The Wire on Gert-Jan Prins
"These boxes make sound as soon as you switch them on," says Dutch electronic improvisor, Gert-Jan Prins
of his hotwired music equipment. " A solo performance is about getting them to go in the direction you want,
in accordance with how you feel and what sounds good in the room with the PA,
then bringing that energy to the public and cleaning the club walls with the sound system.
Some people seemed even to like the PrinsLive CD (released on GROB) for that reason;
they listen to it loud and start cleaning their house.
For Prins, who currently lives in Amsterdam, these boxes are essentially homemade radios
that feed back on themselves. They spit, fizz, judder, let off steam, ripple and pulse with analogue and sometimes
It was the magic of radio that inspired Prins to start "seriously soldering" back in 1976, at the same time as
he was playing drums."I was doing transmitter and radioelectronics just for fun," he recalls.
"At 15 me and a couple of boys in our block were constructing FM range transmitters and antennas
and talking to each other-and people in other towns-by air. Up to the age of 20 i was living like a radio amateur.
Although he continued to play drums in a variety of Improv projects through the 80s and into the early 90s,
Prins finally had the bright spark of combining his electronic knowledge with his musical endeavours
some 20 years later,when he was invited to create a group composition for Quartetto New Amsterdam.
"The piece came out like electronically distorted chamber music,"he remembers,"and that was the beginning
of a new period". The electronics gave me more developed sound possibilities. Some people liked it, others said,
'Why don't you play percussion, what is that shit?' There was a crossover period when Prins was playing
electronics and drums simultaneously, but since 1998 he has devoted himself solely to his circuitry.
Significantly, he says that he still feels like he's playing drums with his current set-up,and over the years he has
developed a remarkable expressive and frequently percussive facility with his electronics, honed in performance
with collaborators ranging from Dutch improvising pianist Misha Mengelberg to Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo.
He continues to refine his equipment at home through a process of trial and error, "I started by taking a portable
household radio and putting small homemade transmitters directly onto the speaker cones," says Prins,
explaining the evolution of his system."If you put too much signal into the transmitter it feeds back".
At a certain point I decided I wanted to make a more hi-fidelity sound, so i built these four slightly different transmitters
and receivers and put their output signals into a mixing desk, where i can also manipulate them.
I've recently introduced four laboratory square-wave generators which can manipulate the chain of feedback
giving the rhythmic sounds, which i can also make with the radio boxes themselves.
Prins often incorporates TV into his live performance with bright flashes of broken colour streaking
across the screen in an apparently random fashion. Another feature of Prins's system is that it can incorporate
a microphone feed from a live instrumentalist. On Dawn, a superb one-off live collaboration with Peter van Bergen
and Christian Fennesz recorded at Berlin's Total Music Meeting in 2000, he sounds like a more abrasive Keith Rowe
with radio shards roughened up, spurting, spluttering and stammering. Van Bergen's saxophone gets fed into
Prins's system and breaks up with violence, finally disintegrating and disappearing into the maelstrom and FM static.
Prins performs predominantly to improvised music audiences though as influences on his solo pieces
he cites" the music and the mentality" of Iggy Pop's Raw Power, Pita, The Velvet Underground's White Light / White Heat,
Peter van Bergen and Pan Sonic. It's easy to see how the energy, provocation and visceral power of these
inspirations inform Prins's work (check out the RG5 GJ 12" on Creamgarden as a great example of telescoped highlights
put together in his home studio).The new young audience that has developed over the last five years for improvised and
electronic musics seem to 'get' it, even if some of the more established Improv audiences occasionally don't.
Prins is a member of MIMEO, the electronics 'supergroup' formed around AMM guitarist Keith Rowe that played
a large part in raising the profile of the new generation of electronic players among improvised music audiences.
Right now the group are undergoing some kind of rethink about how to proceed, but Prins is kept more than busy
with his soloperformances and various collaborative projects.He's played 58 shows this year- mainly in Europe,
but also ten dates on the Westcoast of the USA with flautist Anne La Berge, and five dates in Australia and New Zealand
withThe Flirts, his duo with analogue synth player Cor Fuhler. He also found time to act as one quarter of The Vacuum Boys,
a jokey electronica quartet which includes an ex-member of Stilluppsteypa.
Historically Prins's work has many precedents, from the homemade boxes and circuits of John Cage's great collaborator
David Tudor, to the 'cracked everyday electronics' of the Swiss duo Voice Crack.
Then there are the folk who have subverted the normal functioning of the domestic CD player such as Nic Collins,
Oval and Yasunoa Tone. But Prins suggests his work is closest to the no-input mixing desk system used as a
performance instrument by Toshimaru Nakamura, Jeff Carey and Marco Ciciliani, since his radios can also form
feedback loops with his mixing desk.
"That system is more straightforward, more clean,less chaotic than mine," he quickly qualifies.
"You can control it more easily. I like to work with something that is a little bit unstable and out of control.
Recent releases: Gert-Jan Prins RG58 GJ (Creamgarden12"); Cor Fuhler & Gert-Jan Prins The Flirts (Erstwhile);
The Vacuum Boys play Songs from the Sea of Love (Fire Inc); Van Bergen/Prins/Fennesz
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