suggestioni musicali a cura di raffaello russo
It’s been four years since our last talk with Angèle David-Guillou. It was around the time of “Kourouma”, her surprising first album under her own name; a mostly piano solo album that revealed a different profile of the artist formerly known as Piano Magic singer and Klima. In the meantime, Angèle developed her profile as a wide range composer, just showed in the new album “En Mouvement“.
Here are a few more of her thoughts about what’s happened in the meantime, not only about music.
Which have been the main differences between your two solo albums, as for inspiration, structure and recording?
Generally speaking I am very interested in writing music that has clarity of melodic lines and of meaning at its core. The idea of “objective music” is implausible, but it is an abstract ideal that drives everything that I do, whether playing, writing music or singing. Trying to get to the very essence of a song or composition so that every note played or sung and how it is played or sung means something. It never ends up being the case of course, you have to be realistic, but that’s the intention, the direction.
“Kourouma“, my first solo album under my own name, was at a very basic level inspired by my rediscovery of the piano, and the pleasure of playing this instrument again. I studied classical piano and theory for 10 years as a child and then teenager, but only seriously started playing again when I bought a small upright 8 years ago. At the time I was listening to a lot of Moondog and became very interested in his juxtaposition of short pieces, sort of musical haïkus, each of which are all perfectly formed and have their own individual personality. This was my main focus for that album. It was very much a record written for the piano and the additional arrangements, for strings and clarinet in particular, were very much that, additional arrangements
For “En Mouvement“, I wanted to write specifically for other instruments and create a bigger, bolder sound, something much more extrovert. In particular, early on in the writing process, I decided that I would be using saxophones, all of them, from bass to soprano. It’s an instrument that is so underestimated, or rather “mis-estimated”. It’s extremely versatile, and can be both extremely delicate and extremely nasty. In terms of recordings, I had a very precise idea of how I wanted the record to sound, whereas the sound of Kourouma came much more organically from the nature of the arrangements. This time, I proceeded the other way around. I wanted a sound that was both ultra realistic, whilst being totally unnatural. So that by listening to the music you wouldn’t be able to picture a precise place or room, whilst exactly knowing what you are hearing. Simple!
I worked a lot on the resonance of the piano too. Too many people who write for the piano these days, and there are plenty of them, just use the piano as they would an electronic piano preset on a synthesizer; they don’t explore the instruments itself and in particular the acoustic resonance of the piano. People like Alvin Curran, Charlemagne Palestine or Hans Otte have done this wonderfully and I wanted to explore this side of the instrument more. I also became more and more interested in writing processes and structures, and this perhaps is the most notable evolution between both records. I love baroque music, jazz, Philip Glass, and what links these for me are the use of changing rhythm patterns and the way melodic lines seem to repeat but are in fact never the same. This is what the title of my new album, En Mouvement, is also about. How to write music that is perpetually changing but seems extremely stable at the same time, or reversely a music that is very repetitive but gives the illusion of perpetual change. I realise now that it is something I started working on with my first Klima album 10 years ago, and it is something I am still working on at the moment.
The new album seems to develop the minimal approach of “Kourouma” in something wider: what do you think of the connection between “modern classical” and minimalism?
I know what you’re trying to ask me here but your question is problematic. I’m not sure I know what “modern classical” is quite frankly and the exactitude of the term “minimalism” is debatable. I don’t like the term “modern classical” to be honest and I find that a lot of not very good music is being put under that generic umbrella. It’s not because you write music on the piano that suddenly you are a “modern classical” composer. It’s not because you write music in 7/8 that you make minimalist music. I do both of course, so would apply these reservations to myself too. Nobody would use those denominations regarding someone writing on the guitar, not even about great musicians such as Marc Ribot.
What is certain is that many people writing instrumental and in particular orchestral music today are inspired by Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Reily, John Adams, etc., I would say that is mainly because a lot of those composer’s music is very good, or at least interesting, and it sounds modern to our ears. Why is that? Perhaps because it finds echoes in ambient and electronic music, it incorporates rhythms from Africa, India and the Middle East, which have been recycled by modern popular now and also because the divisions between the classical and popular music field are becoming more and more blurred and those specific composers were themselves influenced by popular music. But it’s not just the so-called minimalist composers who are influential, more avant-garde composers are finding a much larger audience than they did when they were alive, or at least that audience has extended beyond the strict world of, let’s call it, savant music. I personally love the work of Iannis Xenakis or Giacinto Scelsi for instance.
Would you like to work with an orchestra?
I would love to collaborate with an orchestra or an ensemble. I am actually working on a project with the Guildhall Saxophone Ensemble in London, formed of 12 saxophones players. It’s a very exciting project and I can’t wait to start working with them. I would also love to work with a baroque ensemble and write for baroque wind instruments. That’s something I’ve had in mind for a while.
Which contemporary (and classic) composers do you like best?
I think Mica Levi is very interesting and I look forward to hearing what she’ll come up with in the future. Meredith Monk is inspiring and I am always surprised at how good (and often insane) her records are. It shouldn’t surprise me, but it is. Listen to Vessel Suite for instance. I was lucky enough to see perform live some of Elaine Radigue’s latest pieces, which were really beautiful. Michael Gordon from Bang on a Can, has releases some great music; in particular, his piece for seven bassoons, Rushes, is mind-blowing. William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops are mesmerising. I also adore the piano work of Alvin Curran, who has lived in Italy for many years.
“En Mouvement” recalls the “Music for movement” by Thomas De Hartmann and George Ivanovich Gurdjieff: what does the movement means for you musically and individually?
It’s going to sound strange but four years ago I was listening to a radio programme one Sunday morning and this music kept coming up in the background, and every time, for a brief moment I would jump up thinking they were playing pieces from Kourouma but then would quickly realise it was someone else’s music. I searched what that music was and ended buying tons of recordings of the music of De Hartmann and Gurdjieff. I think it’s some of most beautiful music ever written. It is essential music that touches something very primal and authentic in oneself. It’s hard to explain. It also merges Russian and Middle Eastern influences, which I’ve always had strong connections to somehow. I also bought Gurdjieff’s books and yes fell in love with his movement classes, which you can see at the end of Peter Brooke’s film adapted from his book Meetings with Remarkable Men, and on the montage I made for ‘Desert Stilts’. When I made this “discovery”, I was already working on this idea of “movement” as the compositional theme that I was describing earlier, I already knew I wanted to use the word for the title of my album. Change and movement was also happening through my personal life. Synchronicity is mysterious thing. I used the word very much as a lantern to guide me through the difficult times, as well as a way to keep the focus in what I was trying to achieve musically. I would love to write for a dance company by the way, that’s really something I hope I’ll be able to do next.
You’re French but long time living in London; did your feeling of the city and your everyday life change somehow after “Brexit”? and, most generally speaking, where do you think that the “movement” we see nowadays in politics could lead UK and France?
Important and complex question you are asking. Things are a mess here in the UK at the moment; it’s very worrying. I’ve lived in the UK permanently for more than 10 years now but before that I was already living here on and off for almost 10 years. I think many Europeans who had decided to call the UK and London in particular their home did so not just for economic reasons, but for ethical reasons too, because in many ways this country was (or appeared to be, as it turned out) much more tolerant, democratic and open minded than the rest of Europe at the time. It many ways, London until now, was probably the most European capital in Europe, and also the most respectful and tolerant when it came to religious belief, sexual preferences or the colour of your skin. It’s totally paradoxical. But now the future of Europeans citizens in the UK is extremely uncertain and is being used for electoral purposes. We hear the most terrible things from one week to the next, all of these directed to reassure people who voted to leave. It’s disgusting. I think Theresa May is despicable. I hope Jeremy Corbyn will be elected before Britain officially leaves, but nothing is less certain. I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay to be honest, and it saddens me, but where to go? A Greek Island perhaps? We’ll have to see what happens in France. We are waiting at the moment. The start of Macron’s presidency is disappointing, but we’ll see. Mainly, I am ashamed at the level of racism in my home country, something needs to be done about racism in France and the National Front needs to be tackled.
Starting with “Kourouma” you showed a very different artistic profile than the ones you had in Ginger Ale, Piano Magic and Klima: can we expect hearing your beautiful voice again soon?
Ah, thank you for your kind words. I will sing again. I miss singing. But I sing about things that mean something to me, that relate directly to me, I can’t make up subjects or stories, if that makes sense, it doesn’t interest me. The making of “En Mouvement” came at a time in my life where I absolutely didn’t want to put my feelings into songs. My feelings and my thoughts totally took over my life; I was overwhelmed by them on a daily basis for a few years. Making music became a way to preserve and develop a part of me that wasn’t about someone else or about my life’s external circumstances. I didn’t want to pollute this with words. By making this record, and writing those pieces, I wanted to connect with myself, with something very personal, intimate and wordless; which is not contradictory with wanting to make more extrovert music by the way. In many ways I think “En Mouvement” is my most personal album, of all the records I’ve done. You don’t need words or even the human voice to express something extremely personal. This album is me, whether people like it or not.
(full Engish original version of the interview published on Rockerilla magazine, issue no. 446, October 2017)