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Arne Deforce

Ph credits: Koen Dewaele

Where were you born?

In the coastal city Ostend at the Belgian North Sea.

Where do you live?

In Jabbeke in a nice nineteenth-century house.

Why did you start playing music?

Because I felt an irresistible urge to do so, to give my life meaning and purpose with the beauty and transcendent power of music. The composers who triggered me to become a musician were Johann Sebastian Bach, Béla Bartók and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

What is your favourite instrument?     

The cello. As a listener though I often lean towards the piano. From the very beginning, I was captivated by the cello’s wide range and its vast scale of expressive sound possibilities. The adventure of exploring and emancipating all the cello’s other ‘hidden’ voices, from the purest harmonic or warm full tones, through brittle or sharp glassy timbres to the abrasive and scraping ‘grain’. That I wanted to be a cellist of experimental and contemporary music was a given from the very start.

What music did you listen to as a child?    

I was raised on classical music (my mother was a piano teacher) and some jazz. Back then, I listened to all the great works, from Bach to Ligeti.

What was your first record?

Béla Bartók, the string quartets, followed by Bach’s Goldberg Variations with Glenn Gould, and an avant-garde Wergo record with Ligeti’s Atmosphères and Nouvelles-Aventures. I was around 16 at the time.

What musical period would you like to live in?

Without a doubt today. Although I would also have loved to have experienced the ‘joyful dissonance’ and avant-garde of the liberating 1960s, the creative performances and adventurous festivals. Today, however, the ideology of modernism and progress from that era is in a transition of great metamorphosis into new art movements that, I hope, promote the concepts of ecology and the fundamental connection between human and non-human life forms, nature, and society. I think, for instance, of the new worlds made possible by digital technologies and how they bring us closer to the fascinating world of bio- and eco-acoustics, revealing a whole new realm of sound worlds we had no idea about until recently. In this field, there is an unprecedented wealth of new musical possibilities to develop and discover using instruments and cutting-edge live electronics. These are such exciting developments that I would not want to miss and would love to participate in and make music about.

Where do you prefer to listen to music?

In my studio, on my sound system, or with good headphones and live music, of course, in the great concert halls or bizarre spaces with fabulous acoustics.

Where can we find you when you are not making music?

At home, at work, reading a book, wandering around the city or in a bookshop, a contemporary art museum, or an exhibition centre.

Where did you study? 

I studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and Ghent followed by the Orpheus Institute in Ghent and Leiden where I did a PhD in the arts.

What awards have you received?

There are a few that matter for the type of music I play.

Who is your favourite composer?

Iannis Xenakis and Claude Debussy to name two instead of one.

The composers and musicians for whom I have a distinct preference are those who explore new horizons and open our ears and minds to the infinitely Other, the unexpected of life and things, creating a sense and art of wonder.

Which composer would you like the public to (re)discover?

If there is one masterpiece I would like to bring to a wider audience, it is Iannis Xenakis’ 1978 ‘Pléïades’ for six percussionists. Must hear and exceptional piece in every respect.

What was your first recording?

A recording I made together with British composer Jonathan Harvey featured his cello works and two of my improvisations, which inspired him for the composition of the cello part of Summerclouds Awakening.

What is your favourite recording? (Passacaglia, with you)       

‘Limite les rêves au-delà’ of Hèctor Parra.

Who do you dream of recording with? (realistic or not)          

Patricia Kopatchinskaya for her liberating, wild, and ecstatic approach to modern music and extraordinary musical imagination, as in her fantastic recording of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

Which piece have you never recorded but would like to?

Brian Ferneyhough’s utopian ‘Time and Motion Study II’ could be part of an ambitious 4-CD compilation containing a historical survey of works for cello and live electronics. But more important would be the recording of a series of new large-scale commissioned works that I am now working on with various composers.

What do you do before a concert?

I try to empty my mind and prepare my body and entire being to play with as much freedom as possible.

What do you do after a concert?

Nothing. Catching a breath, having a beer, and having a chat with some friends, if they like, about the music they just heard.

What would you do if you were not a musician?

Be an artist or an architect-designer.

Is there anything important to add?

Yes, a short statement, if you like.

In light of the new climate regime and the many crises we face today, I believe we don’t need nostalgia or melancholy in music, but the joyful ecstasy of new visions that propel us into new forms of consciousness. To create, through music, a new sense of wonder about man’s complex and sometimes unpredictable relationships and intrinsic connection with nature and the cosmos. Hence my admiration for Iannis Xenakis and Claude Debussy for their visionary and profoundly imaginative, non-anthropocentric approach to music. Using them as an example, I would say that we should be open to exploring new and different aesthetics in music that express the fundamental interconnectedness of human and non-human life forms, including the electronic. A pursuit of new music of the future that triggers our imagination for the fabulous soundscapes of nature, of which we are part, and the full spectrum and nature of sound in an all-encompassing cosmology, from the spin of cells to swirling galaxies.