With Michiel van Poelgeest: an interview with the artist of "The Seven Sirens"


Michiel van Poelgeest (1982) is a Dutch music composer. His output is very diverse: ranging from electro-acoustic piano scores to dystopic hybrid synthesizer soundscapes. Van Poelgeest's musical education started when he was seven years old and took up piano les-sons. His classical education went on for ten years, after which his interests shifted towards elec-tronic music and songwriting. In 2010 he produced and released a modern pop album under the pseudonym Villeneuf. A se-cond album would later follow. The band toured the Netherlands, played countless venues, and performed on live television during prime time. The albums were very well-received. He then went on to write music for film and television and has been doing that ever since.

Hi Michiel, you are an emerging artist but with different results already achieved, can you tell us briefly what artist you are?

I guess you could say I'm not your 'typical composer'. After receiving classical piano training when I was really young (from age 8 until I was 18 I think), I became a performing artist. I played in a lot of different pop- and rock bands, usually as a keyboard player. Later on I also started singing and began writing my own material. That evolved into having my own band, which was called Villeneuf. For about three or four years we did really well. I wrote and produced two albums full of indie- and electrop songs. Then life happened: I became a father for the second time and other band members went on to have kids as well. The band ceased to exist. But I went on making music, basically because I didn't know how not to write music. I wake up everyday with melodies in my head. And those melodies need to go places.

What are your influences and your musical references?

I grew up listening to a lot of different styles of music and was force fed several artists, such as The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Ekseption (for everyone under 35: google it! :)), but also stuff like The Eagles and musicals like The Sound of Music...
The first tape I ever put in my walkman was Michael Jackon's Bad. So...yeah pretty much everything. I distinctly remember having a long Britpop phase (Blur). Then I fell in love with Radiohead. I've also been a fan of Coldplay, Bahamas, Sufjan Stevens, Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire for as long as I can remember. As my taste developed I learned to appreciate more minimalistic and artistic music such as anything by Philip Glass or Yann Tiersen. To sum up: I listen to everything.

When I'm writing for myself I almost always start from a small melody or chord progression that I have in my head and just go from there.

How do you compose? Do you feel a musical theme in your mind or is it more based on creating from sensations?

When I'm writing for myself I almost always start from a small melody or chord progression that I have in my head and just go from there. When I'm writing to picture it's different. I try to focus on what emotion the story is conveying and start looking for sounds to match that mood. For The Seven Sirens I did a little bit of both I think.

How was your latest album "The Seven Sirens" born?

I remember reading Mythos by Stephen Fry in bed late one night, when I first came up with the concept for The Seven Sirens. I've always been a fan of the sort of primal narrative force that comes from Greek myths and I felt like that could be the glue I needed to connect the various pieces I was working on at the time. Perhaps my being married to a classicist is also a reason for digging mythology :).
Anyway, after writing material for about a year or so I ended up with over 25 demo's that all needed a lot of work. I discarded about half of them, started producing and mixing the ones that were left and then repeated that process until I had 7 tracks left. I hired a couple of session musicians on tracks that needed them.
Next up was mixing with Sam Jones, who added so much finesse to the music and basically made it into an album. Finally, Wessel Oltheten, who did the mastering, added a lot of depth and the necessary finishing touches. Et voilà! I kept a videolog on the entire process by the way, which you can check out on my instagram.

At what time of the day do you like to compose? Is it an expressive urgency due to an inspiration or do you meditate and plan everything with scrupulous criteria?

I like the mornings and the nights best because they're so quiet. But I can just as easily sit down behind the piano at three in the afternoon for a project and 'perform under pressure'. That's not something I remember ever having a problem with. I do like to sort of constrain myself in using as little instrumentation as needed, at least in the first couple of writing sessions. There's always room for more tracks in a project, but a composition doesn't necessarily get better by adding more and more stuff. Quite often it's precisely the opposite. That does require a certain amount of discipline.

What would you answer to those who ask you why you should listen to your music?

They shouldn't.... But if they're really curious I will say this: if you're into little piano melodies that possess the power of creating little universes to get lost in, the Seven Sirens might just be for you...How's that for marketing?

What is the meaning of music for you?

Music is my greatest friend and my worst enemy. It can get me jumping up and down in the studio out of pure joy after creating something I think is genius (which of course it never is). And it can make me want to throw stuff at my computer out of sheer frustration. Music is a lot like life itself.

Could you kindly anticipate us something about your upcoming projects?

I'm working on a documentary score right now, which I will have finished before the summer as well as a couple of smaller projects, like this score I'm writing for a very interesting storytelling podcast that will come out in the fall. I'm also writing new stuff for myself, which is going to be way more orchestral... Bigger, I guess, so that's really exciting for me personally. But I'm still not done exploring the ambient landscape. Discovering new sounds and the endless possibilities that exist nowadays, that will hopefully lead to new micro-universes and sonic landscapes.