Joris Blanckaert was born in Lokeren on January 14, 1976. After studying to become a civil engineer with specializations in probabilistic methods and risk analysis, Blanckaert enrolled at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent in 2005. He studied jazz accordion with Rony Verbiest and earned a master’s degree in contemporary composition with Frank Nuyts (2011).
In addition to various collaborative projects with ensembles such as Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen, Spectra Ensemble, Emanon, Maeterlinck Quartet, Arsis4 and various soloists, Blanckaert was affiliated with the popular music ensembles bOOmfanfare (2001-2015) and bal des boiteux (2001-2008), with which he released a number of albums. Since 2008, he has been the artistic director of the artists’ collective Muzi a Zeny, where he has collaborated with soprano Elise Caluwaerts, cellist Benjamin Glorieux, choreographer NelleHens and playwright Wannes Gyselinck, among others. In 2009, Blanckaert began conducting research into the real-time interaction between soloist, computer and audience, based on spectral theory and statistics, with the support of the nOna arts center. Another research project on eye-ear coordination in collaboration with choreographer/dancer Nelle Hens resulted in performances under the title My Body, My Instrument.
Collaboration with other artists and musicians is central to Joris Blanckaert’s work. For example, the chamber opera “The Wandering Womb” and the lecture-performance “Tips & Tricks” were created in close collaboration with Wannes Gyselinck. In 2015, Blanckaert received the Provincial Prize for music from the province of East Flanders for his opera elle est moi und töte mich. In 2019, the performance are we not drawn onward to new era won the Edinburgh Fringe First Award. From 2016 to 2020, he was composer in residence at De Bijloke.
Despite an already impressive works list, Joris Blanckaert’s oeuvre is still constantly being developed. While his early work seems to focus on writing for smaller ensembles, his recent output has been characterized by a greater diversity of ensemble size and instrumentation and by non-conventional forms of performance. Nevertheless, some constants can be identified throughout his oeuvre, such as the frequent presence of musical humor. For example, Blanckaert concluded a concert program based on Gioacchino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia with Tournedos Final (2012), for which he not only set the tournedos Rossini recipe to music, but in which the audience playfully gets scolded and chased away with the help of an excerpt of text from Rossini’s opera.
Blanckaert’s education and work as a civil engineer left a clear mark on his work as a composer. “As an engineer, I learned to solve new problems and to always be a solution-oriented thinker.” Mathematical techniques are a means to this end, but not an end in themselves. Blanckaert approaches compositional techniques in the same pragmatic way. A focus on innovation is central to his musical output. For example, Kinetic Score (2012) is a composition that has never been played and will never be played: it is a composition that is danced. During the performance of this work, the score is presented visually on a 30-meter-long banner. A dancer then moves along the banner like a cursor and interprets the score physically.
In his compositions, Blanckaert focuses on innovation, but also on association. An example of this is the work Antiphonal Traces of the Old City (2012), which he was commissioned to write for the TRACK festival as a composition based on the Machariuswijk in Ghent. In contrast to the barren plains and dilapidated industrial buildings that can be found there today, the site was formerly a wetland area. A bird that happened to be there triggered Blanckaert’s compositional fantasy, resulting in a composition based on bird sounds, which in turn prompts the listener to reflect critically on the impact of urban development on our habitat.
Blanckaert has also continually embraced influences from folk culture throughout his artistic output, a likely result of his predilection for the works of Benjamin Britten and Igor Stravinsky. These folk elements typically surface unconsciously in the rhythms of his compositions, or consciously in the form of quotations. “My music is probably just the sum of what I’ve already heard, plus my own background.”
A constant in Blanckaert’s work is his use of the human voice, both in solo works (NOspeech, C-Quintet) and in ensemble, and of course in the context of various operas and musical theater compositions. One of his most remarkable realizations in this respect is City of EAR, a large-scale work that was the closing piece of the renowned Odegand festival in 2019. In this composition, various aspects of Blanckaert’s work come together: composing for the human voice, a connection with the societal context, and a (politically) critical view of the world. The composition was performed by 25 choirs spread across a significant part of the historic center of the city of Ghent, thus altering the noise of a modern city. The participation of hundreds of (amateur) singers, and the work’s critical attitude towards contemporary urban life are important elements in Blanckaert’s recent oeuvre, which, incidentally, does not shy away from interfering in the public debate on current topics, even outside of his music.
List of works
Arrangements: Britten Adaptations (2012) for flute, piccolo, A & Bb clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, percussion, xylophone, vibraphone, piano, two violins, viola, cello and double bass: arrangements of excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s operas Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter Grimes, the Rape of Lucretia and the Turn of the Screw, commissioned by Operastudio Vlaanderen; Two Ballads (Mother Comfort & Underneath the Abject Willow) (2012) for chamber orchestra (flute, clarinet, horn, percussion, vibraphone, piano, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, soprano and mezzo-soprano): orchestration of Benjamin Britten’s Two Ballads for piano and 2 voices.
Electronic music: Antiphonal traces from Blandinium (2012) ; RE:flection (2019).
Chamber music: Djinn (2004) for flute, guitar, accordion, violin and double bass; Hermes (2004) for reed pipes, accordion, violin and double bass; Desperado (2006) for electric guitar, percussion, accordion, violin and double bass; Oiseau Désir (2006) for electric guitar, drums, accordion, violin and double bass; de maan, de rivier, de kano, de man. en de zee. (2007) for clarinet, alto sax, tuba, percussion, accordion and violin; Kollerud (2008) for vibraphone, accordion, violin, cello and double bass; Heroes (2009) for clarinet, alto sax, tuba, percussion and accordion; La Montagne (2009) for cello and double bass; Kraaien Suite (2009) for flute, bass clarinet, tenor sax, tuba, accordion and violin; Atlantik (2009) for flute, recorder, clarinet, glass horns, tuba, piano, accordion, two violins, cello and double bass; Summer City (2010) for three pipe organs and percussion, commissioned by MiramirO; Lionel (2010) for clarinet, alto sax, tuba, onde Martenots, percussion and accordion, commissioned by CirQ & Handelsreizigers in Ideeën; Droom-Zappen (2010) for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, melodica, timpani, percussion, xylophone, vibraphone, piano, two violins, viola, cello, double bass and chansonnier (with voice range of a baritone) – soundtrack for the Welterusten-illustraties by Sebastiaan van Doninck, commissioned by Spectra Ensemble; Atlantik B (2010) for flute, clarinet, fanfare, timpani, piano, accordion, violin, viola, cello and double bass; The Pastajungle Variations (2011) for flute, bass clarinet, violin, viola, vocalist, soprano recorder, melodica, trombone and guitar, commissioned by vzw Wit.h; Automaton (2011) for solo tuba and live electronics, commissioned by Hardscore vzw; Automaton NeXT (2011) for solo tuba and live electronics, commissioned by Muziekcentrum De Bijloke; The Babel Paradox (2012) for flute, bass clarinet, violin, viola, vocalist, soprano recorder, melodica, tugboat whistle, timpani, percussion and guitar: graphic video composition commissioned by vzw Wit.h, Spectra Ensemble and Musica; Antiphonal Traces from Blandinium (2012) for violin, percussion and live electronics, commissioned by TRACK Gent; C-Quintet for clarinet, string quartet, male soprano and female storyteller (2014); are we not drawn onward to new era (2015); Sense/Coalescence for voice and ensemble (2015); THE DRUIDS, WHO KNOW, SEE AND HEAR NOTHING (2017); TGTBT – I hit you because I love you for soprano, flute, harp, viola (2017); Zooropa Revisited for synthetic strings, harp, cello and conga (2017); Loopstation for 4 female voices (2018); 3 Foreignerprints for ney, accordion and violin (2018); NOspeech for tap-dancing soprano and wine glasses (2019).
Musical theater: Kraaien (2009) for flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax, tuba, accordion and violin, commissioned by Muzi a Zeny vzw; Blaaskop (2012); Tips & Tricks (2015); Simple as ABC #2: KEEP CALM & VALIDATE for bass clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, alto and baritone (2017).
Opera: L’Algerino in Italia (2010) for oboe, accordion, violin, cello, double bass, 4 voices (S/A/T/Baritone): chamber opera in 2 acts, Italian libretto by Dirk Opstaele, commissioned by MAfestival Bruges; The Wandering Womb for soprano, violin and cello (2013): musical theater in nine scenes, English libretto by Wannes Gyselinck; Elle est moi und töte mich – an oneiric opera on Romy Schneider for 11 voices, percussion, piano and strings (2013): opera in three acts.
Piano Music: Airs Volatils (Vol, Volée) (2008): two etudes for solo piano.
String quartet: K-Quartet (2011) in two movements, with optional illustrations by Annemieke Elst; Kinetic Score (2012) with choreography for the human body.
Orchestral Music: Julierpass (2008); Tournedos Final (2012), commissioned by Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen; #-1, Moments before… (2018).
Chorus: Grotesques (2014); RE:call | City of EAR for 1000 singers or 30 choirs (2019).
– Desperado, op SMALL HOUSE, WIDE OPEN VIEW, (bal des boiteux), Keremos Records, 2006.
– Djinn, op GODS & HORSES, (bal des boiteux), Handelsbeurs Records, 2004.
– Hermes, op GODS & HORSES, (bal des boiteux), Handelsbeurs Records, 2004
– Heroes, op PARACHUT !, (bOOmfanfare), CirQ, 2009.
– Ile 32, op GODS & HORSES, (bal des boiteux), Handelsbeurs Records, 2004.
– Oiseau Désir, op SMALL HOUSE, WIDE OPEN VIEW, (bal des boiteux), Keremos Records, 2006.
Texts by Christine Dysers and Klaas Coulembier
Last update: 2020, list of works 2020