Ictus: It’s pop music, but not as we know it


Contemporary music ensemble and long-time Rosas collaborators Ictus have commissioned new compositions for their Kaaitheater performance This Is Not a Pop Song II

A constant dialogue

“Every day I pinch myself,” Tom Pauwels says joyfully. “I’m being paid to listen to music, to work with composers, to come up with new projects. Amazing!”

Pauwels is the guitarist and one of the two leaders of Ictus, the chamber orchestra from Brussels that’s been around for 25 years. Even if you’ve not been to their concerts, there’s a good chance you’ll have heard them.

Vortex TemporumDrumming and Mikrokosmos are three pieces that dance ensemble Rosas will be performing all over Europe during the first half of the year. Apart from all being choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, they have another trait in common: The music is played by Ictus.

“Our collaboration works on different levels,” explains Pauwels, who shares artistic duties with pianist Jean-Luc Plouvier. “Listening to new music that Rosas receives, suggesting music that really seems fitting for them. For instance, a few years ago Jean-Luc gave Vortex Temporum to Anne Teresa. It’s a constant dialogue.”

One wonders where Ictus would be without Rosas, with whom they share a building in the southwest of the capital. Looking at their agenda, the concerts seem to be overshadowed by Rosas performances. “I can’t deny that Rosas is an important partner,” Pauwels admits. “It’s a great synergy, but it changes from one season to the next.”

This year, he continues, “there’s an extremely large number of performances due to the success of Vortex Temporum. Over the years, Ictus has had the chance to grow, partially thanks to Rosas. But we also play 50, 60 concerts each year, in different line-ups, from trios to the whole ensemble.”

In search of new talent

Ictus have been around for more than two decades, and they’re made up of 21 musicians, several of whom have been there since the beginning. Pauwels, who turns 40 this year, is the youngest member of the ensemble. “A group that stays together for so long, that’s amazing,” he says. “We’ve built up quite a lot of expertise. I can imagine in 10 years, due to advancing age, we might be getting problems with – it’s only human – memory or concentration.”

I think that Ictus are at the height of their skills

- Tom Pauwels

With that in mind, Ictus, together with the ensemble Spectra, is investing a lot of time in an advanced Master’s in Contemporary Music at the School of Arts in Ghent: Young musicians from all over the world are being coached. “It’s an alternative form of scouting,” Pauwels explains.

But he also adds firmly: “I think Ictus are at the height of their skills. What we do with Rosas for Vortex Temporum – playing the work by heart, without a conductor, for more than 100 dates all over the world – wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.”

Pauwels and Plouvier are the artistic directors, but they’re no dictators. “We want musicians with a strong personality, who bring their own ideas and dare to question ours,” says Pauwels.

Almost two years after the first edition of the concert, Ictus next week perform This Is Not a Pop Song II, for which they commissioned five new compositions, though only four will be finished. “Within Ictus, the past 10 years or so, a sub-group spontaneously emerged with an important role for electric guitar, synthesisers and drums. But within a very heterogeneous context: mixing – and this has become our trademark – acoustic and electric instruments.”

If one of the four new works has the traits of a pop song, it certainly won’t be your usual tune. “We asked composers to write short compositions, using the pop song as a model, but twisting it. Or not; that’s the composer’s choice.” All but one have vocals.

Not your usual tune

An impetus for both editions of This Is Not a Pop Song was the presence of flautist Michael Schmid. “He’s a great performer and vocal artist,” says Pauwels. He was the only vocalist during the first edition, but this time around he gets a couple of sidekicks: Austrian composer Eva Reiter and Brussels-based American dancer, choreographer and performance artist Eleanor Bauer will both sing their own compositions.

In the first edition, we tapped into a new audience

- Tom Pauwels

“In the first edition, we noticed that we tapped into a new audience. And we see, a bit to our surprise, that our regular, slightly older audience has stayed interested, too.”

This Is Not a Pop Song (II) wasn’t planned in advance for this season, and the costs weren’t covered in the ensemble’s budget. So they turned to crowdfunding. Participants could give an amount ranging from €10 to €100, for which they would receive perks, from an Ictus ringtone (€10) all the way to an invitation to a rehearsal and one of the concerts (€100).

But having only collected €725 of the desired €4,400, it wasn’t a huge success. Or, as Pauwels phrases it: “It’s a fiasco. The money will be returned to sender; that was the deal if we didn’t succeed.”

But it doesn’t mean the end of Ictus’ crowdfunding ambitions. “It’s a way of discovering who our audience is,” he says.

Pauwels also has a little surprise for everyone who expressed the desire to support This Is Not a Pop Song (II): They’ll still receive a free ringtone. But not of a pop song.

18 February, 20.30
Kaaitheater, Sainctelettesquare 2, Brussels

29 March, 20.00
deSingel, Desguinlei 25, Antwerp


Music reviews

Wat houdt de honden stil? • Mörg
A qualified industrial designer, Geert Hautekiet has worked in theatre and as an illustrator, a storyteller and a musician over the past 20 years. His new band, Mörg (not to confused with his 2008 project Mr & Mr Mörg), combine a whole series of string instruments (guitars, dobro-ukulele, even a tennis racket!) with low-pitched brass (euphonium, sousaphone) and violins. On their debut, Wat houdt de honden stil? (What Keeps the Dogs Quiet?), this results in an eclectic rootsy sound, varying from zestfully rocking to intimate folk-bluesy. The album is only available on vinyl, but at shows the band sell a do-it-yourself CD kit.

Marching • Zeal
Two years after her praised debut, Extending Playground, Renée Sys, who hails from the small West Flemish town of Sijsele, surprises with the follow-up, Marching. It was born out of the singer’s love for marching bands: Each song started with a drum rhythm and a vocal. The rest of the instruments were added later. The result is a collection of pop songs, not just mere rhythmical ideas, with at their heart Renée’s highly addictive voice.

Eriksson Delcroix
For Ever • Waste My Records
The couple Björn Eriksson (with credits ranging from Zita Swoon to The Broken Circle Breakdown Band) and Nathalie Delcroix (Laïs) share a love for country music. For their previous collaboration, The Partchesz, they mixed the genre with electronics, but there’s nothing of the sort on the new albumFor Ever. The dozen country duets here hark more back to traditional country (is that the clatter of hooves in “The Valley”?) than the hip alt country of the past decade. But that’s fine: The twosome present heartfelt songs that never sound nostalgic. Antwerp has become a suburb of Nashville.

Ictus: It’s pop music, but not as we know it

LinkedIn this