"Bewildering variety of music you've got there... few people go that far out, I dig it."
- Sam Marsh (MySpace reaction)
Randolf Smeets, a.k.a The Phlod-Nar, started composing music around 1996 with his first compositions being electronic sound experiments, written sheet music for solo instruments, electric piano improvisations and attempts to write 'real' songs with lyrics and chords. Absorbing all kinds of music, especially unique one-of-a-kind musicians and composers like Frank Zappa, John Zorn, Otomo Yoshihide, Igor Stravinsky, Björk, Mike Patton, Miles Davis, Béla Bartók, Venetian Snares, and many other artists exploring the outer limits of musical expression. The following years he started to record these pieces on cassette tapes and Mini-discs, and even Floppy Discs which were compatible with the keyboard he was using. After 10 years numerous works were finished and this resulted in his first unofficial release being a 5 DIY Compact Disc set.
The first one “Black Paint and Red Ochre” is genre-bending and each track is totally different from each other; from schizoid techno to demented jazz, from maniacal African funk to abstract beats, from liberating ambient to disturbing noise, from world music to scary movie music, from moody hip-hop to ... you get the point. The music uses various techniques like improvisation, composition, 'random coincidences', polyrhythm, soloing (as in jazz music), layering of sounds, sound design, programming, and more experimentation.
The second album “Utriusque Cosmi” is ambient music in many variations; just like the inspirations for this one – to name a few: Aphex Twin, Tetsu Inoue, Biosphere, Bill Laswell, Skinny Puppy's side project Download. You will hear abstract imaginary soundscapes as well as melodic works. This album is going to be released as an updated version, with better mixes and more tracks.
The first installment of The Crystalline Piano was also part of this 5-Cd set. Electric piano improvisations serving you modern and daring experiences. With the use of several effects it was also a place to delve into other possibilities of the piano sound.
The final two Cd's were even more experimental and included are the first recorded noise experiments, which were titled “The Japanese Audio Factory presents...” after discovering the music of, especially, Otomo Yoshihide (and ahead-of-its-time collaborations like I.S.O. working with empty samplers and even no-source inputs). That inspired The Phlod-Nar even more to broaden the possibilities of writing music.
When completing these releases in 2007 a curious little item “The Phlod-Nar at the Altar of Modernity”, a +17 minute collage piece was also finished, and 10 years later officially released. Obviously inspired by Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy and John Zorn's Naked City, the idea of 'plunderphonics' is also present. In these years a lot of reactions to his music, on a then popular social music platform, were often described as 'very cinematic' and specific for this longer work as 'Super Mario running around in different worlds', just to give you an idea about the scope of his early musical expression.
When around 2005 discovering the music of especially Arvo Pärt, Valentin Silvestrov, and other ECM related performers, Randolf started picking up his pencil again to write dots on paper. This resulted in many unfinished works in the period 2005-2008. These works share mostly the same characteristics: extremely slow and exploring a certain inward expressiveness. In total contrast to the earliest pieces he started to write (first scribbles from around 1996), which were usually very short, abstract, extremely fast and with no consideration about the playability. Although some works were completed for piano, violin, cello, flute, or voices, the pieces themselves remain largely unperformed, besides some solo piano works Randolf would release later under his real name (see Works for Piano).
In 2007 and 2008 The Phlod-Nar worked on two projects simultaneously. Firstly a pure electronic album To Inhale, while exploring a new computer program to create this kind of music. The other was a project what he called “pseudo-classical music” titled Wanjina. Inspired by the Aboriginal culture from Australia (during Randolf's 1 year visit in 2002) it caused controversy and in an article by Geoff Vivian for WA News, stating that the Dutch musician had offended Kimberly Aboriginal elders by using their sacred cultural materials without their permission. It's a 5-part piece written for mixed choir, string orchestra and small ensemble. Executed on his, by now well used, keyboard Technics SN-KN3000, it's, like most of his work, a combination of composed music and improvisation. This was also the last time he used this instrument to create his music. From now on Randolf became more interested in combining acoustic, electronic, classical, field recordings, electro-acoustic and sound experimentation as an organic whole, instead of treating everything as separate units. After completing his music therapy education in 2008 he was also more experienced, and more confident, in using instruments like guitar, electric bass, clarinet, percussion and eventually his own voice.
The Phlod-Nar didn't have a lack of inspiration back then, so around 2008 more projects were started. Efforts to try out other interests, in this case techno and world music were constructed with copy-paste samples, and didn't give the content or the personal feel The Phlod-Nar was looking for. There was even some restraint, because this music was released under strange pseudonyms: Sad Star (techno and trance music) and Jungle Willie (world music), and in 2011 another attempt in gaining some 'commercial' (ahum) attention: Feirledijika (jazz samples with movie dialogue). All these projects have some released material scattered all over the internet.
His next major project was the completion of the album In Eternity (2010) and was to his satisfaction a combination of electronic, acoustic and classical sounds. Although described as 'indigestible' by Dutch experimental music magazine Gonzo Circus, it makes a good starting point to get into his music, because of the multitude of genres on this album. You'll be treated with: ambient music, classical string quartet, drum 'n bass, new age, hip-hop beats, dark strings, mellow breakbeats... And besides the use of electronic music and field recordings, real instruments played by Randolf himself, like electric guitar, bass guitar, clarinet and percussion are used on this album. Released as a CD-r at the time and to buy at local stores in Heerlen, The Netherlands (where he lived back then), it is now available digitally and as an USB-stick with high quality audio files (24/32 bit) for audio geeks with plenty of bonus tracks.
A collaboration with his buddy Barry, also from Heerlen, became fruitful and jam sessions from their homes resulted in several EP's, singles and albums over the years. A combination of moody ambient and downtempo minimal beats with electronic samples and live piano was the outcome. The ambition grew larger and drummer Theo was involved for some sessions, but unfortunately the trio never performed live and only an unreleased demo exists, before dissolving into air...
Between the release of albums and collaborations time was spend to compose music for solo instruments and smaller ensembles. An interview was executed in 2011 for a local Dutch radio station (L1) because of joining a contest for young composers. The original piece was Variations for Wind Quintet (2010-2011), but not satisfied with the result, it was eventually re-written and re-scored into the shorter Meditation for Wind Quintet. The Phlod-Nar managed to complete and record several solo piano pieces, written between 2005 and 2011, resulting in an album under his real name, titled Works for Piano. Released on Cd with amazing artwork by Ilja Kleinjans in 2012, it has also the complete sheet music available. In total contrast of his previous release, this album focuses on space and silence. Often created after meditation sessions, the music is described as a 'myriad of stories dependent upon the mood and imagination of the listener', by Kelly O'Neill (giving it 5 out of 5 stars). Because of the slow movement of this music, there's a certain element of introspection and even romantic and cinematic moods.
Maintaining an interest in writing music for films, in the same year The Phlod-Nar worked on a soundtrack for a documentary, Arches + Bridges, directed by Michiel van Hout. Continuing his writing for piano, it also features other instrumental works and sound design. The main theme is available on streaming platforms and as sheet music.
As The Phlod-Nar enjoyed composing for this medium he created various instrumental soundtrack works which he released on a following album Selected Film Works. Written during a 6 year period (from 2007 tot 2013) these pieces present atmospheric music with piano, synths and strings. Composed on his new Roland RD-700GX piano, as well as his Works for Piano album, the sound is enhanced in quality because of the sound and possibilities of this instrument. Even more tracks were used for the, just developing, audio books from Booktrack. Plenty of this soundtrack music you can find on this platform, even winning a contest, and another second prize, for creating music and sounds for particular books.
Although being very pleased with his new piano, other explorations with different instruments starting the develop as well. Always liking the idea of a band format, this resulted in some krautrock-like experiments with acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass and electronic drums. Agula was this new solo side-project called. Even releasing some digital singles, eventually this project was aborted due to the time consuming process of writing, playing and producing this kind of music on his own. Some unfinished tracks were completed some time later for other projects.
The next step of The Phlod-Nar's search for musical growth was to combine all previous musical efforts with acoustic, electric and electronic possibilities, and even intertwine his growing collection of field recordings and electro-acoustic experiments. The first creation was a, almost 16 minute, slowly evolving ambient work Tramontana (released in 2014) combining instruments like piano, (bass)guitar, voice (featuring his now-wife Joke), electronic percussion (played on Handsonic) and his own field recordings. This limited edition Cd also has a special track inspired and created with his unborn sons heartbeat, in a smooth, relaxing electro track.
The EP MorphoGenesis (2016) is another great example where you can find all of the aforementioned possibilities, and is still accessible even though many genres are explored (ambient, sound design, ethnic, noise, minimal..). Even compared to Brian Eno, as reviewed by Frans de Waard (Vital Weekly), said it nicely: 'It moves away from the pure abstract ambient and leaves in all of these musical elements; a bit of rhythm, a hint of melody, the well-placed field recording, adding more texture to a piece'.
Piano improvisations, electric as well as recordings on several acoustic pianos, became a regular inquisitiveness, starting from the release of the early The Crystalline Piano album (recorded between 1998-2006) , it became a series with Chapter II (recorded 2007-2009) and Chapter III (2016), both released in 2016 and who knows how many more to come.
Experimenting with sound and trying to find new ways of expressing himself, another, even more adventurous, project was created to find a way to finish his many recordings. Titled A Z I M O G U, it is subtitled Treatments in Sound, for the following reasons; first it means taking existing recordings and intensively edit and manipulate it into something, usually, unrecognizable new. By using methods like Xenochrony (another Zappa influence) unexpecting results would occur as the outcome of mixing unrelated recordings are very random. Secondly, the use of taking chances and see (in this case hear) what happens, the ideas of John Cage are also a frame of reference. Remarkable, the results are extremely varied: from electric guitar interwoven with electronics; a stuck Cd-player used as sound source; recordings cut up in thousands of fragments and processed & layered; field recordings altered in a way it morphs into something new; and so much more. The album series OPIANS (releases from 2017 and 2021) for example, feature only piano recordings enhanced to a much broader sound spectrum and level of experience for the listener. To sum it up: the experience of slaughter to fine, distinct meat, to compare it to butcher methods and the rather extreme outcome.
Some collaborations in different formats took shape over the years. The main focus was to gain experience with playing in bands, preferably playing on several instruments. The first was some rockband Randolf and 3 other students formed during his music therapy study, mainly playing electric bass. In 2015 an unique online gathering took place with Concourse in Atmosphere, self described as 'a virtual meeting point for a variety of artists '. Musician from all over the globe played and recorded their own instrument. Randolf played some clarinet on a few tracks.
More band experience was developed with the 3-piece unit Vigilan Freeland, a Dutch singer-songwriter describing his music as omnifarious: a mix of indie pop, gothic rock, and north-west European folkrock. Some live gigs happened, with a 4th member as drummer, and an EP was released in 2016 where Randolf played electric bass, clarinet and piano.
A lovely musical collaboration with his wife, and her warm voice, resulted in a Cd with songs from all over the world, sung in different languages. Released in 2018 it's a beautiful release with a complete booklet with the original language including English translation and nice artwork. Besides singing, Randolf also plays guitar, piano, percussion, clarinet, ukulele, bass guitar, and additional sounds like field recordings.
Since The Phlod-Nar records about every sound he hears, only a fraction of his recordings will be used in released material. A 25-minute track with the curious title 'Now I will do nothing but listen … I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following, sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night…' (taken from the book by R. Murray Schafer "The Soundscape - Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World ) was eventually put together in 2019 with some of these recordings, which you can find for free on his bandcamp page.
In recent years a few older albums have been re-released and new material will appear now and then, also tracks on compilations (new, unreleased, and remixes), and as usual The Phlod-Nar's musical spectrum will broaden with each release.
Expected new music in the future:
- A 2-album compilation of a selection of tracks from The Phlod-Nar's whole music output;
- chamber music, written works for small ensembles and solo instruments;
- minimal electronic music in combination with real instruments;
- piano works where the original piano sound becomes more and more abandoned to create a new sound world.
Thank you for listening and your support