Rolinde Hoorntje talks jazz, party DJing and parrots with the shapeshifting Dutch artist.
It's the coldest day of the year. We amble over the frosty streets from his studio in the city centre to his new apartment, a couple blocks away. Den Bosch, with its sandcastle steeples, frozen canals and flapping banners above glass-stained windows, looks like a work by Hieronymus Bosch, the medieval painter. A few centuries later, the city once again has an artist who could call himself a figurehead of the province. Van Dinther has lived here all his life (26 years), although these days he's signed to Brainfeeder in Los Angeles, and flies around the world as a DJ.
Meeting Flying Lotus during the Red Bull Music Academy in New York in 2013 was a turning point for van Dinther. "Lotus walked into a studio session I had with August Rosenbaum," he says. "He just sat down and listened. At one point he left, without saying a word. Later that evening I saw him standing at the bar. It was really crowded so when he said something I could not understand a word... 'Yes,' I yelled, 'all good.' I had no idea what he was talking about. When I later emailed Brainfeeder I got an email back: 'Come and talk to us about your album in Los Angeles.'"
During the recording of Fool, van Dinther flew back and forth from SXSW in Austin to New York to try to convince Steve Kuhn, formerly John Coltrane's pianist, to do a studio session with him. (He eventually agreed.) He collaborated with the Brazilian bossa nova legend Arthur Verocai, and recorded sounds with self-made instruments such as a bow made out of fishing thread and wax. "Fool is the product of a powerful imagination, the child of mind that is unburdened by assumptions and orthodoxies," wrote Max Pearl in an RA review.
Two weeks before our interview, van Dinther finally had time to move into his new apartment. Shopping carts are decorated with plants or used as a wine rack. "All the nice bottles are gone," he says. "Do you want some tea?" He pulls a little booklet from his bookcase. The top shelves are filled with music sheets for his collaboration with the Metropole Orkest. The bottom shelves are reserved for his vinyl collection. "I threw a lot of records out when I moved in. Or I gave them away, I mean. Sometimes I just get into this mind-fuck. Why do I keeping collecting all this stuff? I'm nothing but a magpie."
Captain For Dark Mornings
Laura Nyro worked with Barbra Streisand and was referenced as a big influence by Elton John, yet she is one of the most overlooked musicians of her time. How did you find out about her?
Matthew Bourne, the pianist who made that Moogmemory album, stayed a week at my place. We sat down and started talking about arrangements at night. "Who has done a really good job at arranging?" I asked. "Virtuoso arrangements, I mean." He asked me if I knew the New York Tendaberry record by Laura Nyro. I did not know it at all.
What do you like about her arrangements?
The music is written almost as if it passes her by casually, but at the same time it is spot on. The music is just so dynamic. There is a band that plays for six seconds and then disappears completely! Most of the music that comes out these days completely lacks that dynamic quality.
She wrote her own music, right?
She wrote the piano pieces herself, but I believe someone else wrote the rest of the arrangements.
Why did you choose "Captain For Dark Mornings"?
There are two chords in the song that are so intensely emotional. [Listens] Oh, here they come. Yes, these two chords, wow. So good! It haunts me. Crazy. It's as if she lets her guard down for two seconds but then picks up the pace again and just goes on. I think that's why I often end up liking jazz—most pop musicians bear it all immediately and completely.
She reminds me of Kate Bush, in a way. That jazz approach is also in the way she uses her voice, right?
Certainly. It scatters about, but at the same time she remains so in control. It is really bizarre.
You mentioned two years ago that you do not consider yourself a jazz musician, or any kind of musician. Since then you performed with a symphony orchestra and formed your own jazz quintet. Do you feel differently about it now?
No. I just keep getting better at faking the funk.
I noticed that three quarters of your picks are jazz.
My own album strongly suggests that my favourites would be jazz, I think.
What attracts you to jazz?
Freedom. Jazz was something I did not understand but wanted to grasp. I could envision how hip-hop was being made. Jazz sounded like something impossible to create. Pop music is often very goal-oriented; it attempts to affect people in a certain way. The idea behind jazz is often that musicians are so impressed by each other that they just want to play together. I find that conversation and mutual respect interesting.
What is the first jazz record that you discovered?
Sonny Fortune's Long Before Our Mothers Cried. I also thought that was just such a beautiful album title.
How did you go from hip-hop fan to jazz connoisseur?
Madlib's mixtapes allowed me to discover so much about jazz. I was about 18 years old when I left home and moved in with a friend on the other side of this block. Together with some friends we worked through hours of jazz archives and started to make our own mixtapes. We got so excited about the most trash-ass beats [laughs]. That was really terrible. But also very nice. It was great to be able to immerse myself so completely in music. As a person you are always a bit of a bad portrait of the person you want to be. I really wanted to belong to that hip-hop/beats community at the time. We thought Madlib was the shit, and that's how we ended up with jazz.
Jazz is a very broad term. Are there any specific subgenres that you like?
I have certain heroes, but no specific subgenres that I prefer. I find all music interesting, except Dixieland [laughs]. Peter Brötzmann or Steve Kuhn both did a lot for jazz, but so did Laura Nyro, who crossed over to pop. They all influenced each other.
Trevor Watts' Moiré Music
This was recorded at the Strathallan Hotel in Birmingham in 1985. Trevor Watts is a saxophonist and often played with African percussionists. The first three minutes basically sound like someone is freestyling with a hang drum.
Next comes the sax, then the bass, the piano and the violin. It becomes bigger and bigger and then derails completely into a big cacophony. The recording lasts a total of 21 minutes. That build-up is just fantastic.
What attracts you to these big sounds?
With Fool I tried to make something that was very focused. Not too bombastic, not too many instruments. How small can you make a composition but still make it sound great? That was my point of departure. On my new album I try to do exactly the opposite: how big can you make a composition but still keep it digestible? That may be reflected in my current favourites.
Green And Orange Night Park
Why did you choose this rare live version?
The Keith Tippett Group is actually a nonet. On the Keith Tippett Group album version, you can clearly hear what is being played. At first I only knew the Centipede version, then someone posted this version, which sounded much richer and fuller. I also love that Elton Dean solo; he just does not stop.
This is almost euphoric. It is really fitting for the time frame—the '70s had a lot of these grandiose jazz orchestras.
It's also very British. The whole scene that revolved around Keith Tippett, like Mike Westbrook and his band, had the same grandeur.
What is the added value of an orchestra?
Orchestral music has such an immersive emotional quality that it's almost impossible to create with a more modest setup.
You performed twice with the Metropole Orchestra during Amsterdam Dance Event. They played a rework of Fool. How was that?
When I sat down on the stage I thought, "What the hell is this?" In a positive sense of course. I was completely humbled yet also a bit detached. It feels as if the music no longer is your own.
You did look a bit stifled when you walked on that stage.
There are 50 people on stage, which is absolutely flattering. But if someone were to take the beating musically, that would be me of course. I am not musically trained. For them it's as if they were playing football with that one guy from class you would always pick last.
What did you think of the music?
Awesome. I was very happy that I got to hear the arrangements as MIDI files first, so that I could properly hear what was happening. Because when I sat down on stage, I completely lost the ability to be critical. I was on cloud nine. The music became even better in the orchestral version. "Only now I understand the album," many people said.
What did you make of that?
Great! This has also inspired me, in a way. Maybe one day I will be only a composer, so that I do not even have to bother to go there, but can just let the orchestra play.
Is the magic of playing together not what you are looking for as a musician?
Certainly, I also do that with the Jameszoo quintet. But an orchestra is much harder to direct. Suddenly you become a sort of truck driver that cannot steer too far to the left or too far to the right. You are held hostage in a framework, but I found that rather comfortable, in a way. The scores stayed exactly the way we intended them to be. I also discovered how rich a full orchestra can sound on that stage.
Roedelius also did grand things with Harmonia and Cluster, but this album really comes across as more of a personal quest. This track is a moment that you share with yourself and less with others. It is not a piece that demonstrates his virtuosity. It feels like something that just happened to him.
Beautiful. Very dreamlike. It reminds me of Manuel Göttsching.
It's so simple, but very emotionally charged. It's really melancholic music. As if you were looking at a very old photo and thought, "All is gone." A composition like the Keith Tippett one sounds much more like a preconceived plan. This just feels like a very nice moment. It has the same whimsical quality that you hear when listening to Steve Kuhn.
You also booked Roedelius for your festival. How was it?
We try to book a legend every year. We booked people like Jaki Liebezeit and Gottfried Michael Koenig before. I really wanted Roedelius to come but I thought I could never get hold of him. Often the websites do not work anymore or they do not respond to emails. But I emailed him and he immediately sent a super friendly message.
The Meaning Of Love
Speaking of old hands: Steve Kuhn, the legendary jazz pianist who played with Coltrane, sings on your album. How did that happen?
He has a website and I just emailed the general address. I tried to explain what I liked about the song "The Zoo." It is very nonchalant, as if the lyrics all came to him effortlessly. Besides beautiful harmonization and very clever voicings he also puts so much energy in that Fender Rhodes solo.
He plays with a lighter touch.
Yes, more subdued, more modestly. I emailed him to no avail, and then again and again. Six, seven months passed like that, without any reply. Then I sent some material over and suggested that we could record the song in one day.
He emailed back: "Thank you for your kind words. Looks like you're doing very well without me. So I wish you a lot of success with your career, but my answer is no."
I couldn't stop there, so I just emailed back. "Thank you for your beautiful words, I would like to play together anyway." "Come to New York, then we'll talk about it," he replied. He invited me to come to a bar where he was playing some sort of dinner show. It was a really bizarre encounter. Joey Baron, one of my favourite drummers, sat at the table next to him, with Buster Williams, the former bass player of Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. At this point I had been at SXSW for six days and it probably showed. Mildly put, the ice wasn't broken immediately. But slowly it became a fun conversation. Steve said he'd play "The Zoo" after the break. "We'll talk after," he said. That was of course fine with me.
But you did convince him in the end.
"Can we do it on Thursday?" I suggested. "No," he said. "Shit," I thought. I had already booked the studio. "Monday," he said. "There's no other option." But I had to DJ at SXSW on Monday! "Is Thursday really no option?" I insisted. "Thursday I sleep in," he said. "What time can you be in the studio?" I asked. "Five o'clock," he said. "Fine," I replied. So we got together the next day.
He does not sound like he's 80 years old.
No, he still sounds very fresh. Initially I hadn't even considered him singing, but then he proposed to do so himself. When I heard that voice I immediately knew this was just what I needed.
Did your love for Steve Kuhn start with this album?
Yes. Madlib's Yesterdays New Quintet made a cover of "The Meaning Of Love." The artwork is already crazy. Here, look at that cover, that's all you want on a record, right? Then I noticed the arrangements were from Gary McFarland, who I love, like all the other musicians that play on this record. I bought it six, seven years ago. Until that time, Kuhn mainly played jazz standards. Manfred Eichner, the founder of ECM Records, told him, "Steve, you really have to write your own music." Then he started making all this beautiful music.
Why did you pick this song?
That voice is really beautiful. Those runs are so bizarre. Vocals often sound as if they were all preconceived, artificially almost. But if he sings, I never have that feeling. It just sounds so effortless.
The lyrics are also very poetic.
All his lyrics are like that. [Starts to hum "The Zoo"] "Ham / how I love to eat ham / Vultures don't give a damn / Meat / Monkey's eat with their feet / So that when I'm alone / Left with only a bone / On top of the sky / Birds are wondering why."[laughs]. It is true. It's simple but it's true. I really admire somebody who is able to do that with lyrics. No pretension, I think that is extremely important. After all, no matter how seriously you announce you are going to drink a cup of coffee, if you're just going to drink coffee why would you make all the fuss? Also his voice does not demand anything from you on this record. It is much more something that floats around and whispers wonderful things, but never demands your attention. I find that pure genius. All my favourite voices are like that. Huge swings and sweeps make the music too charged most of the time, in my opinion.
On The Floor
Wha Ha Ha sounds like the name of a group that does not take itself too seriously.
But beware: they're all super good players. This is almost impossibly difficult to make. They have succeeded in creating something that scares you for a bit and makes you wonder, "Who are these guys?" It is very difficult to picture how this was actually made.
You hear footsteps and a door shutting.
Theatre music, that's what I call it. You cannot understand how this happened in a studio.
It sounds more like cartoon music to me.
Maybe. It is a bit like theatre jazz. It cannot be a joke, because it's far too good for that. Once you play that well you're always expected to play within a certain framework as a musician. But these guys really cannot be slotted into any box.
They combine all kinds of influences from Western European '80s pop, early electronics and avant-garde jazz.
When you realise you can express yourself better and better as an artist, the first thing you usually do is rebel against your peers. But my favourite artists always do the complete opposite. They open up the idea of what art or music can be. That adds the most in my opinion.
Also, doesn't it just make you laugh?
I know crazy, right? This is so bizarre. But I bet many musicians will not be able to play this if you'd ask them.
Wha-ha-ha is from Japan, you just returned from an album tour there. Is that where you found this record?
No. I knew it before. I did fall in love with Japan during that tour, though.
You just discover what a brutal bastard you really are. I try to live healthy and gather sane people around me, but it still is a bit of a pompous, bizarre world we live in. When I arrived in Japan you see that people treat you very politely and modestly and mirror you inadvertently. I had to play in Tokyo the night of my arrival. Normally my DJ sets are a party-orientated dialogue with the crowd, I really look for that reaction. During my set in Tokyo, however, the audience gazed and listened carefully. They did not give unsolicited feedback, because that is actually considered impolite in Japan, I think. They applauded once in a while when I played my own tracks. That's when I realised that they were actually there because they had listened to my album, because they appreciated my music. I hadn't experienced that very often as a DJ. Normally people just come to hear me play because they know I'll get the party started.
Solo Trumpet: Mirrors Of Infinity
This reminds me of the way John Dikeman plays saxophone in your quintet.
The trumpet really becomes a force of nature here. When I hear this I am no longer concerned about who plays it. That applies to the best music as a general rule, that I cannot imagine someone actually playing it. It's as if the trumpet dictates the boundaries. Evans is really fighting the trumpet.
Mostly Other People Do The Killing, the quartet that Peter plays with, recreated Miles Davis's Kind Of Blue. What did you think of that?
Some dull critics didn't like it. But I think it's beautiful because you're questioning something.
I hear a lot of brass in your selections. What would be your own weapon of choice if you could pick one?
The trombone. I actually just bought one. They are not the coolest men in the jazz band, I know, but they are still better off than the bass player. I will be secretly practicing for a few years. Well not for the neighbours, obviously, but I'll keep it under the radar. The trombone is the most comical instrument on earth I think [slides out an imaginary trumpet and makes the sound of an elephant].
Do you take lessons?
Yes. I want to try everything myself, but if you do not do it right your lips can burst. Very dangerous I've heard. If you do not hold your pen well, you also get arthritis.
An online wormhole, that's how I got here. When I saw the cover I thought, "Oh, this must be intense." After listening I was blown away immediately. I do not necessarily like folk, but they will play many a jazz musician off the stage.
That string section could also come from a flamenco band.
Yes, but that rhythm section is also so good. And did you listen to those lyrics?
Are they about slavery?
I don't think so. I believe "Drip Drip" is about murder. "Diana" is about rape. It is super dark music.
I read in the YouTube comments that people ended up there via Opeth.
Yes, it is a bit of a weird corner. Probably I ended up there via a musician who also played on a different record that I liked. I do not have it on vinyl, that record is super expensive.
They were a support act of David Bowie.
Yes, and yet they never made it big, while it really is the most bizarre folk album ever.
When I hear your DJ sets you play Kendrick, 2Pac, West Coast beats.
When I am DJing I do not have to show off how well I can dig or how hard I tried searching for rare finds. I just want people to have the best party possible.
So you drop a DuvelDuvel record, like the other day in Rotterdam.
Yes, because that record suited that place and time. After I also played "Pullover" from Speedy J, who is from Rotterdam.
Then a girl came up and sprayed a bottle of champagne all over you.
Sure, I am an entertainer. It is all entertainment. If you think that you are transcending something or pretending something does not suit you, you are not honest with yourself. Every DJ likes it when people have a good time in front of him or her. Once again, in my opinion all music is interesting, except Dixieland [laughs]. However, music still is very much location bound.
What do you mean?
Recorded music has only been around for half a century. Traditionally music was always much more of an activity than a product. Not so long ago a composer would go to a village and recruit a bunch of musicians—some professional, some amateurs—and gather everyone in the church or a local venue. A piece was tailored to the location and performed on site; it was much more of a community activity where the location was pivotal. Nowadays, especially in electronic music, a location is often considered a burden. You go to a studio to make music, a space that is as dead as possible. The sound engineer will say something like, "We'll add some reverb and make it sound like it's recorded in the Royal Albert Hall." There is little dialogue with the location anymore. When I DJ, I do want that dialogue. There is a Funktion-One system present for a reason. I'd rather play an Aphex Twin record than a Keith Tippett group recording in that case.
For Missus Beastly
MF Doom and Bishop Nehru sampled this track as NehruvianDoom for "Disastrous." Is that how you got into the band?
No, I knew Missus Beastly from their record with the gorilla artwork [Missus Beastly, 1974]. But I did not know that they released a record as Dr. Aftershave & The Mixed Pickles as well. I ran into it at a record fair. Look at this artwork, that cannot be anything else but great, right? I noticed that the record was made by the same musicians who just added "For Missus Beastly" on the album cover. They were not allowed to release a record under their own name anymore because of legal issues and then decided to change their name to Dr. Aftershave & The Mixed Pickles [laughs]. I immediately bought it.
The music also has that cartoonish quality.
It's a Michael Jackson-like voice with a retro synthesizer. Super funny. Humour is very important to me in all music and art. I think humour is the opposite of pretence and pretension is the murder of all art.
Is that also the reason why your last selection features a bird?
I think this is just the ultimate example of improvisational jazz. There is no music partner more unpredictable than a bird. If you can still make it work like that, you're brilliant. Essentially you are making music with something that is not impressed by you by definition. Misha Mengelberg had a very specific kind of humour. The record with that bird is an example of that, I find it super funny.
Instant Composition 5/VI/'72
Eeko, his parrot, also hated Misha.
Yes, Misha mentioned this during an interview. But apparently he also thought Eeko was super gifted musically. Misha also recorded music with his cat, Pief, on piano. There is a recording on YouTube where Pief walks on top of the keys.
The love between jazz musicians and birds is not new. Charlie Parker was even nicknamed The Bird.
Birds stand for freedom, which fits well with the improvisational nature of jazz music. David Rothenberg also made many records with birds and Olivier Messiaen was also very inspired by birds. Dave Holland smoked a big spliff and recorded everything that had to do with birds in his garden. He made these recordings into an album, Conference Of The Birds.
I hear birds on your last album. Birds are part of the artwork of your first EP, Guanyin Psittacines. Your new album is about birds. On your press photo there is a parrot on your shoulder. This record has a bird. Are you a fowler, Mitchel?
No. Not at all, and I also want to get rid of that image because it is starting to become a thing. But not before I make another project about birds.
Was Misha an influence when you made Fool?
Misha is a true jazz monster. I have seen him perform on various occasions. After a while he walked off the stage, it was just done. He had said what he wanted to say. I find that very interesting. He just really does what he feels in the moment. Pure improvisation. He also worked with ashtrays on top of piano strings and pulled more stunts like that.
What attracts you in this type of experimental jazz?
Avant-garde jazz is all about the experiment. Failure provides new perspective. Free jazz is more of a quest, for example Peter Brötzmann plays beautifully on emotions and in the moment. The location and the dialogue with the other musicians is key instead of the idea "I want my music to be played here." Free jazz does not have many demands.
Why are you so weary of pretensions?
I just cannot stand the idea of someone determining in advance that something is not suitable for someone else. I find that just as bad as people who think they own a piece of land because they were born there. If you say, "I created a great piece of music but it is not for you," who do you think you are?
Do you consider free jazz accessible then?
That's up to the listener. The moment you put up barriers you are being ill-mannered. But if you are going to make something and try to dumb it down, you're even worse. Then it is almost as if you are saying, "I made something beautiful and complex and shoved it into a hamburger bun so you'll understand."