Jacob ter Veldhuis, the Dutch composer better known as JacobTV, comes as close to pop art as classical music is ever likely to get. Borrowing the "speech-melody" technique of Scott Johnson (John Somebody) and Steve Reich (Different Trains), he loops sampled conversation to form the basis for his music. His music scrutinizes American popular culture, using it as an entry point for an nuanced critique of American democracy and capitalism.
A Reich-influenced Dutch composer with a political agenda, Jacob ter Veldhuis might sound a little like Louis Andriessen — but only on paper. JacobTV is distinguished by his great affection for the subject of his scrutiny, as made evident by his brightly colored, upbeat harmonizations of his samples. An ostensible outsider, JacobTV is in fact at home enough in the culture he satirizes so astutely to have won ardent champions among the highest ranks of American performers, including string quartet ETHEL and the Prism saxophone quartet. The inevitable comparison is to Andy Warhol, who also mirrored the popular media's mechanical repetitions and bright colors to make larger points about American culture.
But like Warhol, JacobTV focuses his attention not only on the glamor of celebrity and media advertising — as in The Body of Your Dreams (2003-2005), for two guitars and boombox, which samples the phony ecstasies of shilling infomercial MCs — but also on the grim and abject realities of American life. Grab It! (1999), for boombox and guitar, is analogous to something like Warhol's Most Wanted Men painting; the show JacobTV samples is the old Scared Straight! documentary, where prison lifers tried to intimidate young juvenile delinquents with threats, curses and stories from life behind bars.
Through it all, JacobTV's music remains surprisingly upbeat. "I pepper my music with sugar," he's said, and in fact he can even be shockingly sweet, as in his perhaps willfully cloying oratorio, Paradiso (2000), a relentless stream of lush and pleasant sounds.
His new project is his most ambitious yet: a "never ending reality opera" entitled The News, YouTube clips previewing the work set to music a number of Fox News segments, a Silvio Berlusconi speech and a clip from hip-hop gossipmonger Wendy Williams's daytime talk show. It premiered in 2012 as a perpetual work in progress, to be updated constantly with new video samples from contemporary media.