Edition: II


Thomas Smetryns

Country: Belgium

The Artist's Music


Thomas Smetryns was born in Ghent on 13 December 1977. He studied composition with Godfried-Willem Raes, and guitar, lute and theorbo with Ida Polck and Philippe Malfeyt at the Ghent Conservatory.


As a composer he is very interested in the search for a new, experimental musical practice that remains anchored in an historical and/or social (sub)consciousness. He shares this interest with the Americans Brent Wetters and Jonathon Kirk; together, they form the composers’ collective “Medusa” Smetryns has written works for such artists as the Spectra Ensemble, Daan Vande Walle, trumpet player Jason Price, M&M ensemble, and the HERMESensemble. He is also active as a lutenist in the Oberon Consort, which is specialised in the Italian Renaissance and Early Baroque periods, combining this with other freelance activities. In his work as a DJ of exclusively 78 RPM records he again deals with placing the musical past in a contemporary context. Thomas Smetryns teaches analysis of 20th-century music at the Ghent Conservatory and guitar at the Oostende Conservatory.


Thomas Smetryns his compositions are the result of a search towards a personal, experimental music practice which is always rooted in a historical and social (un)consciousness. Many of his pieces are based on other musicians work (Claudio Monteverdi in the “Terza Prattica” project, Mississippi John Hurt in the piano piece “Hurt”, The ottoman musician Ali Ufki in his newest ensemble piece “Extremely slowed down 17th century Turkish Melody with Variations”). Also in his activities as a DJ he tries to deal with the musical past in a contemporary context. For Thomas Smetryns, composing is more than simply a matter of making compositions. What is central to him is rather the thought process concerning the relationship between music and society. His compositions always explore one or more aspects of this relationship. Considering that there are of course no unequivocal answers to this question – reality is in fact kaleidoscopic, and different for each person – Thomas Smetryns is constantly in search of nuance. One of Smetryns’ first compositions, Fade Out, illustrates a first phase in his oeuvre. An important sound-characteristic shared by all the instruments in Fade Out is that once a note has been played, it dies away. The desire to keep this particular aspect of the sound under control, with the aim of shedding light on the various shifts in timbre in the different fade-outs, results in highly detailed representations of the sounding result. In these and other early compositions, Thomas Smetryns has developed his interest in graphic means of representing music, and has explored the performance possibilities. Both Peace Anthem and Guitar Environment are examples of works that illustrate the variety of possibilities offered by graphic notation. Graphic notation is, however, never the point in and of itself; rather, the composer seeks to create a score in which the desired sound is achieved with a minimum of information, while the performers are given maximum freedom.Thomas Smetryns often juxtaposes different musical worlds in his compositions. For example, several levels of musical development can be detected in …another just another one man band… : whereas the one man band tends to be soloistic and independent at the beginning, he develops towards playing together with the ensemble. This development is also audible within the ensemble: the work’s rhythm, at first free and self-regulating, evolves into a rhythm in which the different musicians become independent of one another.Smetryns often takes an intuitive approach to composing. This is most evident in a work such as A=a=a=a for percussion trio, in which he bases the harmonic material on a collage made from fragments of 1940s big-band scores. He also makes use of improvisation, as in Queue.

Notes on the Musma Composition

“On the Nature of Program Music”

For Liszt, his music was the musical expression of intense emotions that represented certain landscapes for him. When hearing such a composition, listeners also experience emotions and can possibly also imagine a landscape. So it’s all power for the imagination. It’s clear that this is a game; as a listener you have a reference framework that enables you to discover certain emotions and desires (anxiety, loneliness, calm, spirituality…) in these landscapes – and their inhabitants – just like he can experience these emotions with music. Listeners link these references to each other. The nice thing about this game is that there is always a transfer; a chain is formed – as it were – that starts and ends with a landscape. But just because of this subjectivity, the human fantasy, when listened to twice the original landscape appears very different form the landscape that the listener imagines. These often untouched landscapes have become very vulnerable in the 21st century for all sorts of reasons (population growth, growing cities, intensive agriculture, pollution, etc.). It is however our duty to carefully manage these landscapes and by extension protect the whole planet where necessary. It is necessary to retain this diversity to define ourselves using as broad a reference framework as possible. Nature, our environment, tells us where we come from and who we are today. We use them as a mirror and, as already described above, allow ourselves to be influenced emotionally and enable ourselves to be constantly reoriented. For the same reasons that we have to cherish our environment, we also have to cherish our cultural patrimony. To illustrate this, a piano from the time of Liszt has been chosen for this project. This instrument does not only sound very different from a modern piano; it also nicely illustrates the changes in music, how it created new possibilities for composers and performers in the 19th century, and how other methods of playing and sounds were lost and how certain nuances disappeared at the same time… The starting point for Thomas Smetryns’ composition is that we must ensure we don’t simply limit ourselves to preserving the world of sound but that we also give it a place in the 21st century and use it in the constant consideration and reconsideration of our culture.