Maarten Buyl was born on 16 April 1982 in Sint-Niklaas. From 1998 to 2000 he studied at the arts high school for music and dance in Ghent. He continued his education at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, taking composition (2000-2004), where his teachers included Jan Van Landeghem (composition) and Peter Swinnen (music technology). Buyl also studied electronic music with Joris De Laet (2001-2002) and composition with Wim Hendrickx in the department of dramatic arts, music and dance of the Antwerp Hogeschool. During his studies he took a number of composition courses and masterclasses with such composers as Wim Henderickx (2000, 2001, 2002), Daan Manneke (2001), Peter Swinnen (2003, 2004), Claude Ledoux (2003), Frederik Devreese (2003) and Jonathan Harvey (2004). Besides his activities as a composer, Buyl has also provided the live electronics for Champ d’Action, the Spectra Ensemble and het Muzieklod/Toneelhuis. He has also collaborated on a project with Champ d’Action (Reflections), and has composed two commissioned works, ARC, for the Goeyvaerts String Trio, and Caro-Kann, for the Flanders Festival/TRANSIT.
Maarten Buyl consisently chooses the same lines of approach for his compositions. Central to these is the phenomenon of sound and its physical structure. He explores this through a concept linked to his fascination for the relation between the individual and the masses, an antithesis present in society, with the tendency towards individualisation on the one hand, and globalisation on the other. This fascination has led to compositions that create a context within which each person can find an individual experience. Despite their fairly open content, the structure and organisation of the compositions is thoroughly predetermined. To this end, the composer uses mathematical models, a stochastic approach and chaos theory. ARC, written for the Goeyvaerts String Trio, is an example of a work with a carefully predetermined time-structure. This structure is developed based on fractal theory, in which each level consists of the same proportions. Each temporal layer is thus divided into recurring proportions that can broaden or narrow according to their place in the composition. An overarching structure encompasses the whole, hence the title. The title also refers to the harmonic content, reflecting the composer’s use of the modes distilled from the natural overtone spectrum of A and C. This choice is based on the common letters in the names Bach and Cage, as the composition was written in conjunction with the Bach-Cage Project set up jointly by the Royal Conservatory in Brussels and the Amsterdam Conservatory. The reduced scoring made it impossible to produce large sound masses. Instead, the upper spectrums were converted into different modes. The composition is thus organised around pitch organisation rather than timbre. All the same, Buyl here seeks out a spectral colour through the alternation of the active and the static. This quest for spectral timbres is continued in Caro-kann. In this composition Buyl starts out from two elements. A first element consists of an analysis of the surface noise that can be produced by the double bass.
The composer rules out the playing of the strings and instead indicates 9 different manners of striking the body of the instrument. He combines this with a whistling sound made on the varnish on the side of the instrument. The second element is the game of chess, and in particular the last match played by Kasparov against the IBM chess computer Deep Blue. Buyl translated the moves into a matrix, which then determined the composition’s structure. The parameters here are rhythm, time and harmony/frequencies. The title also refers to chess, and in particular to the black opening. The instrumentation of Caro-kann consists of a central group of 32 strings surrounded by 4 string quartets. The composition has two movements, with the 9 different double bass sounds heard in succession in the first movement. This is combined with an alternative playing technique in the string quartets, as the bows are completely stripped of their rosin and the strings wiped clean. The result is almost inaudible surface noise. Playing in this way also has the advantage that the pitch can be perfectly manipulated. In the second movement, Buyl uses the whistling sound produced by the double bass. This second movement presents a simple process that is drawn out over 7 minutes in an exploration of the limits of perception. Buyl does not here set out to steer the interpretation, but rather allows listeners to position themselves in relation to the perception of the acoustical phenomena. The auditive result of this composition is an evolving sound-cloud that brings into play the interaction between the total sound mass and the rhythmic development on a micro level. The central group of 32 strings generates the sound material and the string quartets demarcate the volume of the sound-cloud in the space. In this composition, Buyl ventures into the zone where sound and silence meet. As mentioned above, the composer does not set out to dictate his works’ content but rather lets them generate their own content. The three main anchor-points in his work are thus sociology, the mathematics of sound as a physical phenomenon, and perception psychology. The latter of these plays an important role in DA-studie #1 Sm+FM/Gran. This composition was originally written for a dance performance by the choreographer Klaas Devos. The visual and auditive elements take one and the same concept as their point of departure. The dance is very extroverted, and thus very stimulating and energising for the audience. In contrast, the music is introverted, so that the audience must muster a good deal of energy in order to listen to it. As in Caro-cann, Buyl set out from an extra-musical element, in this case a binary code consisting of the binary numbers 0-63. The code determined a number of the work’s aspects, including rhythmic structure and the temporal organisation. The latter was set in the context of perception psychology, in the relation between time and pitch. If the pitches are too close together in the same tonal field, they are no longer individually perceptible, and instead beats or intervals are heard. Buyl flips this border between pitch and time around, now generating pitch through time. The harmonies he chooses are derived from the upper spectrum of g, creating a 21-note subdivision of the octave, from which he retains 9 pitches that are all equidistant. This results in the loss of a frame of reference. Although this element is unstable, it is also static. The composition thus seeks a saturation point. We are dealing here with the confrontation between balance and imbalance, between the static and the dynamic.
In Reflections, Buyl goes a step further in perception psychology. These compositions came about as part of a collaboration with Champ d’Action. These are sound sculptures, presented as an installation in the Muhka (museum of contemporary art in Antwerp). This laptop installation works through sound distortion that retains a number of frequencies generated by the space. The audience thus helps to determine the colour depending on its distance from the microphone.
List of works
String trio: ARC for violin, viola and violoncello (2003)
String orchestra: Caro-kann for 4 string quartets and string ensemble (2004)
Sound sculptures: Reflections v.1.1., laptop installation (2004); Reflections v.1.2., laptop installation (2005); Reflections v.2.0., laptop installation (2006)
Film scores: Christian, for midi-instruments, for the short film Christiaen by Koen Braeckman (2005)
Electronics: DA-studie #1 Sm+FM/Gran (2006)
Texts by Marijke Bobbaers
Last update: 2006