Friday, May 30, 2014

Noel Akchoté: I play this music to hear it

The French guitarist-improvisor Noel Akchote is a frighteningly competent and active person. He has recorded a lot of music in various styles, he writes about music in the Austrian magazine Skug, he is the owner of a record label, he produces many different groups and participates in various projects. Born in Paris, the 7th december 1968, he started guitar at the age of 8. Soon meeting and studying with artists such as Tal Farlow, Barney Wilen, Chet Baker, Philip Catherine, John Abercrombie.

During the early 90's, he started to explore beyond jazz, also playing more experimental and improvised musics. He played in the groups of Henri Texier, Louis Sclavis, Daniel Humair, Jacques Thollot, Sam Rivers as well as with Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Marc Ribot, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Tim Berne or George Lewis. He collaborated since with David Grubbs, Luc Ferrari, David Sylvian, Jim G. Thirlwell (Steroïd Maximus), Max Nagl's Big Four (Steven Bernstein, Bradley Jones, Joey Baron), Jean-François Pauvros or Dylan Carlson's Earth. Other projects have seen him recording and playing with The Recyclers, Blixa Bargeld, Aki Onda, Phil Minton, Tony Hymas, Katerine, Tetuzi Akiyama, Otomo Yoshihide, Julie Tippets, Mike Cooper, Wolfgang Puschnig, Linda Sharrock, Tom Cora, Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, Nobuyoshi Araki or Daido Moriyama. In 1996 he co founded with Quentin Rollet, the mostly Vinyl label Rectangle (all reissued as downloads​ in 2011).

During the same period, he produced for the Münich based label Winter & Winter a series of «Audio Films » revisiting a wide range of Chansons & Cabaret traditions (Au Bordel, Cabaret Modern, Toi-Même... featuring Red, Jean-Louis Costes, Han Bennink, Steve Beresford, Sasha Andrès, John Giorno or Kevin Blechdom), as well as unique re- readings of the music of Sonny Sharrock (Sonny II) and Kylie Minogue (So Lucky). He is also featured in various movies as an actor, soundtrack composer or musical director (with Thierry Jousse, Michael Lonsdale, Claire Denis, Lio ...). He also happens to be the older brother of the electro artist SebastiAn (Ed Banger, Daft Punk). In 2011, he signed an exclusive distribution contract with Believe Digital (Worldwide Downloads), issueing since over 100 rare live tracks and previously unreleased studio albums, from which a wide Renaissance and Baroque section raised (Carlo Gesualdo, Guillaume de Machaut, Claudio Monteverdi, Luys Milan, Robert de Visée).

"Orfeo son io, che d'Euridice i passi
Seguo per queste tenebrose arene
Ove giammai per vom mortal non vassi."
  Claudio Monteverdi (Orfeo)


What's the relevance of these composers, Binchois, Josquin, Gesualdo.... for actual's musical ear?

All those are not classical music at all, its way before before people wrote scores very precisely for people to interpret, mostly if not only its music to be played by players or people even often.

I work the other way around in fact, I play this music to hear it. I can go blind in that repertoire and sometime some of it i recorded i find less interesting that another but i go through all of each also like Gesualdo process i don't practice this music before all is sight reading including tempi, i start to find my own ones for each instinctively, funnily when i check versions later on they're the ones i would have chooses knowing it anyway without making it a big statement nor claiming anything i think a lot of that music is totally wrong played on many recordings missing the main core  of it for some musicology obsessions.

First dangerous decision: electric guitar. Transcription, adaptation, version, perversion?

The best to me interpretations are the 50's 60's one when people didn't know much but had a strong sense of being a full interpret not caring too much for if its correct or not but putting the meat on the table. All those people when you read their music its no question they would use the top actual gear if they had, probably Ipads this is music is raw meat its rude and those days were crude brutal too its not 3PM show in a castle with soft ladies the only Medieval experience i have is from food some close friends chefs did for fun many series of doing old recipies ... this food is for dog

Did you ever try that Palm Wine they use to drink a lot ?

you can find some pasteurised sometime its hardcore also until not long ago people became heretics and instance from seeds i mean its those tomes for the medieval renaissance too most songs are Blues all texts are about Love Sex and Cash. Machaut lost everything for having past his 60's a very very hot relationship with a 20 years old daughter of some lord

You for sure know Chansons de gestes poetry and lyrics, it'ss very direct
I wrote one very very interesting thing also about choirs and why i feel more than free using electric guitar, in those days they were very little professional musicians most of these choirs were sung by amateurs and sometime not even but who was there and could go really very wild ....

I immediately thought of Ornette's Friends and Neighbours, maybe its my own thing that everything what's "good" (pleasant, exciting, strong) repeats always through history people who found something the last 3000 years found again the direct link to real, true, good, there, here and now.
When you here for example very first Buddy Holly and first Stratocaster sound, he clearly found (probably had no idea how but did it) another universal thing that i'll put hands in fore people played that way their own times with the Greeks already.

How it would sound Gesualdo played by Ornette Coleman?

Oh, I guess it would fully sound like Ornette, because his approach is totally centered on the player-interpret (like the great Bern Nix does a unique version of Ornette's music within Prime Time for example, a total different reading but a total together in the band, he highlights-enlights Ornette and thereby enrich so much the whole group). Ornette has been for me at very early age an evidence, a sun and an incredible sight opener. Before i was listening to early jazz like Swing and before, Benny Carter and Major Holley, Slim Gaillard and early Bebop, and I had heard of Ornette as a sulfurous musician, but when i first listened to him i totally felt at ease, at home. 

Ornette was totally close to this early jazz by the forms he uses, or even chord changes no one used after bebop, and by his ensemble-collective improvisation which was fully at work in most New Orleans Jazz and other Masters (I had particularly listened to Louis Armstrong where they did collective improvisations constantly). What I referred to with Friends and Neighbors was something else though, the fact that historically we know that they were in those days very little “pro'” choirs and orchestras, and most of the music playing was done by amateurs when not just anyone around. Which means that a lot of that music must have been heard in some sort of pretty wild versions.... and that's not too far from the moment in the 70's where Ornette stated that probably children were way more pure and open to play his music (and when he started to ask his son Denardo as a drummer). For me music mostly (only?) exist when played. A Score is only a tool to play this music, and by playing it i don't mean being servile to the notation but incarnate it, including-welcoming an absolute need for being yourself through it.

What do you think are the connections between this pre-code musics (pre tonal, pre-Bach) and contemporary sound aesthetics?

That would be an interesting question to what we call contemporary sound today in fact, rather. This music is absolutely tone-centered in, and very rhythmically developed, and often does “counter-point-Fugue” too. Maybe what somewhere might differ from later composers is the place of the composer precisely. I find them less auto-centered, maybe freer too. What I hear in this question is much more a question addressed to what are anyway sound aesthetics today... today things seems pretty divided in two main field-categories for me. A first one would be more or less consciously induced by our listening technologies and new tools (streaming and downloads, open libraries and playlists, horizontally and transversally).

It reminds me of a talk we've had with David Grubbs over ten years ago, where I asked him how he thought history would handle the Onkyo-Lowercase in 30 years time (or whatever historical time needed to take objective distance), and his reply was: there won't be any such analysis needed because all absolutely all musics will be available by this time, so that the idea to file organize things we become irrelevant. In sound terms this to me means a huge revivalism, people reproducing or rediscovering things that are still today labelled as avant-garde or “modern” but that mostly dates already 40 to 60 years ago (prepared guitars, tabletop guitars, sound installations, silent improvisations, etc).

A second category would be the traditional vein as it probably always happened in music (partly as described in Derek Bailey's Improvisation Book), since ever, and that calls a musician to incarnate its own music and playing. Which doing so seriously abolishes the socio-communicational-political wall that would like to see a major line of division between composers and players. To come back or apply this to those early musics and composers now, it feels way freer and opened to me to find paths through these musics today than to have to surf through tendencies and brands as described or played in the main contemporary music files and divisions today. I deeply believe that these composers were always “here and now”, on the top of their time, of their own moment, so that would they happen to be in a time where different and more technologically advanced instruments were available, they'd jumped on it (Ipad, Loops, IOS, etc).

Gesualdo’s madrigals are devilishly difficult to perform live, with singers apt to stray from the pitch as the chords wheel about. (Things go easier in the recording studio, where performances can approach perfection through multiple takes: the groups La Venexiana, the Kassiopeia Quintet, and the Concerto Italiano have come particularly close.) I recently watched the New York vocal ensemble Ekmeles rehearse two madrigals from Book V—“Se vi duol il mio duolo” (“If my grief makes you grieve”) and “Mercè grido piangendo” (“Mercy! I cry as I weep”)—in preparation for a concert at Columbia University’s Casa Italiana. At one point, the singers exchanged ideas about what they called “scary” moments, of which there were many. The question of how to articulate a sixteenth-note passage in the first madrigal led to a discussion of its deeper meaning. The tenor Matthew Hensrud commented, “The ‘ardor’ of this—it’s sex, not war.” Jeffrey Gavett, the group’s leader, said, “Yes, except that with Gesualdo the line isn’t exactly clear.”

Alex Ross The Rest is Noise 

And what can we learn -for instance- from Josquin?

Josquin's music like most of his pairs comes in a very particular moment of development of our civilization. A sort of moment of enlightment (Lumières) and roughness, a pretty unique mélange of refinement and brutality. I don't know, i never actually read much of the musicology approach before recording any of it, i would be afraid to lose the most direct link to this music, which for me mostly and almost completely stands and lays in this music itself. I think playing and recording it, letting it play you in fact to me absolutely precise about its process, includes de facto a sort of travel through those times. You feel here and there in theses texts, in their forms, arrangements, choice of notes, rhythms, parts, already a clear pictures of its context.

What you can learn from Josquin is what you can learn from any or all great musical moments in history since there was music in our civilization. It forces you to incarnate it, give it a corpse, become its incarnated presence for the moment of the piece. Therefore its a very direct mirror. I guess its very hard to not be played buy this music but try to master it. On a more contemporary level, these musics (say Medieval to Renaissance and probably Baroque too), are incredibly advanced, if not sometime way more advanced than any of what we call today advanced. You will find incredible voicings for example that plays fully on frequencies and how they interacts with each others, something that physically brings you to a moment of alt. In a different way Gesualdo uses this but for a different purpose, in Josquin's music its sometime almost like a sound statement in itself. Those waves often sounds like a universal statement to me, the famous total art approach, or when all humanities and knowledges melt in one sound.

What's your opinion of the musical approach of classical performers to this repertoire: from guitar to luth.

Well I really believe that these musics belongs to all of us and not being classical music in the strict sense of the term (a composition for interprets to animate it), plus often not demanding incredible skills, means that we should all play it (if we want of course). I think a lot of contemporary approaches and recordings of these musics, particularly the last 20 years, are going way too narrow often, because approached by people with a too strict classical background, that did not teach them to develop many areas that this music calls and seeks for (say swing, subjective physical incarnation of sound, a sense for tensions and reliefs, a sense of autonomy, maybe a sense for joy and life too....).

The first approaches (say 50's to 70's) were way more direct, also musicology hadn't maybe undercovered all contexts topics so that had to play it the way they were themselves, which i think is absolutely the line. Its generally an approach I have of all musics. To me Metal Guitar players or Cab Calloway Ensembles or Fingerpicking Techniques didn't come last century, they were always since the last 3000 years at least part of all music (whole music), just adapting to their times. I mean its so obvious that you had an Eddie Van Halen and a Bo Diddley in say 270 after JC., just they live in those times and used their moment approach, but the intention and idea and feeling of it was strictly the same. In our case if clearly a Beethoven String 4tet is the apogee of a certain historical moment that comes with a very precise writing of its texts and therefore calls for a very particular reading, this is just a moment too. Again until maybe Baroque these musics are not classical music the way we see (and play) it today, that's clearly wrong. Lute music is juste the grandfather of Blind Willie Johnson, its factually by all sides the same topic, under a different sun and land.

What have you learned in your conversations and collaborations with luth classical players?

I only spent three days playing and recording with Rolf Lislevand so far (but talk often to many other players, musicologists and academic people who came to me after discovering my approach). Rolf is pretty close for me, he comes from fusion-ecm approach at first and took up on Lute late. He plays the Lute a way that is exactly for me an incarnation of how i see things should be, partly standing on an incredible knowledge of it all, but letting the music being played the most natural way at the end. When we recorded together he plugged his Lute into a Twin Reverb and used a Looper too without any question, even its pure heresy for early music standards. His techniques also often passes by all our techniques, whether how he plays Lead parts, or fingerpick, or comp. Which is anyway how i see things. 

I don't believe people ever played that differently through 3000 years of music practice. For academics there are a lot of mysteries and clues maybe, but for a confirmed player, no one would ever see any serious reasons to exclude any techniques from your palette of possibles. Most techniques always came from functional needs anyway (Like Tal Farlow started to Bongo on Guitar because of combos he played in without drums, and there were no drums because they played venues who couldn't deal with a drum kit volume-wise etc etc). Generally I wander through history of early music but always keep a distance, I want to guess things rather than close doors. Its the same with some people i see totally obsessed with how were the times, venues, approaches people might have used back then, and to me this is pretty irrelevant in fact. Yes 1478 is not 2014, but human needs and behaviors are exactly the same. What I learned from Rolf is that it was fine i go my way without any questions. Also i never wanted to be a traditional early music player, people like him and Hopkinson Smith and many others did or do that absolutely amazingly, in that vein, i do something else, and i think there's a lot of space for that too, in fact its a total virgin approach I guess.

Particularly, what do you found technically interesting or challenging in this approach from guitar to classical performance.

The way I read, feel, see these musics is like remains of players approaches. Its as functional a sheet as later on jazz scores from the great players we know, and when they did produce scores (many didn't and for more chamber ensembles they probably didn't either need any sheets to play a dance, a party or an evening). This music calls from all sides for incarnation and players. Its notated to be read, its written to be played. Playing is the only aim of these sheets remains (or compositions in some cases). Therefore it question you as a player clearly. Now classical guitar technique is something that is more or less closed today, but has been an extremely exciting moment around Romantic area. When you read all the studies from Carcassi, Sor, etc until Segovia, you find an incredible decision to find all limits of the instrument and push them as far as one could (and did I think).

The only problem is that it did create a sort of monster by setting a way too technically advanced tool, that no composer later on really had any need for. And besides couple rare exceptions no major composers did write music for classical guitar. Classical Guitar today is maybe a sort of dead end, pretty isolated from all other guitar approaches since, and from classical music in general too. For connaisseurs only .... if you take most of the chansons in the repertoires I recorded and read their lyrics you will find none else than The Blues, all lyrics talks about love-sex-cash-social situation, starving and survival. So that if you play those songs, using or not a classical stringing approach matters very little to me. And as I'm not a classical guitarist nor actually have any will to become (I like studying it but i do not use those techniques in my playing), I go for the most natural way of playing the way I do and as its me doing it here and now. Leaving or calling for all of us to come and join propose their own readings. Technically most of this music (really 95% if not more) does not require any sort of classical training, a fairly advanced jazz background will be enough by far for one to start.

What could offer the electric guitar to this compositions, to this composers, to the interpretation of their scores?

Most of the music I played and recorded is in fact Vocal Music, whether Sacred or Secular for 3,5,6 or more voices, or chansons-rondeaux, ballads therefore most scores have long notes very natural to be sustained by vocals but a bit more obscure on normal guitars. With Electric its Ok to sustain a linked double-whole note, with Lute its something else the sound durations are very short, and that's why people used a lot of ornaments (trills etc) to keep them ringing longer. Which in return has become a gimmick since in classical music to ornament a lot all over and that's I guess a bit of a bad habit. Maybe my main reason to use electric when I do so (and I don't always do), is that i feel they would back then if they had such instruments totally use them without a single question. 

The guitars I use mostly are a Gibson ES-175 both plugged (direct) and with a microphone close to the F-Hole, then lately i used a Stratocaster a lot because this instrument is so special (and i had my problems often because of that until recently), that it suddenly in this context brings that sort of bitter-raw intonation to each notes. I've also used an Adamas Acoustic with its Piezzo, or an SG too. I don't really know if it brings something to use electric but what i know is that its incredibly natural to do it, and I leave all the analysis or critical aspects to it to others so far. I like it..... that means a lot to me (lol).

“Lasciate mi morire!
E che volete voi,
che mi conforte
in cosi dura sorte,
in cosi gran martire?
Lasciate mi morire!”

“Let me die!
And what do you want,
When you comfort me in so hard destiny,
In so great martyr?
Let me die!”

Claudio Monteverdi  
 Il lament d’Arianna, or Ariadne’s Complaint.

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