Jozef Van Wissem
I only recently discovered Jozef Van Wissem's exquisite music and it's too bad that it took me so long because he is easily one of the most unique and talented artists performing today. Many artists focus solely on a single instrument, but very few (i.e. next to none) choose the lute as their instrument. However, Van Wissem has just done that and all music fans are the better for it. His solo lute records are true works of art and with each subsequent release, Van Wissem finds something new to offer. If that wasn't enough, he also has done a number of equally impressive collaborations with some truly great artists like Maurizio Bianchi and Tetuzi Akiyama. I'm glad that I've finally familiarized myself with Jozef Van Wissem's music. Now, I can't get enough.
I started playing classical guitar at age 11; my dad bought a handmade guitar for me in Barcelona and I went to local music school to study. I guess I was inspired a lot by Segovia and Robert Johnson and the lute pieces that were erroneously transposed to guitar fingering in a book called “Music From Shakespeare's Time”. It included pieces like “Sick" and “Packington's Pound" which ended up on "A Rose By Any Other Name". Guitar and lute are not related as instrumental families; lute technique has more to do with harpsichord technique than with guitar technique.
I picked it up in 1993 after I gave up playing guitar.
I am interested in history, particularly the history of where I am from. I believe it's important to emulate one’s own history and not to just imitate foreign culture. Also it's a challenge to compose idiomatic lute material; the compositional techniques are quite interesting. I am not about fetishizing fast scales or so. On my first lute record "Retrograde" I played classical pieces backwards. To me it's more about liberating the lute and placing it in a different context, dusting it off so to speak and making it a sexy instrument once again. It disappeared for 250 years you know.
I moved to New York in 1994 and studied lute with Pat O'Brien. A lot I learned also from finding and listening to vinyl lute records and CDs, locating tablature (lute sheet music) in libraries and playing the pieces. Very D.I.Y. you know.
I decided to do only anonymous pieces because I liked the fact that people did not want to be regarded as composers in those days - it was a bad thing to be a musician/composer and looked down upon by the establishment.
The pieces themselves I selected by seeing if I could make them sound like contemporary music or I could give them a 'rock feel' if you like. And those pieces are a real hit during solo live concerts I do in a context where people have never seen or even heard a lute and come up to me after the show with a bunch of questions about the instrument and the repertoire. It's all about communication.
The anonymous Scottish pieces like "Maggae Hamfor" I really like and it was a thrill to play them for a Glaswegian audience a couple of weeks ago. Also I like to play "Lamento di Tristano" and in concert add field recordings made in airport lounges or railway stations to it. John Renbourn played that on "The Lady And The Unicorn", but my version is more stripped down and bare. To me it's the dirge that makes it rock.
Well, when I started lute-playing I did six hours a day, doing just that. The right hand position is a lot different on the lute so it would be hard to switch from that to right hand guitar-playing technically speaking. Also I felt I had explored the territory of the guitar too much.
I am just finishing my new solo record and it will be just baroque and renaissance lute this time, no field recordings or electronics added at all, just some slide. There are seven long minimal palindrome pieces. It’s called “De Anima, Seven Stages of the Pious Soul” and the vinyl version has seven drawings by Wouter van Haelemeesch of Audiomer as well, so it's a layered work. It's kind of a follow up to "Stations of the Cross".
Well Maurizio asked me by mail to send some of my work which I did, he sent some of his.
After he asked for more I sent him my classical record with a little note saying “feel free to manipulate the material”, jokingly. But he did and send back the CD which became "Das Platinzeitalter", a very haunting work. I released it on my Incunabulum label.
He called the collaborative process “archaic waves, ancient loops and primitive electronics”. I like the result a lot; it's like his early work. It was done by snail mail. And I liked the fact that he appropriated my classical pieces like that - they were not my compositions.
What happened with “Hymn” is that I recorded Tetuzi at Locksley Hall in Garageband.
I synchronized his improvisations with Baroque Lute by recording it to a separate track in that program. I could literally “see” his notes coming so I could play at exactly the same time, which gave the music a lot of space.
We are doing an extensive American tour in February and there's another recording we did that I am quite fond off but is not released yet. It's called "Mystery of the Missing Eight Minutes". I found that newspaper headline title touring the UK in October; of course it's about Lady Di(e).
James asked me to be on a compilation of four solo string players including him and Helena Espvall coming out on Important records in January called "The Garden of Forking Paths". I saw him play in Amsterdam at a festival and we became friends. I invited him to do a recording and the "Brethren of the Free Spirit" CD/LP is coming out now as well. Collaborating on those compositions with him was quite rewarding; there's an element of spooky sportive endurance in those pieces at work which I elaborated on by including some Wimbledon tennis audio edits. We are debuting “Brethren of the Free Spirit” live in New York late January and doing European tours in 2008.
I guess my favorite aspect of playing live is the communication with the audience. And by that I don't mean talking. Also I like the romantic repetitive aspect of being on the road; it clears my head but it's also quite displacing.
I am most looking forward to be playing over 60 concerts in 2008.
It's a lute composition by Vieux Gaultier (around 1650) played by lutenist Hopkinson Smith called “La Cascade”.
Go with god.UPCOMING SHOWS:
Jan 9 2008 Merleyn Nijmegen Holland Nijmegen
Jan 18 2008 GALERIA ZE DOS BOIS LISBON LISBON
Jan 19 2008 Pottery Museum, Barcelos Barcelos
Jan 25 2008 BRETHREN OF THE FREE SPIRIT RELEASE PARTY NEW YORK, USA
Jan 26 2008 RED ROOM BALTIMORE
Jan 27 2008 THE BIG TOP NEW ORLEANS USA
Jan 30 2008 BYZANTINE FRESCO CHAPEL MUSEUM, HOUSTON,TEXAS
Jan 31 2008 ORCHARD GALLERY BRETHREN OF THE FREE SPIRIT RECORD RELEASE PARTY NEW YORK
Feb 1 2008 INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, PHILADELPHIA, USA
Feb 2 2008 SILENT MUSIC FESTIVAL ISSUE PROJECT ROOM NEW YORK CITY, USA
Feb 5 2008 611 Florida WASHINGTON DC
Feb 6 2008 WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY, MIDDLETOWN,CT,USA
Feb 8 2008 SEATTLE IMPROVIZED MUSIC FESTIVAL
Feb 9 2008 SEATTLE IMPROVIZED MUSIC FESTIVAL
Feb 11 2008 MILLS COLLEGE OAKLAND, CA
Feb 13 2008 Time Tested Books, SACRAMENTO, CA
Feb 14 2008 NO IDEA FESTIVAL, AUSTIN TEXAS
Feb 17 2008 TBA, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
Feb 23 2008 LA MAISON PEINTE TOULOUSE FRANCE
-- Brad Rose (19 December, 2007)