Composer Camiel Jansen: ‘I want anger about the allowance scandal’

“It’s been so long” … “An E is shit on a flute.” … “I have no active memory of that” … “Slightly faster!” … “I don’t quite understand the question” … “That whole part in D, shouldn’t it be a little softer?” … “That’s not clear in my mind” … “No, it has to drill!” … “It’s been so long.”

They are fragments of text that sounded at the beginning of July in a shed in Amsterdam-Noord, where repetitive, trance-inducing but certainly also anger-inducing music comes from a flute, clarinet, basset horn, bass clarinet and alto saxophone. Composer Camiel Jansen is in front of it. He leads the rehearsal of his new piece: The Benefits Scandal

Jansen (31) is trained as a double bass player, but prefers to compose, for the time being mainly for his own ensemble Ikarai. Usually that is music on the tension of existing stories. He started in 2016 with FLY (on the myth of Icarus), then did Muhammad (on The Rumble in the Jungle, the legendary boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974), then Kafka on the Shore to Murakami’s book.

It’s all art for the sake of art, because Jansen doesn’t have much with engaged music. Let alone that he is activist in nature. He thought. Until a year ago he started following the settlement of the Benefits Affair and slipped from surprise to bewilderment to anger. Anger that, despite the fact that he is not a victim and knows no victims, became so great that he had to do something with it. It became a piece of music that he was able to compose because he received the Wonderfeel Keep an Eye Production Prize (10,000 euros) for his plan. The Benefits Scandal will be heard on Friday at the Wonderfeel festival.

Scandal

The Benefits Scandal so, and emphatically not ‘the Allowances affair’. Because: “The word affair is much too light. It’s a scandal. It’s murderous.” It is not the case that Jansen himself is rid of his anger, now that the piece is on paper. With wild arm gestures and a penetrating look, he can hardly stay in his seat after the rehearsal. “I am so incredibly angry about it. Because this scandal exposes what happens when neoliberalism seeps into policy, when everything becomes subject to market forces. If only management is carried out on the absolute minimum, without a human touch. Then you get this kind of situation. And not just at the tax authorities, but also in education, healthcare and culture.” The fall of the cabinet was initially relieved, but that was only briefly: „yes, in principle there are reparations, but those policymakers are back! The deeper problem has not been solved at all.”

The five musicians will soon be in gray suits on stage. Jansen himself too, behind a desk with binders. Together they represent ‘the bureaucracy’. From a tape recorder, voices of politicians can be heard through the music; for example, Ruttes answers in his public interrogation in November 2020 at the end of 2020. Three hours of interrogation in which Jansen hardly heard real answers, but mainly sentences such as: “It has been so long ago”, “I do not fully understand the question.”, “That is not clear to me.” There are also fragments of former benefits director Gerard Blankestijn, Renske Leijten and Pieter Omtzigt who exposed the scandal, and author Eva Rovers who reads sentences from her book. I revolt so we arewhich for Jansens was the starting signal for the composition and which will also provide an introduction during the performance.

I’m so incredibly angry about it. Because this scandal exposes what happens when neoliberalism seeps into policy, when everything becomes subject to market forces

Instead of sharing, Jansen The Benefits Scandal divided into ‘files’. The news unfolds in the first files. File 3 (‘Witheet’) and 6 (‘Al. Die. Keren.’) contain the furious questions of Pieter Omtzigt and Renske Leijten. “I just composed angry, hard, drilling noise. In file 5 (‘No active memory’) with Rutte’s evasive answers, angry music was also the obvious choice, but in the end I made naive, hopping music to go with it.” With a little imagination you can hear a Prime Minister dancing around his responsibilities.

All those sentences have been the inspiration for the music, but it is Jansen’s intention that in the thirty-one minutes that the piece lasts, the music eventually takes on a life of its own, loaded with the content of those sentences. There are no victims. “Of course, in the end it’s about the victims, but I wanted to make a piece that is about the anger we should still feel towards the perpetrators.”

The Surcharges Affair, it’s quite a theme for the sweet, leafy Wonderfeel festival. Jansen thinks it’s brave that he has been awarded the production prize, especially after his pitch that “with a bright red head of excitement” was quite out of tune with other ideas. He wants people after hearing The Benefits Scandal get angry again and revolt, although he doesn’t require the audience to walk out of the festival tent with pitchforks and torches and certainly no highways have to be blocked. He wants to give everyone an ‘active memory’. Jansen: “Rebellion is also: don’t forget that you can still vote for the people who caused this. Don’t forget that those people keep shifting the blame. Rebellion is: no longer voting for those people.”