This is a transcript of an interview we did for a Latvian paper in 2005. They asked good questions. Actually, everyone asks the same questions, but these questions are pretty good anyway. So we realized that these were in fact nothing other than the official pbse FAQ!.
Interview questions „Pearls Before Swine Experience” (Sweden)
George Kentros (violin)
Q: When, how and why did the idea to found such a group arise?
A: We were all students at the Royal Conservatory in Stockholm in 1993 and felt that it was almost never fun to go to new music concerts. This felt somehow wrong; if not even musicians enjoyed new music concerts, how could we expect anyone else to enjoy them? So we decided to do something about it by commissioning short pieces, about the length of rock or pop songs, to see if we could play them at places where people went to listen to more popular music. It took two years to get the pieces written, and we then toured jazz and rock clubs in Sweden; it went well, we had fun, and it all started there. Since then we play both in concert halls and clubs, but we still have this simple reason for playing our concerts.
Q: Why the name of the group is „Pearls Before Swine Experience”? „Pearls before swine” – what is the connotation and what exactly does „experience” mean here?
A: This is connected to the reasons why we began as a group. The name is a reaction to an elitist thinking that new music occasionally hides behind; if people do not like a new music concert, I have heard musicians and composers sometimes say that “the audience did not understand the music, so they did not like the concert”—that is, the music is pearls before swine. (The quote itself is taken from the Bible). This is of course incorrect. If people do not like our concerts, it is not because they are stupid or wrong; it is because we musicians failed at our job and with our programming. This also explains the last word in our group name: hopefully, our concerts are not just another concert, but an experience. And of course it is nice to associate to some older rock bands with that word…
Q: What is the club „SEKT” and how does it work?
A: Several years ago we had the idea of finding a venue where young audiences could go to hear extreme avantgarde music, performance, and short film, but at a club where the audience could feel at home. Here also, we try to keep everything short: after an ambient DJ provides atmospheric music during the first hour or so while people arrive and socialize, we usually have three quick acts: 5-10 minutes of some sort of poetry, performance, or dance, immediately followed by a short film, and finally 15-20 minutes of some sort of new music, either new music or electronica. Afterwards people can stay to talk or socialize as the DJ plays again. We try to make the program very different each week, and want people to have fun while they get a taste of many different kinds of artists in a short time.
Q: Do you think about who is your target audience, when you choose the repertory to play? Who is your listener? Whom would you like to see among the spectators?
A: We definitely think about where we will play when we choose our programs—this is part of our responsibility as musicians! Composers should only think about the music they write, but musicians must think about the audience. However, no matter which audience we play for, we must ourselves first really like and believe in the pieces we decide to play, or nobody else will like them either. We have had almost every sort of listener you can think of for the past ten years in all age groups. The most important thing we want, however, is simply that the music we play, the music of our generation, feels normal in our society and to our audience.
Q: What does the contemporary music mean for PBSE?
A:Contemporary music is the music that is most relevant to our lives today, and as I said above, this should be the most organic thing for us to play and for audiences to listen to. It should be more normal to listen to new music than to listen to music that is 200 years old, but for some reason classical serious music is not this way—today. But perhaps tomorrow…
Q: Do you sometimes play any classical music (if yes, what exactly)?
Why do you prefer to play the contemporary authors?
A: I myself made a decision several years ago to only play new music, and I have managed to keep my promise rather well the past few years. The other three members of the group are all extremely versatile musicians who can and will play anything, and I think we all love music from different time periods. As for myself, I prefer the authors of new music simply because I feel more honest towards my audience when I play music from our own time. I sometimes felt that I was cheating my audience when I played older music, because I was only keeping a tradition alive by telling people what they already know. I myself become happiest when I find out something new, and each time I play I want to communicate that there is much more in the world and in our minds than what we already know.
Q: Who are the preferred composers of PBSE and why?
A: Oh my. There are too many good composers alive today! All we want is for the music itself to be honest. One important thing about PBSE is that we have really tried to commission pieces from as many different styles as possible, because of our feeling that there is no one form of composition or music that is better, there is only good and bad music in all styles. Minimalism, spectralism, modernism, rock, jazz, it is all the same: if we ourselves like the piece, we can play it in a way that other people have a chance to like it. Also, this allows us to make programs that are stylistically different—because all of our pieces are so short, we can play perhaps 10 different works in one concert, and so we have the opportunity to program our concerts almost like a DJ, letting different styles contrast with each other so that each work has a good frame
Q: Many people think that the contemporary music is not understandable, that it is absurd or too complicated to listen. Is it so? Why are the listeners afraid to be disappointed in contemporary music?
A: This is one thing that makes me very sad whenever I hear it, becaue I feel the opposite is true; that new music is much easier to listen to than older music. There is nothing to understand in music, since it is simply raw feeling. Musicians must understand the way the music is built to play the pieces, but the audience only has to listen, and whatever they feel is correct. It is a great failure of our schools and our governments that new music has become something frightening because music must only sound the way it always has before, or people feel they must understand something to like it. It is actually more difficult to listen to music from older time periods, since in order to fully appreciate that music and not just listen to it as a background one must then know about the historical period and styles in which the music is written, and this requires much more musical knowledge. We already know about our own times and feelings. And I have found that it is much easier to play new music than older classical music for children for this exact reason; they just listen and are not afraid that they will not understand. And if they do not like it, they do not feel that they are wrong!
Q: Does PBSE have any conscious or unconscious mission in arts&culture in Sweden (or generally) or do you just enjoy your profession the most interesting way?
A: Both. The mission is to make new music a normal and organic part of our society, as it should be; and luckily, this also happens to be the most fun we can have as musicians.
Q: How do you think – what will future „new music” look like? Will the actual contemporary music become „classical” like Bach or Mozart in the future?
A: Yes, I think it will, but in the future, if I were alive, I would only play the music that is new then and not this boring old stuff from 2005 that everyone already knows…