Rik Cornelissen: Sounds of Interstellar Space

Peter J. Hoetjes By

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Rik Cornelissen: Sounds of Interstellar Space
Less than five hundred people reside in Aartswoud, a tiny village situated in the northern half of The Netherlands, some sixty kilometers from the city of Amsterdam. Its horizon, interrupted only by scattered far-off buildings, occasional wiry trees, and the sleek, aluminum windmills replacing the wooden variety romanticized by the country's seventeenth century painters, hovers improbably over miles of flat, irrigated farmland. The narrow vein of Schoolstrat provides what little commercial development the town has to offer, and is home to the Hervormd Kerk, which is considered the main and only point of interest in a community so small. The long, angled nave of this church leads back to an attached tower, short in stature but imposing in design, and of the same dark red brick, though slightly more weathered and worn. It was here that Trifid, the conceptual jazz trio consisting of accordionist Rik Cornelissen, vibraphonist Vincent Houdijk, and double bassist Maciej Domaradzki, recorded the thirty minute suite which they had perfected in observatories, museums, and universities throughout the country.

The suite format befits Cornelissen's somewhat impressionistic motif, as the segmented pieces of Sounds of Interstellar Space were composed with a live audience in mind. The use of open space and carefully delivered tonal shifts are explored far more broadly here than in the band's more traditionally-formatted debut, Dreamscape (2018, Self-Released), while remaining faithful to the space-exploration theme. "It adds an image or notion to something as abstract as music and also provides a kind of freedom in musical styles," says Cornelissen. "We can merge many styles, but our typical blending of instruments in combination with this entanglement with the universe keeps it all together." A common pitfall among jazz albums of a thematic nature is to become lost during the transitions between different muses, however Trifid's singular focus on that particular entanglement affords their efforts lucidity.

That lack of ambiguity is a necessary component of this group's efforts, considering how experimental their music tends to be. Sound recordings from NASA and the European Space Agency provide a backdrop and template for Cornelissen's compositional efforts, as actual interplanetary sonifications captured by these organizations are interspersed throughout Sounds of Interstellar Space. It provides the listener an appreciation for how in its infancy space exploration is in 2021, as well as for the many directions not yet explored. Far too easily jazz is thought of as parochial or stagnant, yet projects such as this demonstrate how much room the genre has to grow.

The recording begins with "Jupiter" and "Saturn," and a good portion of the former is used simply to settle into the atmosphere Cornelissen is aiming for. Houdijk appears briefly, and it is interesting to hear how the virtuoso vibraphonist fits himself into another artist's compositions. One is able to discern at times a reluctant patience, with wisdom enough not to overshadow the writing. "Enceladus" begins with a recording of a radio signal received near the ice moon which sounds strangely like a heartbeat. As Domaradzki begins to mimic the sound on his double bass, the remaining two-thirds of the trio converse with each other through a melodic form that is at once complex and languorous. Listeners in the United States never really took to the accordion, but if the Hollywood of the golden age is to be believed, they were once practically obligatory on Paris street corners. Cornelissen delights in unusual harmonic expression, but does so in a way that is neither meandering nor incomprehensible, hoisting twenty-first century sensibilities upon an instrument which fell out of favor just before the Vietnam War.

Wedged between atmospheric noises emanated by the sun, one can't help but hear the instrument's roots as he and Domaradzki lay a taut rhythm under Houdijk's vibraphone during "Interstellar Space." The accordionist enjoys a great deal of harmonic freedom in his composition, and this portion of it in particular. For the final leg of their journey, the trio takes us back to "Earth," a pensive, disconsolate rumination on the underappreciated beauty of our own home within the seemingly endless expanse of stars.

Throughout the album there is a sense that this particular music would best be enjoyed in concert. That said, the recording quality is quite clear for one taken in a church; the astronomical effects and thick double bass reverberate from the makeshift stage splayed out beneath the altar as Cornelius and Houdijk throw their efforts outward to echo off the chamber walls. Yet with only seventeen million people residing in The Netherlands, one can't help but sympathize with this trio as they strive to bring their space-inspired ride to the rest of the world. Sounds of Interstellar Space is a bold endeavor, and its singular thematic approach doubtlessly won't appeal to a wide audience; those who do commit their attention to it, however, are rewarded with an experience that is captivating, thought provoking and technically brilliant.

Track Listing

Jupiter; Saturn; Enceladus; Interstellar Space; Earth.


Rik Cornelissen: accordion; Vincent Houdijk: vibraphone; Maciej Domaradzki: bass.

Album information

Title: Sounds of Interstellar Space | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Self Produced

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