FES was founded in 1998, when no-nonsense artist, former architect, clarinettist, saxophonist, keyboard player, composer and producer Peter Vermeersch, wanted to explore new horizons after having convinced music lovers all over the word with Maximalist! and the cult legend band X-legged Sally. Vermeersch, who worked with international artists like Josse De Pauw, Wim Vandekeybus, Vincent Bal, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Fred Frith, The Simpletones and Jazzwork from Berlin and wrote music for the Arditti Quartet, Prima La Musica and the Smith Quartet, assembled a pack of inspired and inimitable muscians, forming a big band which has nowadays become much more than just a big band. Peter Vermeersch included, the band now consists of a permanent group of 14 musicians: Benjamin Boutreur (alto sax), Peter Delannoye (trombone), Berlinde Deman (tuba), Bart Maris (trumpet), Michel Mast (tenor sax), Thomas Mayade (trompet), Marc Meeuwissen (trombone), Kristof Roseeuw (double bass), Bruno Vansina (alt & baritone sax), Peter Vandenberghe (piano & keyboards), Teun Verbruggen (drums & dustbingrooves), Pierre Vervloesem (guitar) en Tom Wouters (clarinet, vibraphone & vocals). Occasionally this group is completed by guest singer Esther Lybeert. In the past they worked with various guest musicians: Uri Caine, Toots Thielemans, Mike Patton (Fantômas), Jimi Tenor, John Watts and more recently Ernst Reijseger.
The music of FES, varying from strictly written sheet music to liberating improvisation, is 95% homemade. Streaks of music of other composers are used as inspiration, frequently arranged, adapted and integrated into FES compositions, adding a wide range of atmospheres and styles to the eclectic FES universe. FES, who dares to flirt with other disciplines as theatre and film and owns the ability to seduce a number of different audiences, from more select jazz listeners to a wild young rock public, is at its best live on stage.
FES chronology: an overview
13 is a round number according to Flat Earth Society and so it’s a jubilee year! We raise the flag and sing our song. On our new album, which we conveniently called "13", we serve you our usual unusual portion of gas, chaos & chazz. The 13th album contains 13 new pieces, some more instrumental than the other. The musical journey defies varying landscapes and weather conditions, the orchestra remains ever fresh and unshaven, the music is our pocketknife and compass, the words are of a profoundly deep depth. The CD industry will completely revitalize.
A year ago, radio Klara kindly invited us to their Toots studio to record our new album. From that session, we selected 11 very different pieces. Most of the songs are own compositions, but also Scott Joplin* and Tom Dissevelt (who?)** got a spot. Some pieces are from our HearSee repertoire and can be viewed on our website with the corresponding films. John Watts also pulled his weight and contributed to 2 numbers (Patsy & Unconditional Lucifer), and so we end up with ‘13’.
Flat Earth Society is and remains Belgium's most original and most daring 'big band'. Not in the traditional sense of the word, but simply because they are 15. The influences are many in their far from traditional ‘big band’ music. And although the word 'eclectic' still gives them the creeps, it is difficult to describe this exuberant music otherwise. A musical definition for chemical reactions and cooking techniques, is as yet not available. And even after 13 years this latest sprig still bursts with enthusiasm. For this occasion the cd is released by Igloo Records, who also released Vermeersch’ first Maximalist! album some 25 years ago.
* Ragtime means "time to shreds" and in our version of Scott Joplin's "Stop Time Rag", these patches are even more tattered, so as to intensify the ragtime-feeling.
** Tom Dissevelt was bassplayer and arranger for "The Skymasters" and composed only one piece in his life: "Intersections" (1960), based on twelve-tone serial principles. But fear nothing, it has become a sort of swinging cityjazz. For our remake Bart Maris reconstructed the scores.
Ernst Reijseger and Flat Earth Society bumped into each other during one of their atypical musical wanderings, as if it had to be. A big band and a cello – it works!
In this surprising conspiracy Ernst Reijseger, Peter Vandenberghe and Peter Vermeersch made new compositions and adapted existing material. The grooves are there, the lyrics also, the silliness and seriousness, the swing and the contrariness, the improvisations, the melodies, the rampage, the intrusiveness. And all these musical peregrinations culminate in an exciting concert. Anything else?
FES & Earnest, it was meant to be!
On April 14th 2012 it was exactly a 100 years ago that the sinking of the Titanic occurred, and on that specific date the new production of FES premiered in deSingel in Antwerp. The sinking of the Titanic has become a part of the collective memory, appeals to everybody’s imagination, is a source of countless stories and has reached an iconic status. The sinking of the Titanic has become the almost universal metaphor for the human hubris. ‘The Titanic is unsinkable, sinking unthinkable’. We know better now, even though we seem to have learned nothing, as the metaphor now turns from the ship to the iceberg, melting slowly but decisively. In this production, FES plays a new composition by Peter Vermeersch for soprano (Champ d’Action veteran and grande dame Rolande Van der Paal) and orchestra, on texts by Josse De Pauw. The public hears the story of the iceberg through the voice of the singer, singing of her own fate, until everything becomes unruffled and still. Ship gone, iceberg gone.
Bonk vzw & Music Theatre LOD / Peter Vermeersch – Josse De Pauw
Coproduced by deSingel, Antwerp, Vooruit Ghent and Zeelandia Theater Productions.
With the R.I.P. project FES ventures itself to a funeral repertoire; Peter Vermeersch composed death songs for his musicians. All 15 of them die, one by one, by disease, accidents, old age and other mishaps, pick your choice. Some of them perish together in a terrible plane crash, life is full of unexpected twists. And so, as the concert progresses, the orchestra gets smaller and smaller, a grim preview of what FES will eventually overcome if no substitutions for the dead musicians are made. The order of the dying musicians was determined by fate: this results in an arbitrary and perhaps illogical, but nevertheless interesting orchestral occupation.
So imagine this: the FES concert starts off with the whole band, then the drummer leaves the stage because of a fatal fall while putting out the garbage. The rest of the orchestra plays his farewell song. Then the trumpet player follows, a blood vessel rupture. The rest of the band now plays his In Memoriam. This continues until only one musician remains on stage playing his own requiem, he then also disappears and leaves the stage empty. And at that moment all the musicians are reunited, like the dead in ‘Blues for Gaston’ by Roland Topor. The reunion is a wild and exciting piece of whirling music, a grotesque death march putting its tongue out to Death. R.I.P. challenges fate, shows the beauty in tragedy and sorrow, and pays a macabre salute to life with a pleasant dose of black humor.
R.I.P. is a coproduction between Concertgebouw Bruges and Bonk vzw.
In spring 2011 a new FES film project premiered. After the success of ‘The Oyster Princess’, ‘Minoes’ and ‘My Queen Karo’ Peter Vermeersch again used his talent for writing film scores in a new project, called Hearsee. Along with filmmakers, - collectors and - curators, he collected images from a wide range of film archives. In this case the composing of the music pieces already started at the gathering and editing of all these fragments into an exciting whole. The result is a 75 minute non-stop soundtrack, which fully reveals the very cinematographic music from Flat Earth Society. Certain "image sets" are assembled. Thus, different themes and atmospheres are addressed, one set can exist out of a homogenous (short) film, another may be an assembly of different source material.
From May 14 till 22nd FES toured the USA for the first time. From intimate clubs to cultural centers
and a festival:
14/05: Tampa, Tropical Heatwave Festival
15/05: St Petersburg, The Palladium
17/05: Washington, Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage
18/05: Philadelphia, Johnny Brenda’s via Ars Nova Workshop.
19/05: NY, Lincoln Center, Atrium Stage.
20/05: Museum of Moving Images, NY, The Oyster Princess
When you write a song in answer to an existing song, you get an answer song. Gerda Dendooven, Rokus Hofstede, Corrie van Binsbergen, Peter Vandenberghe, Bruno Vansina, Peter Verhelst, Peter Vermeersch and Tom Wouters worked on lyrics and music for a dozen songs for FES. Among others, Esther Lybeert performs as singer.
Existing songs, susceptible to, or screaming for an answer were longlisted (a.o. ‘Song to the Siren’, ‘Should I stay or should I go’, My funny Valentine’ and ‘Poupée de cire’). Style, age, language were of no importance. Usually the text was decisive, but also instrumental songs were considered. There were no limits to how close the adaptation had to refer to the original, the new composition didn’t even have to be in the same style. But new lyrics on an existing song were out of the question. The result had to be a completely autonomous song, and couldn’t depend on its reference to the original. The reference could go from 0 to 100%, but it couldn’t become a cover-evening.
Coproduction: KlaraFestival and deSingel.
2009 brought a new CD with the Brussels label Crammed. More than 50 national and international reviews got published. The band played 20 concerts at home and abroad, culminating in the live session at the BBC studios and a live session on Klara Radio. In 2010, they got rewarded with plenty of concerts in the UK, Switzerland, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, ....
‘Modernski’ (referring to the nickname that Schönberg invented for Stravinsky), initiated in 2006 as part of the Flanders Festival, is chiefly a ‘research project’. A selection of lesser known 20th century works is freshened up and arranged for the complement of 15 FES musicians. ‘Modernski’ is a work in progress; the repertoire grows every year. Already arranged are the ‘Ebony Concerto’ by Stravinsky and work by Mauricio Raùl Kagel and Tom Dissevelt. Peter Vermeersch and Peter Vandenberghe (his right hand) worked on ‘Scherzo à la russe’ by Stravinsky, ‘Non loin de la Chine’ by Ennio Morricone and some pieces by Paul Bowles (writer of ‘The Sheltering Sky’ who was most productive as a composer in the 40ies and 50ies). This project appeals to a relatively new audience of classical music lovers and those who dote on cross-over music, and opens up for FES a new circuit of venues that are focused on that specific kind of music.
The stunningly beautiful Zilke suffers since birth from the extremely rare syndrome of Cinderbeauty, or commonly known as Sleeping Ella, which shows itself in the following symptoms: several times a day her heart breaks under the weight of compassion for the suffering of mankind, and she dies, only to be awakened again and again by the merciless Death.
WALPURGIS and Peter Vermeersch worked together before on "The Soluble Fish" (1994) and "Charms" (1997). For this 'sung' drama they joined forces again, this time in the company of the complete FES combo.
Coproduction: WALPURGIS, Theatre on the Market, Zealand Nazomerfestival.
The doors of Flat Earth Society are always open for someone who describes music as ‘a series of whatever’. In December 2007 we asked this jazzy colored cuckoo from Lahti to lay his egg and brood on it with us. Jimi Tenor wrote all the music and with the man himself on stage it has become an exciting conspiracy; the similarities, the differences, the stupidity, the cleverness, the Finnish palm trees, the Flemish fjords and most of all: a shared virulent appetite.
The première took place on December 13th 2007 in Vooruit Arts Centre, Ghent, during the Etoiles Polaires Festival. FES with Jimi Tenor also played the North Sea Jazz Festival (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), Gent Jazz Festival & Dour Festival (Belgium) and Festival Músicas do Mundo (Sines, Portugal).
Coproduction: Vooruit Ghent and Etoiles Polaires 07 Festival
Psychoscout (2006), the first FES record released by the Belgian label Crammed Discs, mainly consists of FES ft. Uri Caine songs. It was described by Pitchfork as ‘an unruly confluence of ‘Merrie Melodies’, Henry Mancini’s cosmopolitan swank, and Sun Ra’s cosmic slop – all performed with the whiplash attention span of John Zorn’s Naked City’. Due to the positive response to the ‘Psychoscout’ record, FES made a well-received Japanese tour, attended the North Sea Jazz Festival and travelled to Canada to play on the jazz festivals of Vancouver and Montréal in the summer of 2007, and was welcomed at other international venues like the JazzFest Berlin, Jazzfestival Saalfelden and the London Jazz Festival.
‘The Oyster Princess’ tells the story of oyster tycoon Quaker, a man so rich he even has a butler to hold his cigar while he smokes. The one thing left that could possibly impress king Quaker, would be to have his daughter Ossi marry a bona fide prince. He finds a poor prince, prince Nucki, who in turn sends his friend Joseph to get an idea of what Ossi is like... ‘The Oyster Princess’ marks a turning point in director Ernst Lubitsch’ comedy work. He leaves the slapstick behind and evolves towards a sophisticated form of satire. The target of his humor in this case is the American bourgeoisie, personified by the wealthy businessman ‘the Oyster King’. Laced with sour humor, we hear the story of the boundless wealth of the American bourgeoisie in the twenties and the snobbish attitude of the impoverished European aristocracy. Lubitsch is known mainly for his Hollywood-period in the 1940’s and 1950’s with ‘The Shop Around the Corner’, ‘Ninotchka’, ‘Heaven can wait’ and many others. A few films from his Berlin period (ca. 1915) were recently restored, amongst others Carmen (Gypsy Blood) and Die Austernprinzessin from 1919.
For the 2005 edition of the Flanders International Film Festival – Ghent, composer Peter Vermeersch wrote the music (score and sound mix) for the Oyster Princess and FES accompanied this film live. This project combines a director of historical importance with the refreshing FES approach and therefore appeals not only to the habitual audience of music lovers but also to film fans. For this specific audience FES recorded The Oyster Princess on DVD, together with the short film ‘Brasschaet 1932’, a curiosum about a bicycle race with a score by Peter Vermeersch.
The screening of The Oyster Princess is a co-production of the Festival of Flanders, Vooruit Arts Centre, the Flanders International Film Festival - Ghent, deSingel, Motives Festival Genk and Bonk vzw. The dvd was released in 2007 by Bonk vzw in cooperation with the Royal Belgian Film Archive.
When Mike Patton in 2004 contacted FES, to report how much he was impressed by the band’s music, FES could not be anything else but flattered and surprised. Mike Patton, leading man of Faith No More and of many other projects / bands (Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, Peeping Tom), has now become a legend. Patton invited FES as support act for his European tour with Fantômas. The tour ran along the greatest rock venues in Europe and the band played to sold out audiences everywhere. Patton, impressed by the enthusiasm, decided on a selection of FES material and released them on his American label IPECAC. Under the heading ISMS (IPECAC-53, 2004) he made a compilation of 19 songs from the six FES cd’s, mainly from The Armstrong Mutations and Minoes, but also from previously unreleased material, an introduction to the FES repertoire for the overseas audience, as it were. Mike Patton said about the album: "It's really unique and engaging stuff. It's going to blow people's minds."
Uri Caine is known for his work on the New York avant garde jazz scene (if you remember his cooperations with John Zorn and Dave Douglas among many others). In the past few years he has risen to popularity, not in the least in Europe, with his adaptations of music by Mahler (‘Uhrlicht’), Bach (‘Goldberg Variations’) and Beethoven (Opus 120). Starting with the basic material of the original pieces, he rewrites them in his own peculiar idiom, rooted in the current New Yorkan “jewish wave” of which he is one of the leading figures.
At a personal meeting in New York, Uri Caine was intrigued by Peter Vermeersch and his Flat Earth Society. Never having worked with a big band before, FES’ obstinate approach seduced him into forging a complot. Vermeersch and Caine agreed from the start not to be project-minded and pinned to a theme, but to simply walk a portion of the road together, up to the next crossroads. They agreed to do what they always did, each starting from his own biotope. That is: to create music and exchange it.
Existing pieces were newly arranged, embryonic ideas were explored further, finished pieces were mutilated, allowed to mutate and infect each other, nothing restraining the musicians from transforming each other’s material. It was clear that this would result in a varied program. The vast field between improvisation and set-in-stone scores is open, and the big band is filled with small bands. FES sounds different from before again, and what’s for sure is that this new repertoire will have a clear thread running through it.
The Ruhr Triennial commissioned Peter Vermeersch and FES the music for the big band operaHeliogabal, a libretto written by the young German author Thomas Jonigk, who drew his inspiration from the historical figure with the same name – a child-emperor who met a gruesome end – and has written a contemporary text about power and mass hysteria, love and narcissism, insanity and calculation. The opera was not only performed by FES, but also by a mix of (opera) singers and actors, and directed by Roy Faudree. Heliogabal is a wild musical ride that at times speeds recklessly through the familiar territory, takes you through the dirt tracks behind the scenes and finally dances on a tight rope back to where it started. Heliogabal premiered on May 8th 2003 as part of the Ruhr Triennial and started a second life as a concertante with a new cast under the direction of Josse De Pauw, touring through Flanders in September & October 2005. Heliogabal was registered and released on a double cd by the Flemish classical radio Klara.
Question: How does Flat Earth Society takes hold on the music of Louis Armstrong? Eighteen white zulu's straight from the Belgian jungle meet the big black smurf from perdido-black and blue. The darkness, the blues, the funeral and the streetparade, the inbounceable vitality, the gospel, the golden intro's, the evergreens and the jungle-jazz. Satchmo, the macho, the intaking, the outtaking, the angular, the raging, the sentimental, the groweer, wornout, unheard-old cadillacs never die. His godly guds burst, and like an alien, FES force themselves a way out and bothers without shame all the rooftiles.
Question is also: How does Armstrong takes hold on the music of Flat Earth Society? After thirteen Armstrong-mutations, only FES remains and carries on.
'The Armstrong Mutations' are a project of 'Ancienne Belgique' and went into premiere on the 30th of August during ' Boterhammen in de stad'. The cd was recorded the end of Novermber 2002, in studio Dada in Brussels under the expert knowledge of Pierre Vervloesem, who also finalized the cd.
In 2002 most of the FES-activities were situated in Bruges. Bruges 2002 engaged FES as their house orchestra, just because nobody could ever do it their way: presenting audacious music and being able to flame up a large audience. FES has their very own sound, in which all borders between existing genres are festively blown away. The result is a mix of jazz grooves, tasteful cha-cha-cha, opposing melodies and cheerful playground music – virtuosity and humor in the most eligible marriage. After several successful concerts during the cultural year in Bruges, FES started their international tour, ‘FES in Motion’, in the Concertgebouw of Bruges on November 1st 2002. During this new tour FES did not just present a selection of their Bruges 2002-compositions, they also presented their new album Trap.
For this score, Peter Vermeersch was nominated with a World Soundtrack Award 2002. The film received the Dutch film award 'Het Gouden Kalf' in the categories ‘best film and best actress’.
The première of 'Larf' took place on May 4th 2000 in Vooruit. This dramatic concert was developed via a number of small ‘improvised’ stages in 1999 on which graphics and text were tested with music for a limited audience.
In a certain way; 'Larf' was a continuation of 'Weg'. This show was produced in 1998 by Josse De Pauw, Peter Vermeersch and Pierre Vervloesem and, when it was selected for the ‘Theaterfestival 1999’, it was described as "a new standard in narrative theatre".
'Larf' too is, just like 'Weg', a big jam in which everybody enjoys doing what he wants with and next to the others. The participants to the Larf-jam were, in addition to Josse De Pauw, the actors Tom Jansen and Dirk Roofthooft, Flat Earth Society with director Peter Vermeersch, painter-sculptor-sceno-graphist Koenraad Tinel and Roland Van Campenhout.
Larf was crowned with the Océ-podium Prize 2001. It’s a Victoria production within the framework of TIME Festival 2000.