Music I Am #36 – Vivienne Aerts – vocalist, composer, producer

The moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician:

I guess I never thought about it, but I think I knew all my life. I started young with playing the piano and remember composing my first little song when I was probably 4/5 years old. Simply banging on the keys and singing along was my favorite thing to do. I’m fortunate that my family really loves music and they always supported my journey in what every way they could but never really made a big deal of it.

An important skill for a career in music that does not have anything to do with an instrument or making music:

Never give up and always stay true to yourself. Other than that, I think listening to what people really have to say and learning to connect with people on a deeper level really helps with our career. Its all about connections, be it your colleagues or your audience.

Two ways you stay motivated:

I always try to stay positive and I make sure to be organized and balanced. Also, I make sure to set my goals, longterm and short-term. I like to be involved in multiple things at the same time and somehow I tent to maintain that. Maybe I should add a little about my background, I’m originally from the Netherlands and studied singing and choir conducting at the conservatory, while also studying Clinical Psychology at Leiden University. Subsequent, I worked as psychologist during the day and as a choir conductor at night, conducting five choirs a week at one point! In the weekends I performed jazz and original music with my band. Then, at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, I received a scholarship to make the big leap to the US to study at Berklee College of Music and graduated 2014. I currently teach at Berklee and have been living in New York working on different musical projects as a singer and composer.

Latest Project:

My latest album is called ‘Typuhthâng’ [pronunciation: type-of-thing] came out in March 2023. It features collaborations with 100 next-generation female musicians and aims to empower the 1500 female cacao farmers of Virunga State Park in Congo while supporting rainforest restoration. The album is including both original songs and captivating soundscapes created from field recordings and comes with a bar of chocolate.


What inspired it:

In New York I was getting more and more involved in the experimental scene and starting looping my voice and using electronics became a big part of my sound. I’ve performed with some amazing players in my scene and started to work with my husband who is a pastry chef. We came up with Vervool, a bespoke multi-sensory experience and we started to work together with Original Beans, a European Chocolate brand that is good for the people, the nature and has the best quality we could wish for. Inspired by their projects, I wanted to be an ambassador for this project and decided to feature this bar with my third album. So ‘Typuhthâng’ became a collaboration with Original Beans Chocolate – whose project in the heart of Virunga State Park in Congo aims to empower the 1500 women who are managing, operating and growing a cocoa farm and tree nursery. Fans will receive a bar of “Original Beans Femmes de Virunga” with every purchase of the album. For obvious reasons, on my album had to be women as well. As this album was taking shape, I requested all my friends and colleagues to send me one note in an email. Like a puzzle I created soundscapes of all these separate notes and that’s where the initial idea of remotely recording a hundred female musicians for my album came from. In addition, I asked a couple of my friends to arrange my compositions for different formations. So as I was sending the parts to the musicians all over the world, slowly all the pieces of this massive puzzle started trickling in my inbox. Among the songs you will hear choir, bigband, string ensemble.

It was my ambition to visit the Femmes, but not being able to, I found Pennie Taylor and Elaine Livingstone, who in 2016 traveled to Virunga State Park to record a documentary for BBC radio. Pennie and Elaine sent me their photographs, field recordings and interviews: bird sounds from the jungle; the shaking of the beans; sounds of the work in the fields; motorcycle sounds; singing children, and songs from the pygmy. They captured the spirit of the Femmes and shed light on their lives and their work. I have used this deeply inspiring material to recreate their journey. I’ve mixed it with sounds from other contributors and created what feels like an improvised soundscape, a glue between songs or a palette cleanser between courses. These soundscapes are connectors, connecting the pieces to each other and connecting the full work back to the Femmes de Virunga.

Who’s on it:

I spent the last two years creating this musical piece of songs and soundscapes and with the help of mixing engineer, Jess Fenton and mastering engineer, Maria Triana, aligned everything in other to create this single album. Through Typuhthâng, my ultimate goal is to foster a collective awareness of sustainability and female empowerment. I firmly believe that by working together, we can create a better world. So, together with 100 next-generation female musicians, and in collaboration with Original Beans Chocolate, Typuhthâng it revolves around the themes of women and chocolate, serving as a musical exchange that empowers the remarkable female cacao farmers of Virunga State Park in Congo and replant the rainforest. I had the privilege of hiring over 100 immensely talented female musicians during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic  which was a testament to my belief in the power of togetherness and community. These 100 female musicians from over 40 countries participate in every role of the project including performing, recording, arranging, mixing, and mastering. The album features 3 sampled soundscapes and 6 original songs with arrangements by myself, Zahili Gonzalez Zamora, Ines Velasco Montiel, Ga Young Bae, Linnea Lundgren, Camila Meza and Mariel Roberts. Mixing is done by Jess Fenton, mastering is done by Maria Triana. The initial pressing of 500 exclusive copies features Cacao nib paper and screen print, adding an artistic and eco-conscious touch to the album. The 36-page booklet designed and illustrated by my Brooklyn based friend Natalia Olbinski which got long listed in the World Illustration Awards!! On my website is a interactive world map you can click on all the names and see their bio and pictures, and I’m currently working on a podcast that features all their projects.


How do you discover new music?

My students always hip me to some new music, other than that I go out a lot to see festivals and shows, and since I’m a member of the Grammys, I try to listen to as much as I can.

One living and one dead musician that deserves more attention:

Great question, but difficult as there are many. Starting with someone that passed away a while ago and deserves more attention is Eva Cassidy, she sings and plays guitar and is able to communicate a true human connection in her songs. I’ve been a fan of her music for many many years.

Then, a living Musician that deserves more attention is Nadje Noordhuis, fantastic trumpeter and composer with a warm and ambient sound. Everyone should check her out. She is a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra and plays with many other projects including her own. And, she plays the solo on my song Silence on my latest album!!

Where can we find you online?

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