Posts Tagged ‘Lute’

Consouling Sounds – 10th November 2017

The cover art to Jozef Van Wissem’s latest album isn’t only intrinsically connected to the musical contents, but is essentially an explanation. The picture in questions is a contemporary vanitas painting by the Belgian artist Cindy Wright.

More common in the 16th and 17th centuries, vanitas are, according to the Tate, ‘closely related to memento mori still lifes which are artworks that remind the viewer of the shortnes (sic) and fragility of life (memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’) and include symbols such as skulls and extinguished candles’.

Like Wright’s drawing, Van Wissem’s music is of another time. And while any album on which the dominant instrument is the lute is inevitably going to evoke times long past, something about Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back hints only in part at the Renaissance. Across the seven compositions, Van Wissem conjures a deep, almost occultic mysticism. Humming chorial swells and sparse drums beating like thunder, all enveloped in cavernous, sepulchral echoes.

Each piece is a response to the painting, entwining Biblical references into the titles by way of referencing the origin of the term ‘vanitas’ in the opening lines of the Book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’

Just as Wright’s work is exquisitely executed with a remarkable level of detail and craft, so the playing is rendered with an intense focus, but not so as to sound stiff or stilted: the notes flow elegantly. And while the overarching theme may be mortality, Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back has an air of lightness and optimism about it, carrying in a sense of a celebration of life and hinting that what may follow may be brighter and more beautiful still.

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Consouling Sounds – 18th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Oftentimes, I’ll set an album to play and, although listening to it, will find myself distracted by other things – email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever. We live in a world of information overload and we find ourselves multitasking – or distracted – constantly. It seemed fair to assume that I’d be able to get a few bits and bobs done while giving a first spin to Jozef Van Wissem’s latest offering. I was mistaken. But then. It’s not often I’m presented with an album that combines both elements of the avant-garde and the baroque, performed on the lute, an instrument I cannot help but associate with Elizabethan court poetry – not least of all Sir Thomas Wyatt, author of lyric verses ‘My Lute, Awake!’ and ‘Blame Not My Lute’.

Van Wiessem’s lute is very much awake, and there is no blame to be apportioned when examining his latest work, When Shall This Bright Day Begin. Am I uncomfortable with the absence of a question mark in the title? Yes, but that’s about all.

The Dutch composer has received no small degree of recognition for his lute compositions – which seems, on the face of it, a little odd. I mean, who plays the lute nowadays, apart from medieval revivalists, the kind of people who are heavily into LARP and all the rest? But listening to When Shall This Bright Day Begin, I find I’m doing nothing but listening. Van Wissem’s compositions and playing are magnificent, and utterly compelling. And it’s hard to imagine anything further removed from ‘Greensleeves’ or the Elizabethan court. The instrument may be ancient in its origins, but the eight tracks here aren’t steeped in historical reverence. Instead, Van Wissem conjured beautiful and timeless music.

If ‘To Lose Yourself is Eternal’ opens the album in what may be considered a fairly conventional, accessible, lutey way, the darkly warped swampy garage drone of ‘You Can’t Remain Here’ completely annihilates any sense of comfort or rapport that’s been established. Coming on like a ‘White Light’ era Swans track covered by Dr Mix and the Remix, it also drags in some fucked-up ketamine-slowed psychobilly leanings and imbue the song with a sense of absolute derangement. It’s genius.

By genius, I mean almost as genius as inviting Zola Jesus to feature on two of the right tracks. Another admirably idiosyncratic and utterly unique performer – not to mention a vocalist in possession of a stunning voice which is dramatic and stunningly powerful – she brings breathtaking dimensions to ‘Ruins’ with a suitably spellbinding performance that’s well-suited to the musical accompaniment.

The stark, dark country twang of scratchy strings, coupled with muffled samples, which make ‘The Purified Eye of the Soul is Placed in the Circle of the Eternal Sun’ and sort-of counterpart ‘On The Incomparable Nobility of Earthy Suffering’, pull hard on the attention.

Van Wissem shows admirable restraint, and contains the album to just eight tracks, with the sparse ‘Death of the Ego’ providing a delicate and understated conclusion which is enough to leave the listener sated. Bask in the glorious elegance, for this is music of the most magical kind.

Jozef Van Wissem

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