Cathy van Eck appointed as new Konrad Boehmer Visiting Professor

Cathy van Eck is a composer, sound artist, researcher and holds a PhD from Leiden University. She focuses on composing relationships between everyday objects, human performers and sound. For the coming academic year, Cathy will be our new Konrad Boehmer Visiting Professor at the Sonology Department. The Konrad Boehmer Visiting Professorship is an initiative of the Konrad Boehmer Foundation in collaboration with the Royal Conservatoire. This special guest professorship is occupied by leading innovators and researchers in the field of electronic music.

Cathy and the Royal Conservatoire go way back. She entered the building for the first time when she was only one year old, accompanying her mother to a rehearsal. Growing up just behind the building, the Royal Conservatoire was an integral part of her life and so it wasn’t a big surprise that the young, bright woman decided to study Composition in The Hague. Having the Classical Music background, Cathy thought very pragmatic about the process of creating sound: A composer writes down notes, which will be played by a musician.

But over time, Cathy realized that she wanted more than just being a composer waiting for her music to be played. She wanted to hear her compositions right away, she wanted to perform them and she wanted to explore possibilities beyond traditional frameworks. So, she started to experiment with electronic sounds and installations. Cathy realized that by performing her pieces herself, she had the opportunity to directly share her creative process with the audience.

In her research and art, she often explores the process of breathing, a significant function of the human body as well as a vulnerability; a theme that really touches the zeitgeist with humanity currently fighting a virus that attacks the lungs and limits the ability to breathe. However, breathing always played a central role in a musician’s life. As a performer, it is very important to know when to breathe, not just as a singer or a wind instrumentalist, even violinist and pianist use breath as a tool to form their interpretation of a piece.

Sometimes breathing is seen as an imperfection or a disruptive noise during a performance and is therefore edited out of a recording. This made Cathy think. Is this the difference between a vulnerable human being and a flawless machine? Is a human that doesn’t need to breathe perfection or utopia? Those are questions that can start a thinking process which will result in a project. ‘An idea for piece or a performance grows slowly and needs a lot of development. I encourage my students to experiment a lot and to ask themselves: How am I going to transfer my idea into a project?’

For many Sonology pieces, this begins with very pragmatic and technical questions: What kind of equipment do I need? Do I need to write my own code for this, etc.? ‘For all those questions you can go on YouTube or read a book. There is a lot of material on how to approach the technical part of a project. However, some of the most important answers, you won’t find in a book. One thing that my students and even I struggle with, is when to pause or terminate a project. There comes a moment, when you have to be honest with yourself and realize that you hit a dead-end. Then, I pack up all the things related to this project into a box; figuratively and literally! You can always decide at a later stage to re-open this box. This is why experimenting and making mistakes is very important for the development process.’

Cathy’s classes are very diverse. There are students from all levels, Bachelor to Master and even students from other departments are welcome as well. The students are encouraged to form discussion groups, where they evaluate each other’s works in a constructive and supporting manner but more importantly also learn from each other. ‘Everyone who is interested, is welcome.’ This is after all how Cathy once entered the world of Sonology.

We are very much looking forward to Cathy’s Konrad Boehmer Visiting Professor Lectures online and on-site. Welcome to the KonCon-Family, Cathy!