In August 2011 Musica asked me to participate in their Sound Atlas of Limburg (a province of Belgium). The goal was to create a soundscape which would express a key part of the history or landscape of Limburg. At first I didn’t know how to start but then I remembered an old comic book I read as I child. It was “The White Riders” of Robert en Bertrand, a Flemish comic book series about the adventures of two vagabonds. The issue dealt with the jenever history of Limburg, and in specific, Hasselt (the capital of Limburg). Jenever (also know as Holland gin or Dutch gin in English), is the juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved. Off course, jenever is also distilled outside of Limburg, but during the 19th century Limburg was the most important place for the distilling of jenever in the low countries. Almost every village had it’s own distillery. A lot of farms even had their own distillery at home. The whole social network was involved with the production of jenever. The farms provided the grains to the distillery; the distilleries had their own stables and traded in cattle, since one of the byproducts of the distilling-proces was ideal cattle-food. And then there were the cafés and shops that sold jenever. This tradition lives on: Hasselt is the jenever capital. It has it’s Jenever fests and the national jenever museum. But during my research on the history of jenever, I discovered that the tradition has largely become folklore. Today, there are no more grand distilleries in Limburg. The last famous one was bought recently by a company from Ghent.
I originally wanted to record the 19th century distillery of the jenevermuseum in Hasselt, which is still working, and pair those recordings with sounds of a modern distillery, but there were none to be found. That’s why I decided to focus on the 19th century installation, which in itself is a godsend for people working with audio. The machine hisses, puffs, growls, bonks and whistles. The title ‘Pour les Anges’ (For the Angels) refers to the part of the alcohol that evaporates when the jenever is riping in the oaken barrels. Much like the traditional industry has largely evaporated and is maintained only by the folklore of the museum.
Production: Musica & Stijn Demeulenaere
I would like to thank Eveline Heylen, Jenevermuseum Hasselt, Jan Kempeneers and Pauwel De Buck for helping me create this piece.
Pictures: © Barbara Tandt