Thomas Smetryns was born in Ghent on 13 December 1977. He studied composition with Godfried-Willem Raes, and guitar, lute and theorbo with Ida Polck and Philippe Malfeyt at the Ghent Conservatory. As a composer he is very interested in the search for a new, experimental musical practice that remains anchored in an historical and/or social (sub)consciousness. He shares this interest with the Americans Brent Wetters and Jonathon Kirk; together, they form the composers’ collective “Medusa”. Smetryns has written works for such artists as the Spectra Ensemble, Daan Vande Walle, trumpet player Jason Price, M&M ensemble, and the HERMESensemble. He is also active as a lutenist in the Oberon Consort, which is specialised in the Italian Renaissance and Early Baroque periods, combining this with other freelance activities. In his work as a DJ of exclusively 78 RPM records he again deals with placing the musical past in a contemporary context. Thomas Smetryns teaches analysis of 20th-century music at the Ghent Conservatory and guitar at the Oostende Conservatory.
For Thomas Smetryns, composing is more than simply a matter of making compositions. What is central to him is rather the thought process concerning the relationship between music and society. His compositions always explore one or more aspects of this relationship. Considering that there are of course no unequivocal answers to this question – reality is in fact kaleidoscopic, and different for each person – Thomas Smetryns is constantly in search of nuance.
One of Smetryns’ first compositions, Fade Out, illustrates a first phase in his oeuvre. An important sound-characteristic shared by all the instruments in Fade Out is that once a note has been played, it dies away. The desire to keep this particular aspect of the sound under control, with the aim of shedding light on the various shifts in timbre in the different fade-outs, results in highly detailed representations of the sounding result. In these and other early compositions, Thomas Smetryns has developed his interest in graphic means of representing music, and has explored the performance possibilities. Both Peace Anthem and Guitar Environment are examples of works that illustrate the variety of possibilities offered by graphic notation. Graphic notation is, however, never the point in and of itself; rather, the composer seeks to create a score in which the desired sound is achieved with a minimum of information, while the performers are given maximum freedom.
Thomas Smetryns often juxtaposes different musical worlds in his compositions. For example, several levels of musical development can be detected in …another just another one man ba… : whereas the one man band tends to be soloistic and independent at the beginning, he develops towards playing together with the ensemble. This development is also audible within the ensemble: the work’s rhythm, at first free and self-regulating, evolves into a rhythm in which the different musicians become independent of one another.
Smetryns often takes an intuitive approach to composing. This is most evident in a work such as A=a=a=a for percussion trio, in which he bases the harmonic material on a collage made from fragments of 1940s big-band scores. He also makes use of improvisation, as in Queue.
List of works
Solo: Material Test Unit for guitar (2000); Just Another One Man Band for theorbe (2001); 506 Mistakes for trumpet(2001); We/Me for clarinet and prepared clarinet (2004)
Solo piano: Brassens (2001); Biermann (2002); Lomax (2002); Hurt (2004)
Free instrumentation: Eyes of Medusa (2001); Chottoh- a game (2002); …First Shot missed Him… (2002); A Peace Anthem (2002); Bell Environment (2005)
Chamber music and larger groups: Fade Out (2000); Francis’ Song (2000); Chorale (2000); On Our Behaviour… (2002); Two Women communicating (2002); Annandale (2002); … A Heavy Man gliding down a Staircase… (2002); Guitar Environment (2002-2003); Bird Environment (2003); The Possibility of a new Work for 3 bowed Guitars (2003); …Another Just Another One Man Band… (2003); Mille Regretz (2003); Queue (2004); A=a=a=a=… (2005); (1567-1643) (2004-2005)
Electroacoustical: Fuge in Rot (2003)
– De duivel beduveld door Heleen Van Haegenborgh (2010)
Texts by Delphine Mandart
Last update: 2005