Avant Pop Composition: Grab It! The music of Jacob ter Veldhuis on #neuguitars #blog #jacobtv

Avant Pop Composition: Grab It! The music of Jacob ter Veldhuis on #neuguitars #blog


Pop. Art. Television. Society. Video. Frames. Rap. Beats as frames. Sounds like frames. Repetitions. Convulsions. Pop Art. Rock. Andy Warhol. Steve Reich. Scott Johnson. Advertising. Avant. Pop. Composer.

So many words. Almost the slogan of a manifesto that does not exist. I think it’s best to start at the beginning: who is Jacob TV, the composer with a (despite himself) pop name? JacobTV (Jacob ter Veldhuis, Westerlee, 1951) began his musical career as a rock musician. An advanced rock musician, having graduated from the Groningen Conservatory in 1980, where he studied composition with Willem Frederik Bon and electronic music with Luctor Ponse. In the following years he attracted attention with two symphonies and works such as “Insomnia”, “Drei Stille Lieder” and “Diverso il Tempo”, earning, at the same time, a living by writing soundtracks for films and music for the clown of Circus Krone. .

In 1984 he became a full-time composer, starting a journey in search of his own personal voice. Not easy, as JacobTV doesn’t connect much with the avant-garde, although he was a resident composer at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse in 1992, and doesn’t feel completely comfortable in the rock and jazz scene. He finds his way in a magic word. Sampling. His musical samples taken from political speeches, commercials, documentaries, talk shows and interviews form the basis of much of his compositions, where the original combination of classical and pop elements makes him unique and impossible to classify. On his business card it is written, rightly, “Avant Pop Composer”.

In 1999, he writes Grab It! for tenor saxophone and boombox, which becomes his most successful piece, giving him international exposure. If music can arouse so many emotions, it must also be able to convey a message, a narration. And that’s what Jacob TV’s music does, as he turns out to be a composer strongly attracted to the semiotic and ontological aspects of our society. He is interested in the least, in populist leaders, in emerging personalities, in mass culture, and transforms their words, their images, their signs into a music that expresses their suffering, their behavior, their tragedies. The medium he uses is sampling, the sampling of images, sounds and ideas, thus creating music that goes beyond mere sound. His work is said to break the unwritten rules of the avant-garde and, at times, go beyond the confines of kitsch. Could be. The fact remains that JacobTV does not deny his rock musical background, indeed he can easily be defined as a rock, pop, hip-hop musician in classic disguise. He once defiantly declared that Bob Dylan was “more important than Schoenberg”. Wrong? Maybe, but not that much, given that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.


After discovering music in the spoken language, the potential of sampling and the power of the boombox or ghetto blaster, JacobTV finally entered the scene in the 1990s through works such as “Tatatata” (1996), “Heartbreakers” (1999) and “Lipstick” (1998).

“Growing up in the sixties with blues, jazz and rock, American music had a strong impact on my work. I believe that language is one of the origins of music, which is obvious in Afro-American music. In GRAB IT! I tried to explore the ‘no-man’s-land’ between language and music. When people get emotional, the musical quality of their speech is often increasing. So I prefer to use sound bytes from people in extremely emotional situations. Crying is almost a kind of singing, for instance.” Jacob TV

‘The more emotional the spoken language, the more it starts to “sing and become music” he said ‘In this context, it is difficult to draw a line between speaking and singing. In Grab It! I enter this no man’s land. I used audio samples from an American TV documentary about youth criminality entitled Scared Straight, that features offenders serving a life sentence. The verbal aggression from the seamier side of American society really hit me. The vital and coarse shouting of the prisoners formed a perfect unity with the unpolished sound of the tenor saxophone.’

In doing this JacobTV rejects the division between the so-called highbrow and lowbrow culture, a division that still plays an important role in the evaluation of art and entertainment not only in the United States, but certainly also in Europe. Like other boombox works, such as Jesus is Coming, The Garden of Love and The Body of Your Dreams (2003), many adaptations of Grab It! The work transformed JacobTV into a popular composer outside the Netherlands, the man who bridged the gap between jazz, blues and rock in the best possible way. When New York musicians started calling him JacobTV, he decided to adopt that name to get a nickname for non-Dutch people. An explicit reference to one of his most rewarding sources of inspiration.

In a dissertation on the role of popular culture in JacobTV’s boombox works, Stefan Weiss wrote: “Here it becomes clear how near to artists like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons the composer JacobTV actually is. Though inspired in his technique by Steve Reich, he takes completely different directions in substance; he explores the common ground between Andy Warhol’s pop-art and the minimal art of the sixties, in which the minimal music that originated at that time hardly played a role at all. In this regard, JacobTV’s boombox pieces, in which mass-culture is both admired and put into perspective, are like a late form of musical pop-art.”

All true, but to the music of Grab It! however, it presents us with more extensive problems than those of the encounter / clash between high and mass culture or between different musical genres. Now. Think about it. Every sensation we experience comes from one source: civilization. What is it possible for us to see, hear, smell, taste that is not originated or mediated by civilized people? Even a walk in a wood takes place in a mapped, traced environment. A situation, artificially imposed, which we have not only accepted but have currently transformed into a “perceived” commodity. The boombox, the sampling, which Jacob TV uses, is a technology. A software that has a narrative, its own process. Terms such as “collective ownership”, “memory systems” and “storage logic” do not suit classical music and avant-garde music of Darmstadt extraction. Grab it! It can be considered as a first taste for those who are perplexed both towards the sound of the electric guitar and towards the logic of sampling.

Jacob TV’s music is evidently inspired by the works of Steve Reich and Scott Johnson.

Sampling, loops and tape manipulation are the order of the day today, but in ’65 minimalist Steve Reich’s “It’s gonna rain” anticipated a whole style of experimental music. In ’64, while at Berkeley in San Francisco, Reich was experimenting with tape recording and one afternoon in Union Square he recorded a preacher named Brother Walter delivering a sermon on Noah and the Flood. At one point Walter shouted: “It’s Gonna Rain”. That phrase, due to the mysterious mechanisms behind creativity, resonated within Reich prompting him to use the phrase on two tape recorders in hopes of switching from one to the other so that the result would be “It’s gonna” from a machine and ” rain “from another. Playing the same phrase simultaneously, Reich noticed that one was playing slightly faster than the other, losing its original synchronization. Listened to through headphones, this created a strange slightly Doppler effect, with the sound moving from one source to another. Reich, it must be said, had a great source of material to work with: Brother Walter had a powerful voice and the media presence of an Old Testament prophet. As Alex Ross notes in The Rest is Noise, “the machines essentially wrote It’s Gonna Rain by themselves and [Reich] was smart enough not to stop them”.

In 1982 Scott Johnson composed “John Somebody”, a piece for electric guitar and recorded voice, considered as a prime example of a melody of speech framed in a tonal harmony form. It is the first form of an instrumental score based on electrical melodies taken from spoken phrases and used as an accompaniment to those recorded phrases. It is named after the opening tape loop of a single female voice, which repeats these phrases, which are then imitated by several layers of guitars:

You know who’s in New York?

You remember that guy… J-John somebody?

He was a– he was sort of a–…

Johnson was a forerunner. His first works were created long before the advent of digital editing. Creating tape loops like this actually meant cutting and joining long strips of magnetic tape, running them through a reader to duplicate them on a new magnetic tape. An artisanal copy and paste job. Grab it! is a set of all these things, of first approaches, of inspirations, of attention without loss, of memory understood as a vast playground where everything can be a sound. Think. Look for a moment in the dull everyday life of what is happening around you and look for the blackouts. Turn away from that thought and consider the exercise as a kind of mediated life mini-meditation.


Pause. Repeat. A word goes on to define the scenario. A frame Your mind picks it up, and puts it in context. Next thought, next scenario; the same process takes place over and over, it is an internal process that does not even need to leave the comfortable confines of our mind. This piece is a kind of synaptic reverie, a chemical soup stuffed with electrical pulsations repeats itself and carries a lot of knowledge. An abstract machine looking for the right place and the right codes. It is a neural map, a perceptual architecture that composes not only what we can think, but the way we can think. Grab It! explains that if inside of us, we use our minds for so many different things that we can only imagine how complicated the process of thinking is, outside, the scenario is different. Every human act, every human expression, must be translated into some sort of information for other people to understand. In this age, the basic idea of ​​how we create content in our minds is so influenced by the media that we are in a position that no other culture has ever found in human history. Today, that inner world manifests itself in a way that can be changed into the world itself when it is recorded, adapted, remixed, and uploaded, becoming a value of the information flow that runs through the networks we use.

Today there is a gap between the internal and external perceptual world on which all the philosophies of the media have written, filmed, hit, loaded, rearranged, connected, and played. Grab It! and Jacob TV’s music move in an interstitial non-place where thoughts can be mine or taken from the society around me, and in which the structure of perceptions, texts and memories can be conditioned by the collective process of thought, which echoes and shapes an era in which citation and sampling operate at such a profound level that the archeology of what can be mimicked “knowledge” floats in a dark realm between the real and the unreal. Grab it! could be used as a new soundtrack for The Matrix, a film that unfolds as an updated version of Plato’s cave, a fragment of his Republic’s parable written more than two thousand years ago but still resonating with the idea of ​​living in a world of illusion. Grab It!



  • JacobTV ‎– Box Two: Shining City, Basta, 2007
  • Michael Nicolella – Shard, Gale Recordings, 2005
  • Giacomo Baldelli – Electric Creatures, Sussidiaria, 2019