George De Decker was born on 31 August 1951 in Asse. He started piano lessons at the age of seven, later going on to study at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp, where he earned first prizes in solfège (1971), piano (1975) and harmony (1977) and a diploma in art history (1975). De Decker studied composition with Willem Kersters in Antwerp and with André Laporte in Brussels. From 1975 to 1980 he composed a number of works for at IPEM (the Institute for Psycho-acoustics and Electronic Music) in Ghent, under the direction of Lucien Goethals. He was a prize-winner in the 1980 Tenuto composition competition for his Lineas y puntos, a work for full orchestra and tape. De Decker taught piano and harmony at the Mechelen conservatory and at the Asse music academy for seventeen years, positions he gave up in 1987 in order to concentrate on composing. At present he composes for film and television (drama series and documentaries for the Flemish network) and for the theatre (in collaboration with such troupes as De Tijd and De Internationale nieuwe scène).
George De Decker began his activities in the classical music world with a number of avant-garde compositions. Characteristic of these works are the exploration of new playing techniques (for example, improvisation and multiphonics) and the combining of live-instruments with tape (for example, Omtrent Heecee [About Heecee] for tenor trombone, bass clarinet, double bass and tape). A number of De Deckers’ works indicate that the visual aspect is central to his approach. In Khanda, for instance, a work for piano four-hands, the pianists must change places and walk around the piano during the piece. De Decker himself refers to the influence of Indian philosophy in this work. The theme of the composition is the forming of personality, a process that he expresses literally in the “liberation” from the piano.
De Decker himself divides his early years into a number of short periods, each determined by a particular source of inspiration. For example, Khanda, as indicated above, draws its inspiration from Indian philosophy, while A Tribute to Vaslav Fomitch is based on the diary of the famous ballet dancer, Vaslav Fomitch Nijinski (1890-1950). For two other works, The Eyes of America case aftermath (on a text by Paul Pourveur) and Turn me upside down if you wish me to cry for my mamma (on a text by Guido de Bruyn) was inspired by Marilyn Monroe.
From 1990, the composer discovered in the writing of film music a new challenge because of film’s demands of composing in function of images and characters. The musical translation of emotion and action or the problem of exact timing form interesting principles for a new way of composing. For a number of art films and documentaries, De Decker worked together with the directors Stefaan de Costere and Jef Cornelis. In a first period, the composer worked mainly with existing material. A good example is Travelogue (1990), a triptych that describes visits to Brussels, Canada and Japan. Here De Decker superimposes different sorts of (existing) music, a technique that results in a layered texture. For a number of documentaries, De Decker handled the musical production, being responsible for the choice of music, the manner of performance and its placement in the film. For documentaries on Pieter Breughel and Rubens, for instance, both from 1991, he worked together with the Capilla Flamenca and its musical supervisor, Eugeen Schreurs. In Jordaens (1993), he chose a music from the period of Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) to accompany a number of that artist’s works. For the contemporary images in this documentary, De Decker wrote his own music for string quartet, based on musical themes from Jordaens’ time.
Starting in 1994, De Decker no longer used existing material for his film music. His approach could now be described as “Ars Acoustica”. He cut, pasted and reworked noises and sounds, making use of both street noises and reworked instrumental sounds. The breaking of glass, the crack of wood, the bowing of strings several metres long, attached to a wall, and the sound of stones in water, these are only a few examples of the concrete sounds the composer has used as points of departure. Such sounds are always reworked into a composition. Music Box was the first film in which he applied these techniques: for each of the four artists appearing in the film, he outlines an individual timbre on the basis of new sounds. That the composer goes to extremes in his search for new sounds is evident, for example, in Les vacances de Monsieur Magritte (1994). For this film he collaborated with the composer Ward Weis (°1956), who, like De Decker, can better be described as a “sound architect” than a composer. They gathered together two quartets, consisting of, respectively, four instrumentalists and four singers, to improvise sounds together over a period of several days. These sounds were recorded and then reworked into the soundtrack for the film.
For his theatre projects, George De Decker often works together with De Tijd, a medium-sized, travelling theatre troupe, since 1990 under the artistic direction of Lucas Vandervost. De Decker has provided the sound and music for a number of productions, including Woyzeck (1997), Risquons-tout (2000; nominated for the 2001 theatre festival), and for De 4 zusters (2002). For De Internationale Nieuwe Scène, another theatre group, De Decker worked on Jevgeni Onegin (1998) and Het gevecht met de engel (2000).
As television sound editor, it is De Decker’s task to provide visual material with the appropriate music or sound. The approach here is practically identical with that for films and documentaries. Here the technical “tricks”, the know-how required for techniques of montage and collage represent the greatest challenge. De Decker has collaborated on a number of drama series for Flemish TV 1, such as Het Park (1993, 65 episodes), Thuis (from 1994, more that 1000 episodes) and Recht op Recht (1998-2002, 45 episodes). He describes the music for Recht op Recht, for instance, as film music with a dark and at the same time metallic tint: the sounds of the big city.
His other major compositions – those not for film, theatre or television – De Decker describes as “Works”. We shall here consider the most important of these. De Decker composed Shut up and dye your shoes in 1994 as part of A Tribute to Zappa. It was performed by the Flemish Radio Orchestra together with several musicians who had played with Frank Zappa. In Sirens (1997), De Decker again proved his creativity in his search for new sounds. He asked a group of 10 female singers of various nationalities to produce all kinds of different sounds. The recording of these sounds took place in the 100-metre high Sint-Pieters-Leeuw radio/TV tower, in the middle of the night. This resulted in a number of very specific and supernatural sounds, which in turn ensured that this mini-suite had a sound all its own. The work has been performed regularly at “Ars acoustica” festivals (including in Finland). (Georgette), composed in 1988 on a text by Paul Pourveur, is scored for dancers, film, singers and 10 musicians. The subject is the wife of René Magritte, Georgette, who appears in many paintings and film fragments, but who always seems to melt away into the background. This explains the symbolic use of the parentheses in the title. In the performance of this work, the musicians are presented with two sorts of score: a first score presents the total structure of the work. There is a second-by-second description of what is on the tape and the video, and of the events on stage. The musicians must make use of this to play particular themes, create particular moods, improvise, or imitate certain sounds. In a second score there are a number of “patterns”, which, for example, indicate the notes around which the improvisation is to be performed, the themes linked to certain characters, or the manner of playing.
Since 2002, George De Decker has been working on the musical Galileo Galilei, commissioned by the Royal Flemish Ballet, on a scenario by Kurt Segers. The premiere is planned for September 2003.
List of works
Instrumental: Khanda for piano, 4 hands (1975)
Tape: Modulatude (1979); White suited men in a park (1984)
Tape and instruments: Lineas y puntos for symphonic orchestra and tape (1979); Omtrent Heecee for tenor trombone, bass clarinet, double bass and tape (1979); A Tribute to Vaslav Fomitch for baritone saxophone and tape (1980)
Film music and documentaries: Les vacances de monsieur Magritte (1994); Music Box (1994); De kleuren van de geest (1997)
Theater music: Zand (1996); Woyzeck (1997); Risquons-tout (2000); De 4 zusters (2002)
Fiction: Bunker (1991); Het Park (1993); Recht op Recht (1998-2002)
Work: Aphasia universalis (1993); Shut up and dye your shoes (1994); (Georgette) (1998); Onzichtbare steden (2001)
For a more detailed list of works, please follow this link.
– G. DEDECKER, To write is to rewrite, in Documenta Belgicae II, Archennes, 1985, p. 53-81
– M. DELAERE, Y. KNOCKAERT en H. SABBE, Nieuwe muziek in Vlaanderen, Brugge, 1998
– S. DE RIJCKE, Interview met George De Decker in Ambrozijn, 34, 2, 2016-2017
– G. DE BRUYN, Interview met George De Decker op 20 oktober 2014, s.l.
– Music for Mermaphilie by Zefiro Torna (Ward Weis and George De Decker), Eufoda, in preparation, autumn 2002
– Raadselkringen (Limburgs mannenkoor olv Herman Baeten), LOS TAMBORES DE CALANDA, Eufoda 1144
– The Purple cucumber, a tribute to Frank Zappa, Shut up and dye your shoes, Auditorium 01003
– Carnets de Voyage, RAF DE KENINCK PLAYS GEORGE DE DECKER, Vanderkriekenclassics 17001
Texts by Sara Lammens, Anna Vermeulen
Last update: 2017