a brief biography    

Karel von Kleist ('51) was born in an industrial area on the north side of Amsterdam, close to uninhabited reed-lands where he and his friends could roam in total freedom. They constructed primitive huts, boiled eggs in empty tin cans and found frogspawn and salamanders.

Growing up, he witnessed the destruction of these open spaces as the city advanced. "High-rise flats ruthlessly replaced the wild 'dreamlands' where we used to play. That's where I first experienced nature as an entity. I always try to regain that state of innocence. Through art, soundscapes, language."

His father was crazy about electronics. In his spare time he built tube amplifiers in his workshop in the attic. "It took a while before he got it right," remembers Von Kleist. "We would hear the most outlandish sounds because the equipment was so unstable. He had an insatiable thirst for experimenting, which really inspired me." Aged 12, he started to conduct his own sound research using his Pa's Tandberg tape recorder plus microphone. What really fired his imagination (to this day) was a unique feature on this recorder that made it possible to "stack" sounds on top of each other - sound on sound.

During the 1960s and '70s, he passed through a number of technical schools, then art colleges. He used paint, crayon or fibre-tip pen to depict the metaphysics that he knew to be behind reality. His style at the time could be described as psychedelic surrealism. At the same time he worked on soundscapes that reflected how he felt about the world.

Von Kleist: "The only problem was that I was working very much on my own, which made for a fairly lonely existence. I wanted to get out more."

Free-lance jobs for the Royal Dutch Opera allowed him to branch out. He came into contact with the higher technical regions of sound recording, and fell under the spell of a specific form of magic: theatre. Even more so when he started working for genius actor/director Ralf Wingens who practised absurdist surrealism under the name of Dzjatsch.

In 1978, partly based on ideas developed by Wingens (and Antonin Artaud), Von Kleist founded multimedia theatre group Pasta B with Johan Schop. Over a couple of years they made four productions. Deliberately at odds with most established theatre groups, some reviewers thought the shows refreshing, while others found them shocking. Young audiences loved it. One play was about an office, one about corrupt security guards, while the 'Paradise of Rats', adapted from an idea by German playwright Siegfried Henschel, was a baroque allegory of the underworld that acted as a breeding ground for failed Nazi myths, and 'Lemuria 2020' ventured into the area of science fiction. The themes were almost cinematic but a bold and functional use of technical means made it possible to expand what was shown on stage to far beyond the walls of the theatre. Von Kleist, who generated ideas, texts, soundscapes, and was also responsible for overall technical design and its execution: "At the time we went further than anyone else in integrating into the stage setting. We projected over 6,000 slides on Göblin screens in computerized sequences, we used film, video, transmitters, headphones, we were the first to use see-through screens as part of the scenery." Still, the company foundered due to a lack of structural financing. It received grant aid to pay for production expenses but never for wages or long-term running costs.

From 1984 he started doing paid work as a freelancer, supplying soundscapes, sound design, sound effects, installations, and music for radio, TV, film, theatre, ballet, art galleries, and exhibitions. Many of the projects that he contributed to won awards (Emmy Award, Golden Calf, Prix de Rome and so on, see Sound & music).

In the meantime he has continued to pursue his own projects. Adventures in sound [MSOffice1] and in recent years, increasingly in the visual arts as well.

In 1997 he moved to the south coast of Ireland "where it is still possible to record "pure" soundscapes without unintentional dissonants".












          Photos by Hans van den Bogaard