Occasionally music comes into your orbit that just puts you on your ass. Music that you sink right into and you lose yourself inside. It’s a rare and beautiful feeling, and one that Belgium based artist ‘t Geruis seemingly effortlessly provides via with his strange, atmospheric, at times highly repetitive pieces from his debut album Various Thoughts And Place (Lost Tribe Sound). His music seems to tug at your very soul, with his sounds feeling aged, archaic, existing from another century – something between a woozy degraded field recording and murky sound design. I knew nothing about ‘t Geruis prior to pressing play, but the impending release of Various Thoughts and Place made me realise that I had to know more, so I reached out via email.
Cyclic Defrost: Okay yep. I have to be honest. I don’t know what I’m dealing with here, which I like. Who are you? What is ‘t Geruis? What does it mean?
‘t Geruis: ‘t Geruis is Dutch for “the noise” or “the murmur”. The name comes from the feeling that there is this sort of murmur, some noise, deep inside of the being. This comforting yet sometimes slightly strange feeling that feels right and true. We can call this melancholy, nostalgia, inspiration, but I think that depends on who you ask. Using ‘t Geruis as an ode to this seemed like the most loving thing to do .
Cyclic Defrost: Who am I talking to?
‘t Geruis: Hey Bob, my name is Daniel.
Cyclic Defrost: Is Various Thoughts and Places your debut album?
‘t Geruis: Yes it’s the first ‘t Geruis album. Although there has been two small EP’s before this one.
Cyclic Defrost: I understand you are based in Belgium. Can you tell me how your environment impacts upon your music if at all? When I think of Belgium I think of a shitload of beers, Ex Drummer and Deus. All of which make me happy. Well the first two Deus albums anyway.
‘t Geruis: The environment plays absolutely a big part in how the music will sound. The thing that makes Belgium impactful, and most European countries perhaps, is that you have this very big diversity in landscapes, nature, cities, architecture and people on a short stretch of land.
You can travel 30 minutes and experience a completely different place. Which is a very rich experience. And yes you can also find this diversity in food, drinks, beers especially. Some of these are very old traditional breweries. There is a lot of love in some of these.
A couple of the pieces on the album are directly influenced by certain regions or places by the way. Some people might recognize a few in the titles.
I was not aware that Ex-drummer was so well known so far away. That’s nice.
Cyclic Defrost: Can you tell me a little bit about your compositional process? Does it change much? Elements of what you do feel improvised, like you develop a mood and then noodle around. Other times you hit on a combination and keep rolling on. What are you searching for?
‘t Geruis: There are some periods where the process changes often. The overall approach in the beginning is very experimental and sometimes almost destructive. The creation begins with trying to find beauty, and as you said, “moods” in the sounds. This can be a small loop, a theme on the piano or synthesizer or any recorded sound. Sometimes almost untreated, other times very much worked over with whatever effect of processing it needs there. There are so much melodies, rhythms and textures around us, and it feels like magic to be able to catch these.
Last week I sneaked into someones garden to record them polishing their floor with this machine that made the most beautiful sound. It was actually two notes, one of the machine itself, and one of the brushes on the wooden floor. I am not sure what went on. They had all their windows open and it filled the neighbourhood with this amazing drone. It was this mix between a woodwind and strings.
These moments bring a lot of joy.
In general: The recurring theme is definitely this friction, tension. Then when the mood is set, this small loop, repetition, melody will become the basis for more melody (noodling), or more repetition while evolving (keeping rolling on).
This is where the process get’s a bit more “traditional”. If the basis, the mood is right, the piece basically starts writing itself. That’s were I might start improvising little motives etc. either with analog synths, digital, whatever. All is there. Old gear, dsp, broken instruments, newer synthesis techniques, whatever feels right.
Cyclic Defrost: It feels like your music is treated in this woozy kind of warmth. It feels antique. The closest thing I can think of is elements of the non singing bits of Mum, Sparklehorse or the way Boards of Canada treat their sounds so they seem like the audio equivalent of a faded Polaroid picture. Though you sound murkier, like that picture has been buried for a few years. How important is the timbre of the music for you? What are you going for?
‘t Geruis: Timbre is very important. As important as any other element in the music. In some cases the colour of the sound tells more than the (traditional) musical content (if there is any of course).
There are so many details possible that can solicit a totally different reaction of and evoke a different mood.
What I am going for is purely emotional. When the feeling is right, when this mental, sometimes even physical reaction is there, that’s the sign to carry on. I do understand you referencing old photographs though. I see it more as “damaged”..or no..perhaps “imperfect”. And yes old things are most of the time one of these.
Cyclic Defrost: I feel a certain melancholy to a lot of the music on Various Thoughts and Places, particularly Een Der Ergens In De Vallei. Are you a melancholic person? Why do you think the music comes out this way?
‘t Geruis: The most common definition of melancholy is one that leans towards a negative or sad state of mind. Longing for things that were. I believe.
But, I also believe everyone has their inner lake of sadness, longing etc. Some people are more aware of it, or let this take a larger place in their lives or personality, that is the difference between humans we can witness and sometimes call “melancholic”.
I am definitely someone that embraces emotions, feelings, experiences and might even be guided by these emotions more than I sometimes wish. But that is life. The search for wonder sometimes brings us into muddy waters and that’s fine.
Cyclic Defrost: Tell me about your relationship with tempo. What is it about a slow cadence that provides an interest for you?
‘t Geruis: Yes most of the record is in a slower tempo. But that feels more like how the music turns out right now instead of a general preference. It does give more place to pay attention to certain details which feels important.
Cyclic Defrost: When I listen to Where the Birds Resonate it reminds me of a field recording, maybe the repetition of frogs and cicadas in a swamp somewhere. Can you tell me a little bit about what is going on here? And what you were thinking?
‘t Geruis: Yes they do sound like cicadas i have noticed too, but they are not. It’s actually two layers of amp modulated white noise. The image of insects fits well with the piece though, and actually inspired me to turn the piece into what it is now. So let’s hereby make them insects from now on.
This one I will explain: I used to walk by this very dense piece of forest often late in the evening, and for some reason the birds would sing until very late there, when others were already asleep (or simply just silent). their song (or “cries if you prefer) would resonate between the trees and give this very impressive reverb effect. I felt so touched by this that I tried recreating the experience into what became Where Birds Resonate. I haven’t looked too far for the title as you can see now.
Cyclic Defrost: I get the sense that you like the kind of rickety imprecise sounds, where everything is a little bit wrong and ill fitting but it all comes together and becomes something else, something greater. Am I projecting here?
‘t Geruis: That’s absolutely correct. You are not projecting and your sense was right.
Cyclic Defrost: Your earlier music seemed noisier. Still gentle but often overtaken by bleak industrial sounds. This no longer seems to be as important for you. Don’t get me wrong, you still use aspects of those big often bleak industrial sounds but you use them in quite unexpected ways. How do you establish your sound palette?
‘t Geruis: I can’t think of anything more to add after your nice question above about the process besides that I do know exactly what I am after and what I want to hear. So that helps me.
It does surprise me to hear people reference industrial and bleak sounds, interesting. You are the third person to mention this recently.
Cyclic Defrost: Seriously my mind is blown. ‘Rendit l’Âme’ is one of the most amazing pieces of music/ sound/ weirdness I’ve ever heard. What is it? What is going on? And thank you. But seriously. How? What? Why?
‘t Geruis: It makes me very happy that the piece gives you this strong emotion. That’s what I always hope to give. So thank you for letting me know.
The basis is this very much pitched down and distorted recording, I am not sure what it was anymore. It might have been some animal. I any case, it started sounding almost like crying, weeping, like waves. So at first I started playing these 4 notes around that sound and worked that into layers and chords.
The melodic part at first was way more elaborate by the way, more complex. After stripping away it became what you can hear now. After that I added bass and some instruments and synths to support these waves, the “movement” of the piece.
Cyclic Defrost: How important is repetition to you? What purpose do you think it serves. How do you use it?
‘t Geruis: I have always felt that repetition is such a strong thing. A powerful tool when done right. Potentially boring and very impactful at the same time.
From time to time we stumble upon beautiful repetitions, these little loops of perfection, and that’s where the magic starts working. It can become very meditative, even transformative. Food for the soul.
In the case of Various Thoughts and Places specifically: repetition became a big part of the process also in the sense that I kept the music running when doing my daily thing. Often it became part of the environment and when that would work out it was a good sign. If it was possible to keep a loop running for 45 minutes without wanting to lower the volume or even switching it off, I knew I had something in hands. A big part of the pieces came to fruition like this, not all of them though.
Cyclic Defrost: How did you begin your association with Lost Tribe Sound?
‘t Geruis: I remember liking very much what Lost Tribe (Ryan) was releasing, music wise, but also visual wise. So I send him the first pieces that would form the full record. It went from that to a very positive collaboration. He’s amazing in what he does, but at the same time incredibly humble about his talent.
Cyclic Defrost: Who do you feel a musical kinship with?
‘t Geruis: I can tell you what I have rotating these past months, from the top of my head:
My Bloody Valentine, Autechre, Julia Holter, Djivan Gasparyan, Nick Drake, Eno & Cluster, Iannis Xenakis, King Tubby, Grouper are some of them, so there you go. I would not be able to say if that means I am feeling a kinship with them to be honest.
Cyclic Defrost: Anything else you want to say?
‘t Geruis: Thank you for the great questions. I enjoyed answering them. It was nice to dig a bit in all of this.
Various Thoughts and Places is available on the 21st of May 2021 via Lost Tribe Sound. You can find it here.