Amsterdam Weekly, 18-24 October 2007.
The sound of the bamboo flute is mostly associated with peaceful pan pipes and meditative mood music from soundtracks and commercials. Adventurous Amsterdam artist and composer Hans van Koolwijk is doing something completely different with the instrument. His outrageous sound installation Bambuso Sonoro contains dozens of interconnected bamboo flutes, and is all but tranquil.
Extended Bambuso Sonoro for the International Society of Contemporary Music World Music Days Luxembourg 2000
'I want to treat sound like matter', says Van Koolwijk, who has been exhibiting and demonstrating his home-made instruments since 1987. 'I approach sound not on a musical, but rather on a sculptural level. I mould and chisel it. I make it visible. 'Sound is substance' -this has become my central statement over the years.'
Bambuso Sonoro, an agglomeration of pipes, tubes and valves roughly the size of a kitchen block, has been exhibited in international museums, but Van Koolwijk also performs on it. Standing behind its tables of switches and pedals, the artist elicits a cacophony of whistles, grunts and flutters from his machine. Driving air through all the components is a windblower, similar to those used in church organs.
Hans van Koolwijk in the MuziekGebouw aan 't IJ 2005
'These pipes can do different things, unlike organ pipes, which have to make the same sound under all circumstances', says Van Koolwijk, pointing at a video playing on his laptop. 'Here I can operate valves and these pipes have pieces of metal in them which I can move up and down, causing extreme glissando noises.'
Hans van Koolwijk plays the Bambuso
The sound of the Bambuso Sonoro is loud and dramatic-Van Koolwijk has even seen people cry during performances. Although it looks like the artist is improvising, his playing is carefully organised and aimed at exploiting the instrument's full potential. 'I have to organise it well and keep my head clear', he says. 'If I put too much emotion into my playing, it doesn't come across that well.'
In Van Koolwijk's work, physical phenomena are made audible and visible. 'I generally make continuous, rather than fragmented, sounds and they always tend to be harmonious, but what I particularly want to do with my work is to emphasise the laws of physics. I want to show that we, as humans, are subordinate to these laws.'
Bambuso Sonoro plus one of the Glissando Machines and two basses in the Audio Art Festival Cracow 2006
Van Koolwijk explains his point about the laws of physics having a strong influence on social structures: 'If you have two flutes with different sounds and you move them towards each other, something interesting happens', he says. 'After a bit of a struggle, the sounds will adapt themselves to each other. A similar thing happens when one human being enters the private sphere of another.'
According to this theory, the Bambuso Sonoro can be seen as an artificial simulation of democracy. 'You see it in politics, that even though we are filthy rich right now, we keep on fighting each other about quantities', says Van Koolwijk. 'I play out this whole story in the Bambuso Sonoro performance. It might sound dubious to some, but from my point of view, democracy is liable to physical laws. So far, no one has convinced me of the contrary.'