Interview Vincent van Meelberg

The last edition of NUKS contained an interview with professor Vincent Meelberg. This was a shortened version of a much longer interview, which you can read below. Enjoy! vincentmjam

Profile Name: Vincent Meelberg Born: April 1, 1970 Place of birth: Lemgo (Germany) Residency: Amsterdam Marital status: Living together Children: One son Education: Conservatory with double-bass light music (BA) and Classical music theory (BA) as the main subjects, Music studies (MA), Philosophy (MA), and Sound Design (MSc) Thesis subject: Narrativity in contemporary instrumentally composed music Research field: (interaction between) music and sound Instruments: Double-bass Occupation: University teacher

For this issue, we sat down with Dr. Vincent Meelberg to discuss music, sounds and career paths. Dr. Meelberg, who is in the middle of completing his Master of Science degree on sound design, was more than willing to receive us in his office. After some initial chitchat that music lovers tend to engage in, we let the tapes roll and went back to the beginning.

‘Like most of you, I started out learning the recorder,’ says Dr. Meelberg. ‘My father played drums, Hammond organ and later saxophone. He persuaded me into learning organ. I did that for about a year, but it wasn’t for me. I did still like music, though. Back then, I listened a lot to ‘80s new wave, like The Cure and The Cult. I tended to turn up the bass. When I was about 15 I figured I should learn to play bass guitar. Around the same time a friend who played drums asked me to play in his band. That’s when the music bug bit me.’

Rather than metamorphosing into a bug himself, Dr. Meelberg, started at conservatory at the relatively late age of 24. ‘That had to do with fear and uncertainty,’ Dr. Meelberg admits. ‘I kept asking myself: Am I good enough? What do I do later? I put it off for a while, until I told myself it’s now or never. It turned out to be a mixed blessing, as Rotterdam’s conservatory is known for its competitive drive. In the end, I’m glad I went. I don’t regret it now.’

Dr. Meelberg started at Radboud University after finishing his thesis. ‘Liedeke Plate asked me to substitute for Cultural Theory. That must have been around January 2006. Right then, a vacancy opened up because the music teacher was leaving. I applied for the part-time job, which eventually became my permanent position here. I have always sort of felt that the substitute role was kind of a test.’ One highlight of his time here was a jam session with harpist Lavinia Meijer and conservatory students. ‘But regular highlights are also back-and-forths between students and teacher in class!’

Besides being a teacher, Dr. Meelberg also performs in various formations. We asked him about his thoughts on musicianship and composing. ‘When I was young, I wanted to become a world-famous bass player. I know some people who have become famous, but I don’t think I would like it very much. I want to keep playing, and luckily I do that quite a lot. I like the interaction. It’s sort of the same as giving a lecture.’ After composing classical pieces in school, Dr. Meelberg nowadays focusses on electronic music. “Composing” for him is too big a word. He prefers to calling it “sound crafting”. Most of it ends up on Soundcloud, along with recordings of his improv trio. The debut album of his pop band, Soul Radio, is in the making. ‘It’s a mix of Jamiroquai and Medeski Martin & Wood. An ambitious comparison, but still! With Soul Radio I play electric double-bass, which is basically a broomstick with strings. Soul Radio probably the only band which consists of musicians who have a PhD: myself in music studies, the drummer in nuclear physics and the keyboardist in psychology.’

When asked which music theorist, dead or alive, he would like to have a beer with, Dr. Meelberg, after much pondering, answered with Theodor Adorno. ‘He’s said a lot of things I agree with, but even more things I don’t agree with at all. I wonder what he would say about certain genres he spoke of condescendingly if he could hear them in the present. He viewed music as some sort of autonomous whole apart from culture and society. He later backpedaled by labeling some music as “informal”. My guess is that he would have liked alternative forms of dance and electronic music. I personally love electronic music, especially well-made electronic dance music like Flying Lotus.’

Jamiroquai? Medeski Martin & Wood? Flying Lotus? We figured it was time to move on to listening habits! ‘I listen a lot with headphones on. I’ve got a really good pair.’ He pauses. ‘Come to think of it, I don’t have one ideal setting. It really depends on why I’m going to listen. If I’ve got a new album, everything else has to be quiet. More energetic moods require the impact of loudspeakers.’ Dr. Meelberg is not one to wait until he gets home to put on music. Rather, he puts on music the moment he gets on the train. ‘Mostly jazz and improvised music,’ he says. ‘I tend to put on music I would like to play or write myself. I try to put myself in the musicians’ shoes.’ Is the choice of music influenced by the working day? ‘When I’m not in the mood, I put on some energetic music from my youth, such as The Police or the early Cure. That really motivates me.’

Is there a favorite album for Dr. Meelberg? ‘If I had to choose one, I would choose Extensions by the Dave Holland Quartet. I even did a narrative analysis of Kevin Eubanks’ guitar solo on “Nemesis” – the first song on the album – which was published in a book about narrativity in music after 1900.’ Dave Holland, Extensions: a desert island disc? Meelberg: ‘Definitely’. We couldn’t resist making a comparison to Dr. Sanders’ views on desert island books (see the previous issue). ‘Personally, I could listen to certain music over and over again. That’s different from reading certain phrases over and over again or watching a movie on repeat.’

In keeping with last year’s focus on artworks that touched our teachers in any way, we asked Dr. Meelberg when music last him cry. ‘That was Jaco Pastorius, a bass guitarist,’ he answers without hesitation. ‘It was when he played with Joni Mitchell, on a live version of [Charles Mingus’] “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. Jaco Pastorius really is my hero. Ironically, I just started playing bass when he passed away, which was in 1987. I never got to see him perform live. My emotional reaction to that piece was a mix of awe for his pure musical genius, nostalgia, and the knowledge of how he eventually died.’

‘I have a lot of pleasures, but I don’t necessarily feel guilty about them,’ says Dr. Meelberg when we ask him if broad taste in music contains any guilty pleasures. ‘I’ve always considered it a benefit that I have such a broad taste.’ No corny ‘80s disco or Simply Red for Dr. Meelberg then? ‘That’s nothing to be ashamed of! But maybe that is what people would label as “wrong”. Duran Duran may fall in that category, but I dare you to listen to them closely. It’s composed pretty damned well.’

What about today’s music? We asked Dr. Meelberg about subgenres and categorization within the genres of metal and electronic. ‘It’s definitely confusing. The people who categorize it probably need it. I think that has to do with the role that music plays in shaping their personal identity. This has really accelerated with the rise of the internet. I would hate it if it limits crosspollination among musical styles. But as a musical omnivore, I don’t really mind the categorization.’

As for music in the future, Dr. Meelberg is hopeful. ‘I think that live music will take a great leap. People are really beginning to see the value of live music. I expect, or hope, I should say, that in the future acoustic and electronic music will converge more and more. “Laptop artists” in particular have an extra challenge in performing their music before an audience. An example is a band called Food. They are a Scandinavian drummer and an English saxophonist. They perform with guest musicians and do a lot with loops in their performances. As for composed music, Dutchman Michel van der Aa combines electronics with live musicians on stage. Music technology will keep developing.

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