenced by classical music such as Bach than by modern pop – but are there any other modern pop musicians that you think we should listen to?
I really honestly do not keep up with contemporary pop music. In my opinion pop music had its renaissance in the 60’s and 70’s, overlapping the early 80’s. Just like baroque music had its heydays. After that it became a sort of repetition of old achievements over and over again. Something new needs to happen and I believe there are some bright signals on the horizon. I personally love some of the material of Sigur Ros, A Winged Victory Of The Sullen, Radio Head, Bjork and like minded explorers of new electronica.

Pieter Nooten by Anthony Peters.

Why is passion so important to you and what is the most passionate thing you can think of doing?
I cannot imagine composing without passion, how hopelessly romantic that may sound. What other reasons would there be to produce art in the first place? The flattering of a narcissistic Ego? Money? Fame? Not for me. I live quite a reclusive life and I enjoy being left alone. Composing music remains my greatest passion.

Pieter Nooten by EdieOP
Pieter Nooten by EdieOP.

Who do you hope that this album will reach, and how do you hope that your listeners will hear it?
I hope it will reach people that need to hear it! What can I say. I hope people will listen to it with a clear head, not comparing it to anything, as I have not composed it with a certain style or genre in mind. It’s done in total isolation, with only me, my laptop and the objective ears of my girlfriend who helped me not to make too many strange decisions during those moments when I was getting a bit lost in my own world!

YouTube Preview Image
YouTube Preview Image
Surround Us is out now and available through Rocket Girl Records.

Categories ,4ad, ,A Winged Victory Of The Sullen, ,Adam Pryce, ,Ambient, ,Anthony Peters, ,bjork, ,brian eno, ,classical, ,dutch, ,EdieOP, ,German Krautrock, ,improvisation, ,Julie Ritchie, ,Lucas Stam, ,Michael Brook, ,Pieter Nooten, ,Radio Head, ,Rocket Girl Music, ,Rocket Girl Records, ,Ronny and Anka, ,sigur ros, ,Sleeps With The Fishes

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