French guitarist Christian Vasseur (1959, Lumbres, France) has beeen learning guitar on his own for some time when he met his first teacher Pascal Boëls. Then, he took classes at the Lille's Conservatoire de musique with Jean-Philippe Grünessein and discovered the Renaissance Lute with Eugène Ferré at the Conservatoire de Toulouse for four years and took classes with renown Lute players such as Paul O'Dette and Yasunori Imamura. Practicing the lute made him curious about improvisation and oriental music. At this time he began to perform on stage with various bands or solo, playing Early music with the lute as well as contemporary music with the guitar.
After several years of Early music repertory, He chose to dedicate himself to stage performance and music writing. At this stage, he started introducing some acting in his performances, mixing acoustic and electronic sounds, improvised and written pieces.
For 15 years, he has been teaching musical theater and free improvisation classes to various groups of people: children and adults teen-agers in custody and disabled adults and children . Meeting with highly vulnerable or helpless people has had a deep influence on the way he works today.
The Christian Vasseur' music borrows as much from classical tradition as from popular music. It is free of any form of dogma. It is an ancient music of the futur. As a proteiform musician he every often takes part into interdisciplinary events where music combines itself with other artistic media, such as photography, video, dance and theatre. In theatrical events, his music acts as a counterpoint to the text, creating an extra voice, sometimes melodic, sometimes dissonant or noisy, based on the requirements of the staging, where acoustic and electronic sounds usually intermingle.
Christian Vasseur plays lute too and composes new original music for this instrument. On top of solo concerts, he usually plays in a duet with cello player Jean-Christophe Lannoy (N'Gaddi, music by Christian Vassseur), with guitar player Raphaël Godeau (oud guitar duet Campo flamenco), with guitar player Philippe Lenglet (Soliloques en loque, free improvisation), with belgian guitar player Gilbert Isbin (Bubble Fauna, free improvisation), with electronic music composer Denis Streibig (Les Chromonautes).
He was a member of the trio Djuwel with the singer and lute player Habib Guerroumi and the cellist Jean-Christophe Lannoy (two albums on Playa Sound label). He founded the band Mr Agata which plays tinny electro hardbarock opera music. With the comedian musician Patrick Sourdeval he founded the duet Chamane/Shamane. He joined the electric guitars quartet OGR in 2010. Two CDs (Alam and Poèmes saturniens) were edited in may 2009 by Humming Conch.
Since june 2012 most of his recordings are sold by Echopolite.
His compositions are published by Lantro Music (Bruxelles)
What do you remember about your first guitar?
My first guitar was a cheap Italian steel strings offered by my godmother when I was eleven. It stayed in a corner of my bedroom for two or three years till a guy at school showed me some basic chords. One day on a flyer I saw a picture with a red guitar in Alexandre Lagoya’s hands, I fell in love with this colour and covered all the sound board of the guitar with a brilliant red ink. I recovered the Italian “first lady” four years ago in the attic of my father’s house. A guitar maker added a tailpiece and sometimes I use the guitar for improvising. It sounds pretty good, a little like a cheap gipsy one!
I had two cheap classical guitars on which I made my first steps in classical repertoire by listening almost to one and only vinyl record by Turibio Santos. It was really great playing the Carcassi’s third study in A minor after many hours listening to it. At that time I tried to read the music in the first book of the Alfonso’s method.
I was able to buy my first good study guitar after a month working in a cement factory. Then I met my first teacher : Pascal Boels. I was looking forward to get lessons, he talked to me about ancient and contemporary music and often played some great pieces (Bach, Weiss, De Visée, Logy, Britten, Ohana, Brouwer, etc.). When I decided to learn the renaissance lute, he encouraged me.
What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one?
A good instrument must be easy to embrace and to forget about, and must help you to find new sounds and new phrasings. I have a 25 years old Vicente Sanchis flamenca guitar, not a top of the top but I had many concerts with it. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I forget it and sometimes I fight against it, it depends on me and the weather maybe. It is clear and warm, dry and wet, something is always missing and this lack is interesting too.
What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?
We are living a time of mutation. It’s not so easy to predict if the radiance of the music will become more powerfull or not.
The digital broadcast is a blessing for many independent musicians who can spread their creations more easily, but at the same time, because of free uploading, many people, young ones especially, forget that playing music, composing music are real jobs and as all jobs deserve to be paid.
The big labels lost an usurped power and that’s great, but because of the huge musical proposals on the web, many original and interesting creators are lost in this bushy jungle of sounds.
Thanks to the digital format, I have collaborated with foreign musicians without meeting them, it’s strange and facinating.
At this time maybe the danger of music weakening comes more from the calamitous political decisions about culture in some countries and from the fucking blood sucker capitalist merchants than from the digital revolution.
Define the sound you're still looking for.
Like most musicians, I hope some day I can play an unheard kind of sound, it has almost become impossible on traditional instruments since countless experimentations opened many new sounding universes. Sometimes, even free improvisations can sound conventional, it’s a challenge to avoid the blind alley!
One of the possibilities to make new or different sounds is to mix differently the ingredients and put some ingredients coming from a specific universe into another universe. This can create a new unexpected colour.
During all my classical studies, I was looking for the perfectly good sound with some references in mind and ears (my teacher Pascal Boëls, then Alberto Ponce, Roberto Aussel, etc.).
By practicing middle age and renaissance musics during some years and after free improvisations, my listening and my taste have changed. The idea of beautiful sound became more relative. In a classical or traditional approach, maybe the most important thing is the adequation between sound and phrasing for a clearer discourse and expressivity. In an unconventional approach, to linger on only one sound as long as possible to draw the very “substantifique moëlle” is the goal maybe.
These last past years, I have been looking for a new sound on steel strings because of the harmonic and resonant possibilities even on a detuned guitar. Last year, I got an Ukrainian bandura, and I play it with detuned strings or/and with perfect tuned fiths or thirds, it sounds really great. A new sound for me to explore. I got two liuto forte four years ago, really inspiring instruments for me because of the multi strings resonance, there are close to the ancient lute but with possibilities to create a new music, a kind of ancient music of the future. I can improvise for many hours without pause on the twelve strings liuto forte. It is almost the same with my new Turkish ud, so wonderful. Close to the voice. With a patient and persistent work, it is possible to sound a little like a flamenco singer.
Some musicians I love wide awake my curiosity and my listening as Nigel North on the lute (so generous, clear and warm sound), Munir Bashir on the ud (a sublime sound close to silence), Marcin Dylla on the classical guitar (his right fingers caress the strings as a bow on a cello), Ralph Towner on the classical guitar (a very special, unique and delicate vibrato, a deep sounding paste), Janet Feder on the classical guitar (so simple but unique colour with paperclips trembling on quiet arpeggios), Eugene Chadbourne on the banjo (clear and trash fireworks pluckings), Marc Ducret (so powerful and clear-cut drive on electric guitar), Bill Frisell on electric guitar (incredible aquatic sound), Jeff Beck (incredible work with the volume button), Robert Fripp on the electric and acoustic guitars (clear and precise plucking, so personal long sustain), Ivan Cruz on the electric guitar (a facinating and generous new world of sounds). To be continued!
How would you define order?
Order is the tension between composition and improvisation.
What are your motivations for playing music?
I am not sure there are any motivations, rather a necessity to create something with my body. It begins with the physical and erotic pleasure to make something with my fingers, then comes the possibility to continue creating myself, it’s a narcissistic self expansion. We can pick up the pieces after the fragmentation of the soul, it allows to tame melancholia.
And last but not least, it’s so exciting to see the understanding of your work in the eyes of the listener.
What’s your craziest project about?
The duet Chaman/Shaman with my friend Patrick Sourdeval. Patrick is an actor and a great clown, he practiced drum a long time ago and has a great musical sensitivity. We create this border line duet playing some true/false chamanic rituals.Everything is improvised with our voices and various objects. Sometimes, when we have long research sessions, we flirt with our craziness. It’s on the wire!
Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?
I was twelve or thirteen maybe, it was on a Sunday afternoon. One of the three french TV channels broadcasted a concert with Leonard Bernstein conducting the second symphony by Gustav Malher. I was shaken. I had never thought such a music could exist. So long developments, such an incredible orchestration with trombones chorals, singers soli and children choir…It was very modern for my ears.
A long time after that, I had an opportunity to listen to the Hilliard Ensemble in Montpellier. They sang some 14th and 15th English music. It was sublime, very close to the silence. I had the kind of poignancy you may feel during an Alfred Brendel concert, when he played the quiet second movement of a Haydn sonata.
By chance, my father held the organ of the church in the little town where I grew up. The first time I was able to get up to the rostrum and play the organ, I felt a deep jubilation. I was able to awake a big orchestra and set off a maelstrom of sounds.
When I saw and heard for the first time the ten strings Ramirez guitar of Pascal Boëls, I was like a child discovering a Christmas present expected all night long. He played some exerpts of Si le jour paraît by Ohana. Since then, I remain enthusiastic with the multi-strings instruments and with the deep modal chords and sympathetic resonances.
Other powerfull sound experiences when I was a young adult : A concert by the Iranian singer Mohamed Reza Shadjarian, a concert by the Percussions de Strasbourg playing Persephassa by Xenakis, a concert by an Indian sarod player whom I unfortunately forgot the name...
More recently Listening to a concert by my brother Domique playing some compositions for recorder and electronic.
The last incredible sound I heard : the rubbing of a chocolate packaging against the wood when I opened a drawer.
What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater ...?
Really very important. I have regular collaborations with theatre, dance, video, photo etc.
This kind of meeting is inspiring and urges you to look for other paths. I made a lot of progress thanks to a multidisciplinary approach and to my friends actors, dancers, photographers, painters, visual artists etc. My listening and my view have been refined.
Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?
My father is an amateur pianist and my mother loves classical music. I grew up in a musical mood with some vinyl records I have listened to over and over. I remember myself listening to the Beethoven Egmont Overture and conducting an imaginary orchestra. It was really great. Since that time, I am in love with lyrical and dramatic orchestra music. At that time, I learned the story of my maternal grandfather who was deported and died in the Dachau concentration camp. This story permeates the family unconscious. I think melancholy, present or underlying in my music comes from there. Moreover the suicide of my youngest brother didn’t help to reach a blissful adoration of life.
Some school teachers have awakened in me the love of poetry which is a great fellow since my teenage years. Rimbaud is a kind of pivot around which gravitate a multitude of poets from Charles d’Orléans to Gherasim Luca. Poetry, as a radical experience of the language through the meaning and the sounds of words, has influenced more or less directly some of my works.
It is not a coincidence that I have been working with illiterate people for three years. This forces us to question the language and the relationship we have with it.
Several years of workshops with mentaly disabled people, children or adults, confronted me with my own mental and physical limits. I discovered the borderline of myself and I realized why I was attracted by artists working on or with the border as Poe, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Van Gogh, Schiele, Artaud, Kerouac, Lynch, Cronenberg...
Discovering, listening to and reading John Cage was and still is a great delight. He was rather a quiet guy but his radical questioning of music is a must even for someone who sometimes likes to compose conventional music with major and minor chords. I also find myself in his interest to Buddhism. Maybe order is the tension between melancholy and serenity.
Others rich sources : Democrite, Epicure, Carl Gustav Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflexions), Marguerite Yourcenar (L’oeuvre au noir), Herman Hesse (The Glass Bead Game), Andy Goldworthy, James Turell, Bill Viola, Andrej Tarkovsky, Takeshi Kitano...
What would you enjoy most in an music work?
Lyricism, surprise, orchestration, genius of the form, unrestraint.
What quality do you most empatize with in a musician?
Phrasing, sound, humour and unrestraint.
Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?
John Cage for talking and laughing with.
What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?
Now : playing with actors, continuing my work inspired by melancholia, workshops with illitterate people, writing haïku (each day for seven years I and my friend the photographer François Daumerie exchange at least one haïku), collaborating with the artist Bertrand Gadenne, with Denis Streibig (acousmatic composer), with Paul Grundy (song writer), playing the ud with Raphaël Godeau (guitar player) for Campo flamenco inspired by flamenco, publishing my compositions, playing some solo concerts, and for the futur : composing music for movies, composing music for Stefan Orins (pianist), composing music for ud and barock cello (a new project dedicated to migrants coming from Africa, with the cellist Dominique Dujardin), creating a soundscape for a dance show by Nathalie Baldo with my friend Jean-Christophe Lannoy (cellist) who will compose the music etc.