Esther Venrooy and
Heleen Van Haegenborgh
Electronic composer Esther Venrooy and pianist Heleen Van
Haegenborgh’s collaboration explores the synergy of acoustic piano
with electronics and digital sound processing. Their compositions
aim to draw the listener into the inner workings of the piano.
Employing a battery of microphones, resonating elements and
tiny inaudible mechanical sounds are captured, manipulated and
magnified through electronic means, resulting in fragile textures
where the boundaries between electronic and acoustic sound
Heleen Van Haegenborgh (1980, Gent, Belgium) studied piano at
the Gent conservatory with Claude Coppens and Daan Vandewalle,
followd by master classes with Jan Michiels, Boyan Vodenicharov,
Louis Pas, John Tilbury, Luc Vaes, and Claire Chevalier. Her work
attempts to combine new music with extended piano-playing
techniques. A frequent collaborator, she has worked with composer
Thomas Smetryns since 2006; their compositions include works
for piano (and its interior), electric guitar, 78 rpm record players,
and tape. Van Haegenborgh also plays in several improvisation
groups: a trio with Tape Tum (laptop, electric guitar and piano),
and a newly-formed quintet with Guy De Bièvre, Esther Venrooy,
Thomas Smetryns and Xavier Verhelst. She’s also working with
the Hermes Ensemble and playing solo concerts of experimental
music by the likes of James Tenney, John Cage, Alvin Lucier,
and Morton Feldman.
Mock Interiors was presented with a concert at Vooruit, Gent,
on 8 May 2008.
Video excerpt of Mock Interiors, performed at Cafe Wilhelmina
in Eindhoven, 1 December 2008.
“Kind on the nerves, yet incredibly intense”—Touching Extremes
Esther Venrooy and Heleen Van Haegenborgh, Gent 2008
Photograph by Katrien Vermeire
It is by now ascertained that Esther Venrooy is a consequential
name of the early 21st century as far as probing scrutiny of
the sonic spectrum is concerned. On the contrary, I never met
Heelen Van Haegenborgh before, something whispering in my
ear that another woman with serious balls is pressing forward
in this zone. Remarkably, the ever-excellent Entr’acte label
seems to represent the meeting place for female sharpness in
that sense: girls like these, or hamaYôko, or the memorable
Helena Gough (you haven’t heard ‘with what remains’? Wake
up, then), are the expression of an increasing pool of talent
that is right there, if only people learnt to observe attentively
enough and stop running after every idiot that looks groggily
drugged from a magazine’s cover. Mock interiors is kind on the
nerves, yet incredibly intense; it could be ranked both in the
advanced division of contemporary ambient and among the
works by people who follow the footsteps of pioneers such as
Eliane Radigue, to whom Venrooy is perennially matched up
(rightly so in terms of vision, but the music is quite different:
a little more unquiet vibrations in that transcendence,
the attitude of a scientist rather than a meditating entity).
Van Haegenborgh plays piano and harmonium besides
contributing with her own compositions; in general, both
artists privilege long reverberations and rarefied chords,
elegant dapples of semi-concrete presence in a suspension
of synchronisations and coincidental meetings. At times we
clearly detect the existence of preparations on the piano
strings — some rattle, some buzz — but the overall feel
induces a sense of intimate reclusiveness, drops of alertness
in self-disciplined systems sounding as allaying as a balm for
Massimo Ricci at Touching Extremes
Mock Interiors finds Esther Venrooy in the company of fellow
composer and improviser Heleen Van Hagenborgh. The pair
concentrate on short forms — the CD contains 11 tracks —
but the prevailing heartbeat remains slow, and the music is
intense and thoroughly worked. Pianist Van Hagenborgh has
studied with, amongst others, John Tilbury, and it shows
in her timing and touch. But there’s dark Romanticism to her
playing too, best exemplified in the sombre minor harmonies
of Impromptu Dhalia, which Venrooy extends and explores with
the breathtaking precision and sensitivity of a brain surgeon.
Dan Warburton in The Wire
I have heard many examples of people combining electronics
with acoustic sources. But there are many ways to fuck that
up. This time it has been done very well.
What we hear is decent microphone recording. A piano playing
four notes. Something gliding over a piano snare length-wise,
then across. Bubbling of water, the creaking of a chair, puffs.
Everything is very well structured [and] in a good tempo.
The balance between electronic and acoustic is really splendid.
All of this not only counts for each track but also for the
complete disc. Themes return, yes, but exactly at the right
moment and with quite interesting variations. Recommended!
Jos Smolders at Earlabs