This is your composer speaking: Andrea Voets

in conversation with Co de Kloet at New Music Conference 2023

Andrea Voets talks with Co

Dutch-Flemish Andrea Voets (34) is a musical journalist. Schooled as a classical harpist, she now interviews people about so-called ‘emotional blind spots’: phenomena that are negatively affecting a broader part of society, but are not yet fully known. To accompany their words, Voets and her team of musicians compose brand new music, presenting everything in a podcast or performance. Co de Kloet interviewed Voets on November 9 during New Music Conference 2023 about her unique method of combining journalism with new music.

European history as starting point

A East-German who suffered from the difficulties of the unification of Germany after the fall of the wall. A Romanian who grew up in an orphanage during the time abortion was forbidden by dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Andrea Voets interviewed millennials who were deeply affected by important events in recent European history. Those testimonies were the starting point for her podcast and performance Millennial History (2022).

‘We carry their words with music’, she says at New Music Conference. ‘We’re creating the embedding for very harsh interviews and basically bring out what is being said between the lines. As musicians, we hear these kinds of things. Most of the interviews are not these super confessional #tellmeyourwholelifestory – I don’t dig for that. I’m from Belgium, where people are very codified in the way they communicate. People usually tell a lot in between the words they are saying. And that’s excellent for musical journalism.’

You call yourself the only musical journalist in the world. That’s quite a label.
‘I know it’s true. I’ve looked, but I have found nobody or no company that is combining in-depth social journalism with original compositions and music. Nobody in the journalistic field uses music as serious and complete as we do. And in music theatre, you see people making documentary arts often as a one-time thing. There is not a constant dedication to that way of working. Also: I completely limit myself in the creation of the scripts to the tape of the original interviews. Makers often rewrite what people have told them into their own script, but I don’t want to do that. That’s why I say I’m the only one who does this work.’

The combination: music and journalism

Do you combine journalism with music, or the other way around?
‘When I’m interviewing, I’m already thinking ahead to what the music is going to be, and I can gear my questions towards that. When I’m editing to make a show, I already have things in mind that will happen in a particular way in composition. So everything is influencing everything all the time. And I am super strict when we are composing. I have to relate to every single word that every person is saying. We are not soundtracking, like a film, but really creating the music from the well of what people have told us.’

How did you decide: ‘all right, I am a musician, but I also have a journalistic talent, I am going to talk to those people?’
‘I didn’t know I had a talent for interviewing. It’s just that I can’t do things that don’t make sense to me. I want to be able to get up and feel that there is a point in what I’m doing with my life. I can’t be bothered to send music into an audience just like that, but the combination with journalism on very specific topics, topics that need music in order to be felt, does make sense to me. I see it in every production: that it really can make a big impact on the listeners that come to our live shows.’

First identify the topic

How do you start? Is tape always the first step?
‘Tape is the starting point for the show, but the very first step is identifying the topic that I want to work with. Not every subject is suitable. I work with ‘emotional blind spots’ in society. Because that’s where you need music and the subliminal. To me, these emotional blind spots are phenomena or feelings that are affecting many people in society and are lowering the quality of life, but we can’t really put a finger yet on what it is. For those topics you need in-depth, almost sociological journalism, combined with a lot of original music. Like in Millennial History: there are a lot of forgotten histories – people were very shocked that so many things happened in Europe in what should be ‘sixty years of peace’. That is basically an insult if you say that to the Northern-Irish.’

How do you find those emotional blind spots? There might be blind spots for you too.
‘Totally. This is the hardest part – I don’t have a list of 15 projects that I want to do. But I also studied philosophy and because of that, I think I am sensitive to things people say that shift my paradigm. For instance, the show that we’re making now, FOR REAL, was inspired by a book called The Authority Gap, Why Women Are Still Not Taken Seriously. It’s 400 pages of sociological research that shows with hard data the sexism on the mind and intelligence of women. How that is short-cutting your life and making it harder to get anywhere in your career or to manifest what you want.

‘The book made me really upset. Although I get my funding in order, things are still very difficult: some people don’t believe that it’s me doing these things. In one of my shows, While We Live, you see me talk and interview in Greek. Afterwards, at least four times, people asked me: ‘how did you do that? Everything is in Greek, did you have a translator? How did you pay for all of that?’ They didn’t notice that they just saw me speak in Greek for one and a half hours. And after I published a 4000-words piece in the Groene Amsterdammer, written from my perspective, people came to me saying: ‘somebody wrote a really good piece about you!’ This is why I have to make FOR REAL.

Method of working

When you discovered this concept, this method of working, did you ever have any doubts if it would work for the audience?
‘No. I really believe in music. So much. As a musician, I want to take more responsibility for society. I don’t need to make conceptual art, but I want to siphon the energy of what music can do into a real context of real problems with real people and make it super concrete. And it works. Not because I make it, but because music can do that. Somebody just needs to put it together. I remember we had the first rehearsal for my very first documentary concert in 2016, with five people in the audience or so. And they were just sobbing half an hour through the whole performance. That made me very happy. There’s lots of moments where I’m also just gushing down into tears. Because it’s just so heartbreaking what people say. And we carry that with music. This is actually the magic of our field.’


See FOR REAL in 2024

Photos by Claudia Hansen
Text by Stella Vrijmoed