Orquesta del Tiempo Perdido has become a mainstay in my headphones over the last year, and with two new albums in the space of a few months – Sepk and Rimpianti – there’s no sign of that letting up. Jeroen Kimman pulls countless threads through a whirling musical wormhole, putting together sonic and rhythmic combinations that are endlessly engaging. He builds worlds from the foundation and then invites others – musicians and listeners alike – to carve their own initials in these spaces, dance around, and experience all the highs and lows that can be found here. With that, there’s an emotional toll to be paid – much of this music swims through heavy currents – but it’s always memorable, and encourages repeated visits.
I always like to start at the beginning, so what are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?
I think my earliest cherished musical memory comes from a Herman van Veen album that I would listen to over and over, together with my older sisters. He’s a rather famous theater and music guy from Holland, although I haven’t been a fan (to put it mildly) since the 4 and a half decades that have passed since. To me, that album was like listening to a fairytale, a transportive special world of its own. I think that my need for music to do that has kind of stuck…
A little bit later Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall was just on an endless repeat. And then I would listen to the radio a lot, and go to the mall every week to pick up these weekly Top 40 sheets, so I would be in position to record my favorite songs on cassette.
Did you always want to be a musician or play music?
I had classical guitar lessons from when I was 8, and couldn’t be happier to quit by the time I was 11 (which I regret these days). Only a few years later, when a bunch of alternative older kids brought their guitars to my sister’s party and played the (often new wave) songs I liked, did I feel a real tickle. It was kind of a shock that you could also use the guitar to simply play the songs you like, kind of shockingly naive in retrospect. One of these boys taught me U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that day, and I was frantically playing just that one song, until a few months later my dad and I went out to buy an electric guitar for my 14th birthday. Then I got pretty serious about it quickly. When just a few years later a band that I was in got quite popular locally (catching that late 80’s wave of crossover bands wildly fusing rap and funk and metal), I figured it would be great to somehow keep doing music, and nothing else. I’ve been lucky that I managed to do that up till this point, although with no guarantees for the future alas. I have zero other skills though…
What was the thing that really pushed you into writing your own music?
Not sure, I think I started making my own ditties almost from the beginning. Very autodidactic, like throwing dice to come up with the most unexpected riffs. I never tried to follow a template from music already made by someone else; in that sense, nothing has changed: I make music because I’m curious to imagine something that hasn’t been made yet, sort of. Despite the adage that ‘everything has been done already.’
Maybe my huge Prince fanboy early teen years have contributed to my wanting to make my own music, and freely crossing style boundaries in doing so.
One thing I am so drawn to by your work is the unexpected nature of it. I feel like I can’t predict what will happen from album to album – sometimes even from song to song. I think it’s really wonderful, but I have to imagine it can be a challenge. How do you approach writing new works – do you think in terms of writing an album with a particular feeling or theme, or do you just start writing songs and wait to see how it comes together?
The challenge lies mostly in getting past my own intuitive filter, and that can take time. It’s hard to describe that, but surely the need to surprise myself plays a factor. As well as trying to achieve a balance between often contrasting elements, but again, that is not a rational process for me, just a feeling that needs to be right somehow.
So when for every new song I try to re-invent the wheel, to keep those ears fresh, with hardly a plan beforehand, -just starting to noodle to see what first sound grabs my attention-; it is perhaps to be expected that the final album gets a bit all over the place. (although I’ve learned to trust that somehow it is all connected through that personal filter)
Indeed I mostly make a bunch of individual pieces and throw them in a pile eventually. That probably has a lot to do with how I mostly listen to music, which is a very eclectic music collection on shuffle, with constant unexpected turns around every corner. I don’t use Spotify, the idea that an algorithm tells you ‘If you like this, then you’ll like this too’ is quite awful to me, getting stuck in a category.
Although the last years I do think to a greater extent about a more general feel for an album, very much inspired by Rozi Plain’s last 2 albums, and how she creates this one particular (surprising yet mellow) world where you just like to reside. But I have a long way to go before ever getting there.
I was thinking about your recent album, Sepk, over the weekend, and how there’s this feeling throughout, at least to me, of things trying to fall apart, but there’s a determination in the music to hold it together. I don’t know if that makes sense. I’m curious, though, what was going through your mind and what you were thinking about when you were writing Sepk?
That notion of things falling apart does make sense to me, yes. I think it mostly has to do with how I like to think about rhythm. I’m usually not into a very tight rhythmical grid, like what most modern music software steers you toward, clicktrack-based stuff. How I prefer to approach it probably comes from different angles: I listen to a lot of traditional folk music from all over the world and am fascinated by this loose sense of microrhythm that one might find in, for example, Moroccan, Brazilian, or Burmese music. The mystery of jazz swing plays a part as well. Or having played a lot with classically trained musicians, this sense of rubato, breathing together, but then I try to apply that to a beat. Surely I like to play with people with a good sense of rhythm, but there’s something democratic about being able to place your dots wherever around and between the tempo, and how everyone’s interpretation together creates this web. But there’s also a comedy element there, where I exaggerate the playing behind the beat thing to a point where it becomes silly, or sticking these almost random commas in, like throwing a wrench for good measure. It’s again about balancing elements, and when something tends to become too pretty, my tendency is to go into destructo-mode for some contrast.
For the Sepk album two different things particularly inspired me: on one hand the rawness in the production of certain underground hiphop music, and rhythmically, how rappers like MIKE, Freddie Gibbs, and Earl Sweatshirt flow around an already messed up beat. And then there is my great love for Huayno music from the Andes that played its part, particularly in how, again, that music so mysteriously flows over and outside of the rhythmic grid. Impossible to put your finger on it.
Overall for Sepk, I was going for a very swampy and grainy sound, and when it was done, it was pointed out to me how it has a much darker feel than the previous albums, which I think is true, although unintentional.
You’ve also got another new album coming soon, Rimpianti. What’s the story behind that one and does it have a connection with Sepk? To me, sonically it feels somewhat related, but spiritually it really feels connected, if not more fraught.
Indeed, much more fraught. On a personal level at least: it’s been a tough summer -let’s just say that these days every George Jones song speaks hard to me-, and these feelings simply needed to be expressed through music, quickly. That is also why I decided to auto-release it, to put it out there while it still feels warm. (Sepk was actually finished almost a year and a half ago, but then releasing with a label often means it can take a long time to bring it out.) Probably strategically suicidal to release an album on day one of summer holiday, and then do it again just before the season starts. But right now I can’t really care: made a message in a bottle that needed to be thrown in the water, to hopefully be able to move on.
So these two albums aren’t really connected in any way to me. (except maybe for both sharing some new excursions into microtonality, I had a baritone guitar re-fretted into a 19-tone (per octave) system, and it’s been fun to compose for that, funnily awkward intervals)
Also Rimpianti, unlike the earlier albums, is a solo record, where I just played off myself, and recorded any instrument I could get my hands on, including a bunch that I can’t play that well, or even not at all. For example, I really enjoyed going straight into recording a (cheap baby) cello, without even a minute of practice.. The solo aspect of it can get claustrophobic, in a musical sense, but in this case that worked for me, since it deals with sentiments that I needed to express in solitude.
You also mentioned to me that there’s a sense of urgency associated with it, and I think that comes through in the music. There’s a frenetic feeling embedded there, this inability to sit still as though there’s something inside of you that you’re simultaneously trying to get rid of and hold inside. I think it also creates tension in an interesting way. How does writing and playing music help you channel and process all these emotions?
I like how you put that, ‘trying to get rid of and hold inside.’ Yes, a lot of urgency, also in terms of making it about five times faster than usual, but especially since I’ve never made something that had such a direct connection to my inner feelings, usually there’s something meta to how I build up my music, and layer it a lot, and give semi-cynical comments and this ‘hey-I’m-untouchable!-humor’ through it. I realize that before the last album, a lot of my music was actually about music itself, and what it can do. All of a sudden this old romantic need to express one’s human emotions appeared, quite a different process.
It was really beneficial to just spill it out this time, make quick decisions, and not fill in all the blanks, but leave space for desire.
I am aware that for a long time, there has been a therapeutical side to making music in (mostly) solitude, but in this particular process, it really helped to be able to lose myself in an acute frenzy and accept a lot of first and honest takes. It made me positively question certain (musical or not) patterns I tend to get stuck in.
Speaking of your albums – you always have an incredible ensemble of musicians and collaborators. Am I right that it’s generally the same ensemble (with a few additions or subtractions)? I’m curious, how did you come to play with these artists?
Indeed there’s a pool of incredible (mostly Amsterdam) musicians that I’m lucky to work with, some real musical heroes of mine.
My professional life is a bit different than usual I think, in that I play in very diverse musical settings, mostly between jazz-related bands, and composed music, in ensembles and orchestras. (but then also in country, mariachi, opera, and theatre, for example) I like the anthropology of it, especially in how different the social codes can get, and pretending that you sort of belong in whatever situation you find yourself in, for the time being. However in the end I’m afraid I am a bit of a loner.. and not a specialist in anything. Anyway, the musicians who record with me come from these different cultures and are the ones I really clicked with. (even though there’s also an ever-changing actual band that plays a few gigs a year, these albums are mostly a home studio-driven project).
There are so many aspects of your music that I find transportive. It’s music that takes the listener to someplace else, even to another time and creates these vivid sonic spaces to explore. How has music been a medium for creating and exploring new worlds and ideas for you? And how do you try to harness these transportive effects in your work?
I’m happy to hear it has that effect, even if it’s hard to say something about the process behind it, apart from it being very intuitive and not all too conscious. For a while, I was doing these Feldenkrais sessions with this lady, who I see as a magical witch really, and she always pointed out how my eyes constantly want to escape to ‘the above’, anywhere but the direct here and now. Surely the OdTP music tries to do that as well, maybe providing some escapism. (Although the message was to not let those eyes wander..)
I am quite the sucker for nostalgia and melancholy and try to express that without too much pretension or blatant minor keys. I do find that melody has an important role in my music, and I spend quite some time trying to get them just right, I feel they play a part in getting this Proustian take on life (and well, death) across.
I’m also curious how you think that aspect of sound and composition can foster moments of shared connection?
Well, like I said, I feel a bit of a loner and am aware that this music does not automatically give one a sense of community. All I can do is make what I feel I have to make, and hope that someone out there finds that bottle.
Oh, I always meant to ask how you came to work with Astral Spirits on traantjes. That was my first introduction to your work, and it was such an interesting and fantastic thing for them to put out.
Well, for traantjes, I reached out to some more in-the-loop people to ask where I might possibly be able to release it, and then both Leo Svirsky and Peter Margasak suggested I try my luck with Astral Spirits. I knew the label already, seeing it mostly as representing free jazz, which I don’t do, so I figured there wasn’t a chance in hell. The day Nate contacted me was a good one, that was a nice ride.