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Aa, Michel [Michaël] (Henri René) van der locked

  • Jochem Valkenburg

(b Oss, March 10, 1970). Dutch composer. He trained first as a recording engineer at The Hague Royal Conservatory, taking additional lessons in classical guitar with Antonio Pereira Arias, then went on to study composition with Andriessen family, §3, Gilius van Bergeijk and Diderik Wagenaar He quickly gained prominence as a composer of works for soloist and/or ensemble with soundtrack, combining economy of material with discontinuous structures and a theatrical component. In 2002, Van der Aa studied film direction at the New York Film Academy. Starting with the chamber opera One for soprano, video and soundtrack (2002), he has since expanded his activities to include script writing, filmmaking and stage directing. He has received the International Gaudeamus Prize (1999), the Matthijs Vermeulen prize (2004), the Charlotte Köhler Prize (2005), the Siemens Composers Grant (2005) and the Paul Hindemith Prize (2006).

Most of Van der Aa’s works confront the reality of live performance with a distorted version of itself. Sometimes this confrontation is attained theatrically, as in Wake (1997), in which one of the two percussionists soundlessly mimics the other’s gestures. More often, an electronic soundtrack provides a purely sonic alter ego, usually by providing manipulated recordings of the performers. In Here [enclosed] (2003), blurred fragments of what is performed on stage reappear from the speakers. Just as in Oog (1995) and Between (1997), the musicians sometimes act as if playing this artificial sound, strengthening the trompe l’oeil effect. The temporal relation between recording and recorded is made explicit in Here [in circles] (2002), in which the soprano records herself and the ensemble onstage using a portable cassette player, rewinding, fast-forwarding and playing back the recorded material in search of an essential passage.

Not only the ubiquitous use of recordings per se betrays Van der Aa’s background as a recording engineer, but also the emphatically discontinuous structures in which they are used, showing Van der Aa’s connection to the Hague School. Short noises, such as the sampled sound of breaking branches in Here [enclosed], the large electronic switches that flip in Here [in circles], or the tearing of strips of gaffer tape in Mask (2006), mark the points at which the music abruptly switches back and forth between conditions, often giving the impression that an invisible hand is switching channels on a mixing desk.

In his music theatre works, Van der Aa applies the same principles to stage and film, maintaining discontinuity of structure but at once achieving a high degree of integration between media. The purest example is found in the virtuosic alternations of soprano Barbara Hannigan and her alter ego on video in One, an opera about a woman suffering loss of identity. After Life (2005–6), based on the film by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, is about a group of people who died, but are allowed to relive the key moments in their lives one last time in the form of a film. The use of recordings to manipulate time and memory, a central technique in Van der Aa’s oeuvre, thus also becomes the subject of the opera.

Works

all works with soundtrack, except those marked †

Stage

Vuur (R. Adam), 2001

Forteiland IJmuiden, 2 June 2001

One (chbr op, Van der Aa), 2002

Amsterdam, Frascati, 12 Jan 2003

After Life (op, H. Kore-Eda), 2006, Amsterdam, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, 2 June 2006

Das Buch der Unruhe (music theatre, F. Pessoa), 2008

Linz, Hafenhalle09, 2 Jan 2009

Orch and ens

Span, 14 insts, 1996

†Staring at the Space, orch, 1996

Faust, 12 insts, 1998

Above, 11 insts, 1999

Attach, 14 insts, 2000

†See-through, orch, 2000

Here [to be found], orch, 2001

Here [enclosed], chbr orch, 2003

Second Self, orch, 2004

†Imprint, Baroque orch, 2005

Mask, 11 insts, 2006

Chamber

Auburn, gui, 1994

Oog, vc, 1995

Between, 4 perc, 1997

†Double, vn, pf, 1997

†Solo, perc, 1997

†Quadrivial, fl, vn, vc, pf, 1997

†Wake, 2 perc, 1997

†Caprice, vn, 1999

Just before, pf, 2000 [used in soundtrack to film Passage]

Solitaire, vn, 2003

†Memo, vn + cassette recorder, 2003

Vocal

Now [in fragments] (Van der Aa), S, cl/b cl, vc, 1995

†Here [in circles] (Van der Aa), S, 9 insts, 2002

Spaces of Blank (E. Dickinson, A. Carson, R. Hirs), song cycle, Mez, orch, 2007

Elec

Writing to Vermeer, 1999 [for op by L. Andriessen]

The New Math(s), film soundtrack (dir. H. Hartley), 2000

Film

Principal publishers

Boosey & Hawkes, Donemus

Bibliography

  • J. Oskamp: ‘Het drama van de brekende tak’, Radicaal gewoon (Amsterdam, 2003), 53–7
  • E. Wennekes and M. Delaere: ‘Michel van der Aa’, Contemporary Music in the Low Countries (Rekkem, 2006), 56–9
  • V. Meelberg: ‘Muzikale narrativiteit in Van der Aa’s Above’, Mens en Melodie, 63/4 (2008), 27–9