BL!NDMAN Akenkaai 2, B-1000 Brussels +32 (0)2 201 59 47
eric sleichim

Eric Sleichim
© Guy Kokken

eric sleichim

eric sleichim
2013 © Guy Kokken

eric sleichim

eric sleichim
2013 © Guy Kokken

eric sleichim

eric sleichim
2008 © bart dewaele / de standaard

eric sleichim

eric sleichim 1995 © marie-françoise plissart

eric sleichim

eric sleichim 1993 © martin grimes

eric sleichim

eric sleichim 1985 © dirk pauwels

eric sleichim

eric sleichim 1985 © dirk pauwels

eric sleichim

A Life for the Saxophone

Eric Sleichim studied at the conservatories of Brussels and Liege. In the ’80s he co-founded with Thierry De Mey, Peter Vermeersch and Walter Hus the group ‘Maximalist!’, that provided music for the first productions of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Wim Vandekeybus .
In 1988 Eric Sleichim founded BL!NDMAN a saxophone quartet with a traditional line-up that developed new playing techniques and immensely expanded the repertoire for the saxophone quartet by continuously exploring the interfaces with other art disciplines.
The name BL!NDMAN refers to the magazine The Blind Man, edited by Marcel Duchamp in 1917 in New York. This title is based on the Dadaist idea of a blind guide that leads the public through exhibitions. The exclamation mark in the name refers to Maximalist!

As a composer-saxophone player, Sleichim acquired international repute by the extremely idiosyncratic way in which he plays the instrument: he makes use of squealing springs, sounds of keys, pop and smack-noises as well of the tonal qualities of the saxophone. Sleichim turns what is traditionally considered a side effect into a main focus thus creating, often in combination with other art forms, soundscapes that were never heard before. Since 1988 he performs regularly in Belgium and abroad. He’s regularly giving workshops on non-conventional techniques.
From 1983 on, Sleichim stands for innovative compositions for theatre pieces, choreographies, performances, films, art movies, exhibitions and concerts, often commissioned by diverse organisors and written for BL!NDMAN.

At the beginning of his career he composed ‘Visting the Sound’ (1985) for the Flanders Festival, ‘Chambre d’amis’ (1986) for brass quintet commissioned by Jan Hoet and laMonnaie, ‘Five Movements’ (1988) for the Festival De Stoute Jaren. In the ’90s he composes ‘Poortenbos’ (1989) for saxophone quartet and releases a CD on the Brussels label Sub Rosa, ‘Motus’ (1991) for muted saxophone quartet, ‘Verwicklungen/Les Anamorphes’ (1992) for Documenta IX, ‘Aleatoric Variations 1 & 2’ (1995-96) based on aleatoric elements and ‘Extra citates/Ex-citations’ (1996) for the prestigious Victor Horta-exhibition.

Sleichim wrote new music for four silent movies to be performed live: the Japanese film ‘Kurutta Ippeiji’ (1926) by Teinosuke Kinugasa, ‘Steamboat Bill Jr.’ by Buster Keaton (1928) , ‘La chute de la Maison Usher’ the silent avant-garde/horror movie by Jean Epstein (1928) and ‘Geheimnisse einer Seele’ by GW Pabst (1926).
In the mid-90’s he concentrates for the first time on multimedia performances, such as ‘Momentum’ (1994), ‘Breath’ (1995), ‘Meer’ (1997), ‘Dust makes Damage’ (1998), ‘Announced Movements’ (2000) and ’7 Tijdelijk Autonome Zones’ for which he collaborated with artists such as actor-writer Josse de Pauw, plastic artist Trudo Engels, theatermaker Guy Cassiers, cyber-artist Ulrike Gabriel, the symphonic orchestra of Lille and video artists Peter Misotten and Geert Mul, choreographers VA Wölfi and Amanda Miller, author Peter Verhelst and jazz musician Gerry Hemmingway.

In his oeuvre, Eric Sleichim prefers to connects to other disciplines. As a young composer he wrote music for theatre performances of Michael Matthews and Het Onafhankelijk Toneel (1986/87). Ten years later he picked up the thread again and collaborated with Guy Cassiers on ‘De Sleutel’ (The Key) (1998) and ‘La grande Suite’ for the Ro Theater. For Ivo van Hove and Toneelgroep Amsterdam he wrote the music for the 6 hour Shakespeare marathon performance ‘Roman Tragedies’ (2007) and for the theatre adaptation of ‘Teorema’ by Pier Paolo Pasolini (2009).
He worked also with the choreographers Vicente Saez, Meg Stuart, Elisabeth Corbett and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker .
For Jan Fabre he developed the electro-acoustic score ‘The Angel of Death’ which he performed live and he wrote the music for ‘L’histoire de Larmes’, the opening production of the Avignon Festival in 2005.
Fabre at his turn wrote the original text of Sleichim’s music theatre piece ‘Men in Tribulation’ (2004) about Antonin Artaud, coproduced by the KunstenFestivalDesArts and the HollandFestival. This is the first part of the ‘Trilogy of tragic Fates’ that Sleichim is developing as a house composer for Muziektheater Transparant. In the second part ‘Intra Muros’ (2007), Pier Paolo Pasolini was the central character on a text by Peter Verhelst with a scenography by Jan Versweyveld. The third part ‘Stills’ will be inspired on the writer Sylvia Plath (2013).

At the turn of the 21st century, Eric Sleichim concentrates on ancient music in his search for unreclaimed possibilities for the saxophone. In 1999 he arranged Bach’s Choral Partitas for organ into a renewing score for saxophones. ‘BL!NDMAN plays Bach’ became a success. Subsequently he arranged polyphonic pieces from the 12th until the 17th century for the program ‘Multiple Voice’ in which the saxophone quartet multiplies itself to 36 voices by means of a delay-system. Then in ‘Chromatic Variations’ he combined the saxophone quartet with a countertenor for his arrangements of chromatic motets. In 2003 he collaborated with Paul Van Nevel on a program for BL!NDMAN and Huelgas.

Electronics started to gain an ever more prominent place in Sleichim’s compositions. Use of delay and real-time deformations generate a new dimension in the soundspectrum of the saxophone. The beginning of the new millennium is characterised by different commissions for extended line-ups. In 2001 Sleichim conceived ‘BL!NDMAN ELECTR!C’, a program that focuses on electronic manipulation of live music, developed in close collaboration with Heiner Goebbels and Helmut Oehring. He wrote the electro-acoustic piece ‘Gestimmtseit’ for BL!NDMAN and the Mondrian String Quartet (2004) and ‘Carnyx’ for large ensemble, a commission by Ars Musica. Since 2006, Sleichim is composer in residence at Le Grame in Lyon. The centre supported a.o. compositions such as ‘Isotropes’ for Collegium Vocale and BL!NDMAN, that has been premiered at the prestigious festival in Saintes (2006). For BL!NDMAN [sax] + [vox] he composed the Mass 4 Turntables (MA-festival 2008) and for Champ d’Action ‘Ruisveld’ in which turntables are used as a starting point. (deSingel 2008).

With BL!NDMAN, Eric Sleichim recorded several cd’s:
‘Poortenbos’ (1992) a suite for saxophone-quartet, ‘Dust Makes Damage’ (1998) an anthology of contemporary music played by BL!NDMAN during 10 years. Sleichim can also be heard with Steve Lacy a.o. on the CD ‘Antonyms’ (1994), with Ictus on the CD’s ‘Terry Riley/In C’ and ‘David Shea with Ictus’ and on ‘Thierry De Mey/UNDO’.
Universal Music released 4 cd’s by BL!NDMAN with music, arrangements and concepts of Sleichim: ‘BL!NDMAN plays Bach’ (2000) , the transcriptions of Bach’s early Choral Partitas have been released worldwide, ‘Multiple Voice’ (2002), the polyphonic works from the 12 until 16th century played on saxophone were rewarded the Klara Muziekprijs 2003 for the best Belgian production, ‘MAX!MAL BL!NDMAN’ (2004) never before recorded pieces by the legendary ensemble ‘Maximal!st’, performed by BL!NDMAN added with piano’s, cello and percussion, and ‘Mozart Machine’ (2006) in which Sleichim released Mozart’s canons with dirty texts and arranged them for female voices and saxophones.

In 2007 Eric Sleichim was curator of Music@venture at deSingel and Amuz. In his program, with only music by living composers, he focused mainly on electronics, other forms of art and young musicians.

In 2009 he created the scores for silent movies ‘Secrets of a Soul’ and ‘Combat de boxe’ and he collaborated with Ivo van Hove and Toneelgroep Amsterdam for the Ruhrtriennale on ‘Teorema’ by Pasolini.
He wrote a new piece ‘Unter den Hämmern’ for Marcus Weiss (sax) and Yukiko Sugawara (piano), commissioned by the Transit-festival 09.
For 2010 he creates Kwadratur#2/Transfo: a performance for the complete BL!NDMAN collective and collaborates with composer and dj Matt Wright (UK) and video-artist Olga Mink (NL) to make “Totem”, a production for 8 turntables and video-environment.

In 2011 Eric Sleichim conceives “Utopia :: 47 – a very last Passion”, a commission of the MA-Festival (Bruges) and Klarafestival (Brussels) and a collaboration with Transparant.

As from the opening of the MAS, Eric Sleichim is composer in residence of the new museum in Antwerp.


A Portrait of Eric Sleichim by musicologist Yves Knockaert

One way of better understanding Eric Sleichim is to look at the people who have inspired him over the course of his musical career. The journey begins with Marcel Duchamp. The saxophone quartet in which Sleichim has played since 1988 is called ‘Bl!ndman’, a somewhat peculiar way of writing ‘Blindman’. The exclamation mark is a contrived reference to the group ‘Maximalist!’, also written with an exclamation mark, of which Sleichim was one of the four founders. The exclamation mark thus refers to the obvious link between the two ensembles, as if ‘Bl!indman’ would never have come to be if ‘Maximalist!’ hadn’t existed first. The Blind Man was the name of the magazine founded by Duchamp in New York in 1917. The name immediately sets the tone: Sleichim seeks out the unusual, sometimes even the perverse or controversial. At the same time, he initially sought to create something analogous to what Duchamp had intended to achieve with his ‘blind man’. I like to interpret the Dadaistic idea of a blind guide leading visitors through an art exhibition as a guide who learns to see along with his tour group or a guide who learns how his visitors look at the objects and can ‘steer’ them when necessary. Sleichim is not the guide; he is the artist to whom the guide and his group are listening. But Sleichim never raised himself to the level of artist: he took on the entire Bl!ndman project for himself, which involves much more than composing and playing the saxophone. He plots the course that Bl!indman will follow. In doing so he actually becomes the deaf guide, who after twenty years in the business still understands perfectly well that the audience for new music will not appear out of thin air, certainly not in droves, and that he must keep searching for new ways of captivating his audience. It’s not so much Duchamp’s absurdist side that is important to Sleichim, though he is remarkably good at putting things into perspective, as Duchamp’s critical side: continually question yourself, seek out the unknown, find new possibilities and keep reinventing yourself. As a result, Bl!ndman will never reach the end of its journey and is rightfully written with an exclamation mark, denoting the alertness of the search. Poortenbos [Forest of Doors], many doors or possibilities and a big forest to get lost in, was the title of a twelve-part suite from 1989, made up of saxophone solos, duos, trios and quartets, in three movements and nine doors.

When it comes to the plastic arts, Sleichim was from an early stage fascinated by Joseph Beuys. Beuys became part of his own art works. He lived in his installations in the museum or while they were in an exhibition. Sleichim is no different, in part because he is the first to perform his music and in part because for him the physical presence and physical contact with the instrument is also an essential element of music. Five Movements for Beuys was the Bl!ndman Quartet’s first public performance and was inspired by Beuys’ performance Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt’ [How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare]. Undeniably, Bl!ndman or the blind guide could easily be made part of Beuys’ performance: the title itself could be called ‘blind’ – even slightly absurd or impossible.

Another influence was Buster Keaton. The early films for which Sleichim wrote music on several occasions in the 1990s were not blind, but mute or silent. Here too he did not choose the obvious and direct humour of many silent films, but rather the somewhat mournful figure of Buster Keaton, who was funny in spite of himself and who, against his will, wound up in increasingly absurd situations. In addition to Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr., Sleichim also wrote music to accompany the Japanese avant-garde film Kurutta Ippeiji by Teinosuke Kinugasa, whose title translates as A Page of Madness. Also important to Sleichim’s preferred theme is the ‘poetic horror film’ La Chute de la Maison Usher by Jean Epstein. This film is generally considered to be the absolute masterpiece of its genre and is a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, filled out with elements from the writer’s other stories. A not unimportant detail is that Luis Buñuel was the assistant director for this production. Would it surprise anyone to hear that a central point in the plot of this film is the painting of a portrait? The painting in the film comes from Poe’s story The Oval Portrait, in which a man paints a portrait of his beautiful young wife. The painting is perfect, but as it progresses it draws the life from her. She dies as her husband paints the last stroke. It immediately makes one think of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

And then, suddenly, came Bach. The Bl!ndman CD released in 2000, of Bach music played by the saxophone quartet, was a truly and completely unexpected surprise. In his music, Sleichim had always avoided transcriptions. But, being a recent instrument, the saxophone has no choice but to play many transcriptions of old pieces. Sleichim had been much more interested in presenting the instrument’s physical power and in experimenting with its range of sound possibilities, for which he used very inventive methods of muting and muffling the instrument, where breathing techniques and diverse styles of playing were infinitely refined, and made the most of every possible percussive and susurrant noise made by its keys. New high-tech and electronic capabilities allowed unprecedented saxophone noises to explode into space. Sleichim also intensely explored the instrument’s technological aspects and use of space. In doing so, however, he never forgot the essential, aesthetically pure nature of the saxophone’s acoustic sound. At each of their rehearsals, the quartet had played Bach’s chorales in order to achieve a blended timbre, accuracy of attack and, especially, perfect precision when playing and simultaneously listening to one another. Never intended to be used as a transcription, it was a four-part piece from the Chorbuch, but played on saxophone rather than sung. Before their performances, the quartet had the habit of playing a Bach chorale to test the acoustics in the space. Once, during the sound check for a concert in a church, the organizer asked them if they would play the chorale during the concert. In this way the audience heard Bach, followed by mediaeval music and Renaissance polyphony and, soon thereafter, also by a series of canons that Mozart had once written as an exercise.

Figures from the art and film worlds continue to fascinate Eric Sleichim today. Over time, he has come to work increasingly in the theatre world. Initially, this work was intended primarily for the dance scene, including everything that followed in the wake of the music the Maximalist! group had done for Rosas. In the past ten years, however, Sleichim has been much more involved in purely theatrical productions, working together with a list of people whose names denote quality: Josse De Pauw, Guy Cassiers, Jan Fabre and, outside Belgium, Heiner Goebbels and Helmut Oehring (The latter’s parents were deaf. He grew up using sign language and only learned to speak in a host family at the age of four).

In 2003, Eric Sleichim wrote the music for Jan Fabre’s video-installation The Angel of Death. Once again, the subject was a controversial artist: Andy Warhol. The main emphasis in this piece was on Warhol’s homosexual nature, told from the perspective of man versus woman versus hermaphrodite. The same theme returns in the music-theatre production Men in Tribulation, which Muziektheater Transparant commissioned Sleichim to write and for which Fabre wrote the script. This time, the story is based on the theatrical writings and experiences of Antonin Artaud: the male versus the female versus the neutral or neutered. Sleichim emphasises Artaud’s subversive character and how in the end he was striving to become ‘sexless’. Another strongly contrasting element about Arnaud was his fascination with Balinese theatre. This was his first contact with abstract theatre containing only symbols and fixed codes and it strongly opposed his ideas on the ‘théâtre de la cruauté’, in which crudity (cru) and cruelty (cruel) represented directness and expressive overstatement. He believed that the emotions on stage should no longer be acted, but should be ‘real’. Eric Sleichim is obsessed with the same idea: how is it possible to go from portraying emotions to actually creating an emotion on stage through his music? What’s more, how is it possible to grip his listeners, to grasp them, to almost use force against them through his truly physical and mental stance (rather than performance) on stage? How, in order to do this, it is necessary to conquer the space surrounding your audience, pushing and shoving the artistic idea into the cracks between the listeners. This can be achieved by setting up speakers in and around the audience, by guiding the movement of sound throughout the space and by dispersing the musicians throughout the audience; ideas that Sleichim has further elaborated in his piece Gestimmtseit.

In Gestimmtseit (2004), Sleichim remains faithful to his subject. As with Warhol, the confrontation this time is with Pier Paolo Pasolini, homosexual, subversive and often shocking in his films. Pasolini was also a poet, and the text used for this piece shows us a young man looking into a mirror and trying to come to terms with his budding sexuality (or more precisely, homosexuality). Sleichim’s goal is not only to allow the audience to voyeuristically look into the mirror along with the young Pasolini; he also wants to lock them into the same room with him. The members of the string quartet grope their way through complete darkness, looking for their seats on the stage or in the room. The four saxophonists are seated throughout the audience. Suddenly, sounds burst out from all directions, unpredictable and indefinable and electronically distorted to the point of being unrecognizable. Sleichim calls them ‘perverted sounds’. The title of the piece has a similar feel: it is a slip of the pen made by Pasolini, who probably meant to write Gestimmtheit but instead created a non-existent word. Yet again, an element that lies outside the realm of what exists: an emotional element which remains unknown because it does not exist. In Intra-Muros, his new music-theatre production for Muziektheater Transparant, Sleichim has explored Pasolini’s character even more intensively.

Starting in 2005, Sleichim will be Transparant’s resident composer and will be creating a number of music-theatre productions for them. Transparant is also supporting a number of projects in which Sleichim is involved, such as Jan Fabre’s L’histoire des larmes.

Few musicians display such consistency, purpose and unity in their work as Eric Sleichim. On one level, it seems simple: he tells a story (postmodern) based on characters that fascinate him. On another level, it’s extremely direct: he grasps his saxophone and plays it with an ethereally beautiful purity, rhythmically rocking and pulsing, experimenting with any manner of unconventional sounds. This directness is not only due to the fact that the composer plays his own music; it is also due to the way he physically approaches the instrument, the absolute union between the composer-performer and his saxophone. On yet another level there is the never-ending quest, in which Eric Sleichim himself remains obscured: does he reveal something of himself? Is he looking for himself? How does he relate to the characters who fascinate and impassion him, and who themselves are so passionate and fascinating? He pushes and forces his way into his audience’s or listener’s heads, which is where they each must find his or her own answer.

Yves Knockaert

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BL!NDMAN       contact info

Gallaitstraat 76-78
1030 Schaarbeek, Belgium

general and artistic direction:
management:   M +32 473 29 98 91
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BL!NDMAN is supported by the Arts Administration of the Ministry of the Flemish Community and the Flemish Community Commission of the Brussels-Capital Region. BL!NDMAN [sax] play Selmer Paris Saxophones.