NOISIA's Thys Adds Evil Beats to Contemporary Dance 'Sleeping Beauty Dreams': Listen

Sleeping Beauty Dreams
Kirill Simakov

Sleeping Beauty Dreams

You'd think the best part of mastering one's craft is sitting back and enjoying that comfort. You worked hard to become the best at something. Now you can relax -- but if you truly wish to be great, you have to keep pushing. You have to broaden one's scope, even try something that scares you, which is how NOISIA's Thijs de Vlieger, aka Thys, ended up scoring a cutting-edge exploration of digital technology and movement in the form of a modern contemporary dance piece called Sleeping Beauty Dreams.

“It's part of a development that I'm definitely consciously putting myself through,” he explains, “moving away from the club and the festival just so that I can stay in them and stay sane.”

De Vlieger and his two colleagues are true producer's producers. Skrillex thanks the trio with teaching him the intimate details of sound design, and NOISIA's studio is renown as a modular state-of-the-art wonderland. De Vlieger appreciates his position as an icon of experimental bass, but even his frontier-forging take can feel formulaic. He and his NOISIA pals have to look outward to find new inspiration, and for de Vlieger, that came in the form of a strange new project soundtracking contemporary dance.

It began with a project for Dutch company Club Guy & Roni called Tetris Mon Amour. The artistic director was from NOISIA's home town. They knew each other, and after some “careful artistic pressure,” de Vlieger “caved in.”

“I was really like 'yeah, but I'm NOISIA,'” de Vlieger says, “and he's like 'yo, man, just do what you want,' and I was like 'but I don't know if I can.' In the end, he coaxed me into it, and now I'm dating a dancer, haha.”

De Vlieger's harsh, industrial sound was perfect for Tetris Mon Amour's stark lighting and jarring movement. He composed three pieces for the performance in 2017, pieces which were then captured in highly-stylized videos eventually seen by someone who'd formerly booked NOISIA for a show in St. Petersburg. This woman was involved in a New York-based project called Sleeping Beauty Dreams.

It was an ambitious project led by global prima ballerina Diana Vishneva which would explore a metaphorical story of what the princess Aurora dreamt during her 100 years of slumber. It would employ state-of-the-art motion detection technology to project various digital characters onto layered screens, characters whose movements would mirror Vishneva's in real time. The original artist hired to compose the pieces' soundtrack had backed out, and now, the Sleeping Beauty Dreams team was convinced de Vlieger's sound was the key to completing their vision.

He was excited at the prospect of another soundtracking gig so soon, but he was still a bit skeptical.

“I made sure that I was a fit person, because I have kind of a specific sound, and I don't want to take jobs that are outside of that,” he says. “I don't want to write Hollywood orchestral scores or whatever. I have no ambition right now to do that. So I made sure they want me to do what I would do anyway.”

Kirill Simakov
Sleeping Beauty Dreams

Securely on the same page, it was the sketch work by costume and character designer Bart Hess that really sealed the deal. The strange, abstract monsters that would become Aurora's soul, her inner demons and other-worldly temptations. It inspired him to create a strange series of songs and sound bites.

Once he had about 30 sonic sketches, he got with the show's director and choreographer to pair the tracks with different moments in the dance storyboard. Armed with music, choreographer Edward Clug was able to give the piece physical life. If anything specific was needed from the leftover scenes, de Vlieger worked with more particular direction until the final product was in hand.

For de Vlieger, work started in January, though he worked in the meanwhile on other projects and of course NOISIA releases. By June, it became his main concern, and truly, it wasn't until the show's soft premiere in Miami during Art Basel weekend that de Vlieger turned in his final pieces.

“I made 100 minutes of music for this thing by myself in a year,” he says. “That is two albums. Taking that on by myself has been a leap of faith, and obviously I feel kind of confident right now, like 'hey man, I did it. I Can do these things.' So that's definitely something I picked up here, that I can do a big job. I can compose.”

Kirill Simakov
Sleeping Beauty Dreams

Sleeping Beauty Dreams runs in two acts for about two hours, including a short intermission. It begins the moment Aurora falls asleep and works through various stages of her ever-deepening slumber. Vishneva carries the performance, working tirelessly but gracefully through hours of movement, all-the-while wearing a motion capture suit to manipulate the soaring digital beings around her. An LED screen sits six meters high and 20 meters long, and in front of it, a retractable screen of projection gauze adds more layers in 7k resolution.

De Vlieger's sounds are harsh and mechanical, at times darkly ambient and atmospheric, other times resembling nearly complete songs with wild drum'n'bass rhythms or gloomy dubstep melodies. Some of the most beautiful moments come when Vishneva dances with the Prince, played by Marcelo Gomes. It's a romantic reprieve from the show's modern edge, which proved a bit too hard for most reviewers, though NOISIA fans should be pleased with de Vleiger's maddening score. He released one track from the piece, “Overcome,” as a free download on Soundcloud, which you can hear below. He hopes to do more work like this in the future.

“It's a bit easier to also just let NOISIA be what it is, because there is another venture that is a little more unpredictable with a bit more self development,” he says. “I'm learning a lot faster, because there is more to learn here than what is left to learn in where we're established … There's very basic rules, but when you don't know them yet or you've never applied them, they're very exciting, and when you've done them for over decades, you're like OK, I'm ready for another challenge.”