Robert van Heumen and I have travelled the world more than a few times as the electro acoustic duo Shackle.
We have decided to end the journey since we’ve been on different paths these days. Not exactly the last supper, but we did go out and celebrate.
Beginnings and endings are powerful moments in our lives and Jacqueline Oskamp summed up our story with a text that says it all.
“Men Wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”
― Ernest Shackleton (ca. 1913, apocryphal)
The meanings of Shackle include “link”, “chain”, and even “handcuffs”. Another spontaneous association comes to mind: one regarding the early 20th century polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. Anne La Berge (1955) and Robert van Heumen (1968) are as dauntless as their illustrious predecessor. Shackleton journeyed to Antartica with enormous perseverance. A century later, Shackle, the improvisation duo that Anne and Robert started in 2007, mapped out a previously undiscovered musical region and made it accessible to their public.
The adventure started much earlier with each person on their own instruments. Anne discovered throughout the nineties that her flute can produce the sound of icy polar winds, creaking snow and a pickaxe hacking into the ice – amplified and / or electronically processed when necessary. Robert transformed a playstation joystick into a subtle electronic interface, with which he could control the material on his laptop down to the smallest detail: from crashing avalanches and the chatter of the freezing cold to mysterious sounds in the polar night.
The actual link in Shackle is the Shackle System, the computer software that they developed themselves that functions as both a compass and a map. It offers the players possibilities, limitations and rules. It is a guided improvisation system where the improvisers and the computer software determine the course from moment to moment and can therefore penetrate deep into unknown territory.
The space and structure that the Shackle System offers made space for guest musicians to join Shackle in what they named the Shackle Affair. One of their many fruitful international collaborations was with Männer mit Motoren, another duo with similar desires for improvisation and adventure. The long list of Shackle Affairs included the California electro acoustic Duo Young/Day, drummers Onno Govaert, Etienne Nillesen and bass clarinetist Oguz Buyukberber.
The system was extended to Shackle Bits that used grand vistas on the video screen. Perhaps the most revolutionary was the Shackle Stick, a sober, tough sound carrier in the form of a USB stick. designed in the robust Shackle style by Isabelle Vigier.
Shackle had its base camp in the Netherlands, but the tours led all over the world. From Europe to Canada, Australia, the United States and Latin America: a total of hundreds of concerts, workshops and Shackle Affairs. During these years, Anne and Robert were never shy in their quests, just like Shackleton said, “Problems are there to be overcome.” Whether it was instrumental, technical, musical, production, logistical or financial difficulties, Shackle tackled them.
Their journeys have yielded a wealth of knowledge, insights and – of course – music that can still be heard. For Anne and Robert it is now time to unshackle and follow their own trajectories.
Jacqueline Oskamp – 2019