utorak, 29. siječnja 2013.

Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch - Apokatastasis (2013) + The Mystery of Heaven (2012)

JOZEF VAN WISSEM & JIM JARMUSCH - Apokatastasis image

Avangardna muzika srednjeg vijeka snimljena lani. Revolucionarna lutnja i preparirane Swedenborgove gitare. Misticizam prošlosti.

concerning the beautiful human form after death & apokatastasis: Vimeo

  JOZEF VAN WISSEM & JIM JARMUSCH - Apokatastasis image

Jozef van Wissem, the medieval lutenist with an attitude, shares a split collaborative side with filmmaker and now regular spar, Jim Jarmusch. JVM is unaccompanied for three beautiful pieces on the first side, all spindly, complex interlocking melodies and harmonics played with a fluid and nuanced sort of expression with deeply involving effect. On the flipside he's joined by Jarmusch on electric and acoustic guitar and tapes filling out the space with ghostly, electrified shimmers and swirling spectral shapes complementing his more melancholic playing on 'Hetoimasia' and 'Apocalypse Explained', or in more merry form on the baroque dance piece 'He Is Hanging By His Shiny Arms, His Heart An Open Wound With Love'. - boomkat

The Dutch Lute player has teamed up with Jim Jarmusch again on this glorious album, this is Medieval with a capital M, if you could imagine the Jim O’Rourke/Chris Brokaw acoustic project Pullman then you’re not far off, side A features some beautiful melodic interplay, each track with flowing fingerpicking precision from a true artist!
Side B begins with a dark soundtrack piece like some kind of David Lynch nightmare and the mood changes somewhat but by the second to last piece with the lengthy title ‘He Is Hanging By His Shiny Arms, His Heart An Open Wound With Love’ everything is fine again. This is very nice stuff indeed, a real treat for fans of the aforementioned Jim O’Rourke and Dead Can Dance, dark, melodic and tense, a very special talent! - Norman Records

JOZEF VAN WISSEM & JIM JARMUSCH - The Mystery Of Heaven image

The Mystery Of Heaven (2012)

**The acclaimed film director-cum-guitarist and rebel lutenist team up again for a heady swirl of distortion and baroque melody, also featuring vocals from Tilda Swinton** "Jim Jarmusch and Jozef Van Wissem met on the streets of New York in 2006. They shared a lot of interest and background so a collaboration and a friendship was born. Jarmusch was looking to have Van Wissem compose a score for a film he had been trying to make for years, what he described as a "crypto-vampire film" about two lovers, outsider types who have been in love for hundreds of years. Van Wissem's work comes from a tradition of avant-garde minimalism and lends itself well to the director's stark cinematic works. Jarmusch has played guitar in bands on and off since the late '70s. Van Wissem's compositional style involves hypnotic circular musical phrases that allow for a lot of contemplative space between the notes. Their first live performance was in Issue Project Room in Brooklyn in October 2011, where they appeared together for a Van Wissem curated concert program called "New Music for Early Instruments." The idea for their first album, Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity (Important Records) developed from their live performance. Jarmusch has said that he considers these songs as Van Wissem's compositions, and sees himself as someone filling in the background to Jozef 's foreground, like the "scenic" on a film shoot, the one who paints the backdrops. "The sound of the lute is as bright as the sun, a beautiful red color and my stuff sounds sort of like the moon, more like blue, like mercury." This newest album, The Mystery of Heaven was recorded in New York with help from hypnotic Tilda Swinton on guest vocals." - boomkat

Jim Jarmusch's films often give life's bit-part players a central role. There's Eddie from Stranger Than Paradise, played by former Sonic Youth drummer Richard Edson, whose weatherworn existence revolved around placing bets at the dog track. Ghost Dog deposited an ice cream salesman played by Isaach De Bankolé as the best friend of the titular character. The musical choices for Jarmusch's films, so often pivotal to the action, reflect his decision to cast Hollywood stars alongside relative unknowns. The Broken Flowers soundtrack featured contributions from Mulatu Astatke, Marvin Gaye, and Sleep. His forthcoming vampire feature, Only Lovers Left Alive, will pull another musician out of the shadows, with Dutch lutist Jozef Van Wissem providing music for the film. The Mystery of Heaven is the pair's third musical collaboration this year, following Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity (on Important) and Apokatastasis (on Van Wissem's own Incunabulum label).
The story of how this duo met, in a chance meeting on a New York City street, where Van Wissem pushed a CD into Jarmusch's hand, feels like it was pulled directly from one of the director's movies. The music they make together retains certain tenets of those films, too. There's a strong sense of magic and mystery, all delivered with a beautiful simplicity. If you strip away the stylistic heft of Jarmusch's films, there are often deceptively basic human emotions underpinning the narrative, albeit ones revealed through the eyes of emotionally damaged individuals. The tracks on The Mystery of Heaven reach down to the same spot, as told through Van Wissem's forlorn lute playing and Jarmusch's feedback-addled guitar parts. Their only diversion is to employ actress (and Only Lovers star) Tilda Swinton to provide a stern spoken word passage over "The More She Burns the More Beautifully She Glows".
Much of this record is a gentle advance on the ideas of Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity, with Jarmusch again taking a back seat to Van Wissem's lead. It's a meditative piece, and one that passes naturally from bristly, repetitive motifs ("Flowing Light of the Godhead") to more subdued material ("The Mystery of Heaven"). Even when they reach peak noise, about two thirds of the way through "Flowing Light", it's more hypnotic than aggressive. This is material with a firmly contemplative edge to it, casting a spell only broken with the occasional fluffed note or lapse into accidental dissonance. There's a definite sense that this was recorded live and with little practice beforehand. The title track feels sloppy and aimless at times, perhaps deliberately so. But this is music that benefits from a certain amount of discipline, such as the feral splendor of "The More She Burns", where the pair sync up perfectly following Swinton's wonderfully haughty vocal.
The fact that Jarmusch worked on this album with an actress and musician involved in his next movie makes this feel like an important step toward that project. There's even a filmic feel to some of the work here, particularly in the two versions of "Etimasia", which echo with a lonely, lovelorn ambiance. It makes sense that Jarmusch would want to break away from music that could superficially resemble "soundtrack" work, and he mostly has achieved that on his various collaborations with Van Wissem. But the versions of "Etimasia" on The Mystery of Heaven shift closer to a place in which he's become more comfortable since his nascent musical efforts in the no wave scene. It's one of stark, pensive thought, populated by characters who don't make connections easily, whose attempts to make sense of the world are largely a solitary pursuit. At its best, this music feeds into a similar sentiment, pushing close to the kind of deep introspection at the heart of Jarmusch's films. - Nick Neyland

JOZEF VAN WISSEM & JIM JARMUSCH - Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity image

Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity (2012)

Rebel renaissance Dutch lutenist Jozef Van Wissem meets American filmmaker and guitarist - and friend and collaborator - Jim Jarmusch on five beautifully engrossing, time-dilating duets recorded in Brooklyn in late 2011. Jarmusch has previously appeared on Van Wissem's 'Concerning The Beautiful Human Form After Death' but this is their first full length collaboration, yet you'd never guess it. Patiently attuned to each other's presence, the pair weave exquisite melody and tempered feedback with an instinctual understanding, conducting themselves in a wandering, intimately conversational dialogue with Jarmusch's electric and acoustic guitars creating walls of feedback or subtly reflective accompaniment over the first four pieces. The fifth and final 'He Is hanging By His Shiny Arms, His Heart An Open Wound With Love' features Jarmusch reading from St. John Of The Cross over Van Wissem's solo lute composition, tying in with the track titles and quote from Chritian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg.- boomkat

Interview: Jozef van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch

Over the three-decade span of his film career, American auteur Jim Jarmusch has built up a pretty unbeatable record as a musical tastemaker. Stranger Than Paradise, his 1984 breakout, cast jazz musician John Lurie and former Sonic Youth drummer Richard Edson in starring roles; Broken Flowers, with its haunting Mulatu Astatke refrain, helped fuel the Ethiopian jazz craze surrounding Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques series, and reminded a younger generation of music lovers to revisit the molasses-slow, ’90s stoner doom metal of Sleep. Recently, Jarmusch’s own music has tended toward the latter aesthetic (see Bad Rabbit, a band he assembled primarily for the soundtrack of his last film The Limits of Control), but he’s also been working pretty closely with Jozef van Wissem, a Dutch lute player and minimalist composer he met by chance a few years ago on the streets of New York. In addition to commissioning van Wissem for the soundtrack of his upcoming Vampire romance, Only Lovers Left Alive, he’s gone ahead and started a band with him, amplifying van Wissem’s eerie deconstructions of Renaissance music with washes of processed guitar. Following a late-night gig at Le Poisson Rouge last week, we sat down with the unlikely duo to talk about what brought them together in the first place, Jarmusch’s new film and why playing the lute is kind of punk rock.
How much of your set is improvised? VAN WISSEM: Mine, not so much improvisation. JARMUSCH: Mine’s mostly improvised. I don’t know what I’m doing so it’s different each time. I guess that’s improvisation. VAN WISSEM: Well, your stuff is also about the room really. How it sounds in the room. JARMUSCH: Yeah and also, my stuff is really [about] listening and responding. ‘Cause the other day we played at PS1, and it was really frustrating, and I thought my whole sound, coming from me, really sucked. It was harsh. There was something wrong. And it was because I couldn’t hear him. So my job is to listen to him, really. He’s the center. He’s the foreground and I paint in the background and I need to hear the foreground or I don’t know what I’m doing.
What drew you to Jozef’s music originally? JARMUSCH: I’m very nonhierarchical. I love things from all periods. And I like minimalism, and I like avant-garde things, but I also like traditional things. Voila! Here’s a guy that’s playing minimal avant-garde yet very traditionally rooted [music]. So it was like, Wow! I just responded immediately to that mixture of things. And then we became friends and I started asking Jozef about the history of the lute. Then I realized the depth of his appreciation and interest in the instrument and in the music. I knew some things. He knows everything.
Is it true that you guys met on the street? JARMUSCH: Yeah. He gave me a CD. I was sort of intrigued by him, but it was kind of brief, you know. And I thought, That was an interesting guy. He gave me this CD, and I went home later that night and I immediately listened to it and I was like, Wow this guy is really great. I was lucky.
Jozef—Can you tell me about your idea of the liberation of the lute? VAN WISSEM: You know. It has a Hollywood image. A Robin Hood image. He’s standing under a balcony, and the lady throws a flower pot at [her serenader], and it’s kind of a derivative of that. I mean, there’s a lot of instruments that have a cliché attached to them, like banjo or the pedal steel. So I kind of like it when people do something out of the ordinary with it, kind of liberate it. It’s kind of difficult, because specialists want to keep it in a museum. They just tell you, You have to play this piece in this way, this is the right way to play this. And then they play it for a select group who already listen to it. So it keeps it in the museum, and it will never get out of there. I like to play it for kids who have never heard the instrument. It sounds really great. It’s the perfect instrument. The thing with this duo, I don’t really see it as a collaboration. I think it’s really a band feeling, and I think it’s more than the sum of its parts. That’s what I really like about it. It’s not just like I give him one piece, and then he gives me what he does to the piece, and I give it back to him. There’s something else. It’s kind of strange.
You guys put out two albums in this year alone, correct? Mystery of Heaven on Sacred Bones, and Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity, on Important. VAN WISSEM: There’s another split actually that’s out. That has one solo side of mine and one side with the duo, and it’s more an experimental side of the duo, ‘cause Jim is using these animal sounds and loops, which are really nice. It’s kind of an interesting record. It’s called Apokatastasis. It’s on my label, [Incunabulum Records]. This is the only record so far for Sacred Bones but, we’re quite happy with Mystery of Heaven. JARMUSCH: We’ll have another record for the soundtrack to my next film, which will be Jozef’s stuff and then some of our stuff together. [And] my band, Squirrel. But also, I just wanted to interrupt, [while we’re talking] about the history of the lute and Jozef breaking these clichés. There’s certain cliché things, I don’t know if cliché is the right word, but there is a certain aspect of it that is very strong that he carries also, which is pre-guitars. The lute was a kind of rebel instrument because it was portable and therefore very romantic. ‘Cause you could take it on a horse. It’s like a predecessor of blues musicians that traveled. So there’s that thing that he’s always embodied since I’ve met him. I’ve seen him play in a lot of places, from the back room of some record store to a cathedral. He goes where people might be interested. But there’s this rebel thing that he also upholds that’s a very strong thing to me about the lute and it’s history. It’s not a conservative thing where, I don’t know, the court musician plays for the rich guy. It’s more like the guy on the horse that’s going to try and play it for some beautiful girl. You know what I mean? That whole rebel thing—that it’s outside the law. It’s not obeying the authorities; it’s the opposite—that he still, since I’ve met him, even in the music business, [has] upheld. ‘Cause he’ll play wherever people invite him to play if he feels like it.
Why did Jozef’s music make sense for you upcoming movie? JARMUSCH: Because this is a film I’ve been trying to get made for six or seven years. It’s a love story between two people who have been in love for hundreds of years—because they happen to be vampires. It’s more of a love story than vampire story, but they are vampires. And one character, the male character, is a musician. So when I first met Jozef and heard his music, the idea of this kind of modern ancient mixture was completely in line with the idea of the film. These people are very sophisticated and they’re kind of rock & roll hipsters in a way, but they are also very ancient and almost animal-like in a way too. So I don’t know. This idea of the lute being transposed into something modern with the tradition intact was really appealing and in line with what I’m trying [to do]. I don’t want to try to analyze my own film ‘cause I don’t know what the hell it means, but it’s in line with it somehow.
Jozef—I noticed that you started walking around the audience during the show. Was that planned? VAN WISSEM: Yeah, I do that more and more now. Also at solo shows. I kind of like more contact with the audience, and sometimes I play in small places with not too many people, and then you have a real intimate contact. Playing here, for a couple hundred people, it’s kind of difficult to make connection. But I like to have almost a physical relationship with the audience. It’s also really rock & roll in a way. I don’t like the idea of the lute player. You know, playing beautiful music, sitting there in the classical pose—that just really bores me. That’s why I like moving around and getting up and doing that stuff. I guess it’s also a little bit of visual art. You can see the instrument really close when you’re in the audience. People get their money’s worth.


There’s a great video from 2009 with lute player Jozef van Wissem sitting in a tawny corner of a crowded room in Ghent while playing Amor Fati a sweetly meditative piece from his album Ex Patris. The camera is zooming out, ostensibly showing just how big the instrument is and how many parts van Wissem is controlling with what appears to be effortlessness. A little more than a minute in, the shots cuts uncomfortably close to van Wissem’s left hand, deceptively still on the neck of the lute. It’s one of several awkward moments in the five minute film, but it’s more telling than unfortunate: Most folks have no idea how van Wissem-- or anyone, for that matter-- plays the lute. Though you’ll see the pear-shaped mess of strings in most any collection of Renaissance or Baroque paintings, the lute’s long history has mostly dated it, removing it from common use and public perception.
If van Wissem can help it, that will change. The last decade has been particularly busy for the New York-based Dutchman. From his collaborations with guitar angel James Blackshaw and noise legend Maurizio Bianchi and his own gently loping solo records to his ensembles like Brethren of the Free Spirit and lectures on Lute Liberation across the country, he’s been pushing the lute’s agenda out of the academy and into more accessible circles. “I’d rather have more people listening to it and enjoy it,” he says. “I want it to sound a little more like rock music, even though it’s all acoustic.”
It looks like he's getting his chance : His fantastic new collaborative LP with film director and electric guitarist Jim Jarmusch, Concerning the Entrance into Eternity, has already earned a spree of celebrity-watch attention. That’s only bound to increase when Jarmusch uses van Wissem’s music in an upcoming film about a lute-playing vampire. Explains van Wissem, laughing, “Supposedly the vampire gets a lute from the vampire lover…” more…
Grayson Currin, Pitchfork
The filmmaker Jim Jarmusch stood near the stage at ISSUE Project Room Friday night and watched as Jozef van Wissem, seated and dressed all in black, played the 13-course swan-neck baroque lute propped on his knee; van Wissem plucked a melody of short musical phrases that rose up around the Corinthian columns and coffered ceilings of the renaissance-style room.
Jarmusch, also all in black, his suit hanging loose from his tall, gangly body, stayed on the periphery of the stage, but kept his back to the audience. He held an electric hollow-body guitar, and slowly began coaxing from it a drone that backed up van Wissem’s tune. He walked slowly, in a sidestep, over to some small tube amplifiers set up on a table. He lingered among the amplifiers, then lifted the guitar over his head as a sharp peal rang out of the amps and pierced the air, while still making room for the sound of the lute… more…
Rozalia Jovanovic, Capital New York
Jozef Van Wissem is a lute player, first and foremost. His brilliant minimalist compositions are comprised almost entirely of the gentle and furtive plucking of said instrument, reverberating gracefully in melodic movements and harmonic progressions. And after releasing albums for over a decade, it seems like Van Wissem has achieved a true mastery of the art. In other words, he is composing pieces of classical lute music that sound as if they have always existed, as if they have already been studied and practiced and performed for ages.
This brings us to The Joy That Never Ends, his latest album, and by all accounts, a complete and utter masterpiece. For starters, you will be hard-pressed to find a more melodically brilliant album—in any genre—this year. These pieces are so fluid and natural that the shorter ones might seem as if they have lasted eternally and the longer ones leave you begging for more. Additionally, Van Wissem’s performance is utterly breathtaking and flawless; he just commands your attention…He’s crafted a fascinating album that creates an atmosphere of complete enlightenment. And when he gives his pieces extraordinary titles like “Concerning The Beautiful Human Form After Death” or “The Hearts Of The Daughters Are Returned To Their Mothers” you can’t really do much but nod your head, listen, and learn. This is an album that will give you the type of chills that just won’t go.
Sam Sodomsky, Foxy Digitalis
Dutch composer and lute player Jozef van Wissem has been called a thorny contrarian, and certainly the music on The Joy That Never Ends traces its own uncompromised path. But the majority of it is pretty and pleasantly hypnotic, in a way that’s just as challenging as more confrontational music. overtly melodic, as capable of creating a gentle earworm as inducing a starry-eyed trance.
…NYC-via-Holland picker Jozef Van Wissem, easily the world’s hippest lutist. This rising talent has plucked (haw!)the instrument from its Ren Faire stigmas in order to create a pastoral, meditative world…
Village Voice
Like many of the composers on this compilation, Van Wissem sees no contradiction in working deeply within a tradition while subverting and repurposing it. His lute music reimagines classical melodies as palindromes and mirrors and often seats them atop a bed of field recordings of airport lounges and train stations. Like much pre- classical music, Van Wissem’s compositions do not express driving progression or intense dramatic arc but create a feeling of static meditation, allowing periods of silence and repetition to slow the act of listening.
The Believer Magazine Music Issue (includes Van Wissem CD track aerumna)
In Van Wissem’s hands the lute is a gorgeous instrument, he necessarily gives this music an old world feeling, but his compositions are progressive. They are tuneful, but repeat and weave together melody lines in a mystical way, as the pieces move forward while walking in place.powerful in the impact of each sound, but there’s a compelling journey underway.
The Big Takeover
Ex Patris explores musical palindromes: turning Middle Ages tablature upside down, repeating passages backwards. You don’t need to understand the Dutchman’s compositional idiom to be mesmerised by hall-of-mirrors instrumentals like the 13 minute After the Fire Has Devoured All, It Will Consume Itself.
Mojo Magazine
Lutenist Jozef van Wissem has got a lot on his plate: collaborations, curation and computer games. Following releases with Smegma and United Bible Studies, his latest solo album The Joy That Never Ends is released on Important, and features input from film maker Jim Jarmusch ahead of a full length release by the duo scheduled for later this year.
Jarmusch contributes electric guitar for the track Concerning The Beautiful Human Form After Death on The Joy That Never Ends…and the full length collaboration with Jarmusch will be called Apokatastasis.
On a different note, Van Wissem has also contributed compositions to the latest installment of The Sims. “I was asked to come up with 12 lute (and some voice) pieces for The Sims Medieval,” he says. “They flew me over to San Francisco to record there after they heard the lute compositions…I had a lot of freedom, they didn't ask me to change anything really.” On top of these collaborations, Van Wissem is also curating and playing at a series of events in Europe and the US entitled New Music For Early Instruments.
The Wire
Dusted scribe Daniel Martin-McCormick’s recent check in on Jozef Van Wissem noted, quite rightly, the Dutchman’s contrarian streak. Here’s a guy who has set about rehabilitating his museum piece instrument, the lute, not by making his music as nice as possible but by quietly saying “fuck you.” His compositions remorselessly trace the same steps, backward and forward; his preferred collaborators, people like Tetuzi Akiyama and Keiji Haino, aren’t exactly known for making it easy on their audiences. So what should we make of his recent contribution of music to The Sims Medieval?
The Joy That Never Ends counterbalances the buzz-off stance with some more “come hither” moves. Parts of it will seem quite familiar to followers of Van Wissem’s recent solo records. There are pieces like Concerning the Precise Nature of Truth that rigorously adhere to palindromic structures, slowly trudging up staircases of silence and then walking backward down them. These compositions bridge the conventions of Renaissance lute composers to those of 20th century minimalists, and they resolutely refuse any easy pay-off.
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch plays electric guitar on Concerning the Beautiful Human Form After Death, threading feedback needles through the wide open spaces between Van Wissem’s strums with a sensitivity that is quite at odds with the low emotional intelligence of so many of the characters in his movies. If this is a star turn, it’s certainly not a gratuitous one, no more than any of the record’s other conciliatory gestures. Van Wissem isn’t averse to approaching his audience; he just wants to do it his way
Dusted Magazine
When it comes to filmmaker/musician collaborations, the new LP featuring Dutch minimalist composer/lute player Jozef Van Wissem and Stranger than Paradise/Broken Flowers/Coffee & Cigarettes director Jim Jarmusch makes the David Lynch/Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse collabo album Dark Night of the Soul look positively mainstream. For, you see, Van Wissem is no run-of-the-mill, bawdy summer Renaissance Festival, LARPing lute player. No, he is an artist, in the most all-encompassing, artiest sense of the world.
Van Wissem makes Renaissance and Baroque lute jams not just contemporary, but straight-up experimental. His music combines field recordings, electronics, and No Wave influences. He has collaborated with avant-garde luminaries such as James Blackshaw and Keiji Haino, and was even commissioned by London’s National Gallery to write a composition based on the Hans Holbein painting The Ambassadors. Fun fact: he also wrote lute and vocal melodies for the new medieval version of the Sims computer games.
And now, with the release of The Joy that Never Ends, Van Wissem’s collabo with Jarmusch (who plays the guitar and amps up the feedback) you too can live every day accompanied by the music of Mr. Van Wissem and his lute. JUST LIKE THE MEDIEVAL SIMS!!!! (Except that you’re actually sentient and breathing, but you get it.)
Tiny Mix Tapes
In The Mirror of Eternal Light, the Dutch lutist Jozef van Wissem catches his own reflection in tender, minimalist picking and gold-spray overdubs.
Rolling Stone Magazine
Hypnotic minimalist figures seem to breeze across musical boundaries wtih effortless fluency.
Matthew Murphy, Pitchfork
Jozef van Wissem has been slowly reinventing the lute for the last three decades. Among the slew of fast-picking, fancy-fretting guitar players so prevalent today, his lute’s voice is a quiet oasis, and Stations of the Cross a small masterpiece. The 14 compositions here follow the 14 stations of the cross, a ritual of observance built from the final moments in Christ’s life before he was crucified. Certain tropes appear throughout. Slow mournful arpeggios are returned to again and again. When played on the slack stringed lute, notes are left hanging solitarily and isolated in their own lacunas only to be left in greater silence by the pauses van Wissem leaves between each arpeggio. Occasionally higher register harmonies or fanned chords add color, but the musical sense is one of a doleful and somber procession.
Four tracks contain field recordings drawn from waiting rooms and station platforms. When voices can be picked out, they ask for directions or appear to be wandering lost in the impersonal purgatory of the nonplaces of modern life. These mark poignant moments of Christ’s journey—his first fall (Low Mass) and his death on the cross (Pilgrim Talk). They also create the most spiritual effect by enveloping events in a lots, transitory soundscape and counterpointing the human and the divine, the sacred and the profane.
Nick Southgate, Wire
The way Van Wissem traces and retraces denying the listener any resolution or catharsis, is also pretty contemporary in its attitude of refusal; has there ever been a time besides now when more musicians refuted the expectations of audiences and authorities? The lack of pay-off makes the music potentially maddening; it actually stymies linear thought on an even more symbolic level, by constructing pieces that begin where they end and are therefore potentially endless, he subverts the march of time.
Bill Meyer, Dusted Magazine
Something has been slowly happening to the perception of Lutes, over the past five years or so the instrument has received a kind of popular culture pardon. Jozef Van Wissem has been more of a sniper in this battle rather than a braying officer, his releases finding their mark and word spreading of his undoubted skill. A Priori is the most complete example yet of this renaissance-tagged instrument embracing timelessness. His minimalist playing may be a taint to those who prefer whippersnappers offering rippling runs of notes, to those accustomed to listen till they become surfeited, but Van Wissem plays with a tender surety. There is a Satie-like feel to the melody on Aerumna, the sharp strings announcing the notes like sundial chimes. His use of musical palindromes, instead of tying the pieces to form, makes his music seem instead like long gentle arcs of endless recurring melody.
Scott McKeating , Foxy Digitalis

Interview by Jason Gross

Ballet on the staircase

flag  Bill Meyer
article image
When 15 Questions asked Dutch lutenist Jozef Van Wissem for his opinion regarding the tasks that face a composer today, his response was blunt. “The task of any composer or artist is to change the world by great art. Most artists are not political however. They don't care. And that's a goddamn shame.”

It seems like a very 20th century response, spoken by a man who favors a 16th century instrument. Van Wissem might have just been learning his letters during the upheaval of 1968, but he is the right age to know people who lived it. He is certainly old enough to have lived through, and been touched by, punk; before he devoted himself to learning the lute, he spent years running a punk rock bar. In the 20th century, the world seemed as ripe for change as it was in need of it, and artists as diverse as Bertolt Brecht, Mark Rothko, and Joe Strummer thought that art might lead the way. In this century, it’s hard to find an aspect of art that hasn’t either been neutered by commodification or been sidelined into a niche that cannot make a sound loud enough for the mainstream to hear.

Liberating the Lute
Neither option suits Van Wissem. He rejected his place as a cog in capitalism’s wheel when he sold his bar and moved to New York to study the lute. He decided to be a contemporary artist rather than a mere purveyor of nostalgia when he abandoned the traditional lute repertoire and began composing his own music. And he has consistently agitated against obscurity and irrelevance by cannily leveraging his associations with avant-garde musicians like Tetuzi Akiyama and Maurizio Bianchi into a position of visibility within the international outsider music scene, and his acquaintance with some people from Mills College into a gig composing music for the Sims Medieval video game. He has plenty of beefs with the 21st century, but he’s not waiting for it to notice him. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who has used Van Wissem’s music in an upcoming movie and played guitar on four of his recent albums, including the one under consideration here, is a powerful new ally in Van Wissem’s ongoing campaign to infiltrate both art and pop culture in order to get people to take his marginalized instrument, and his strong opinions, seriously.

Liberating the lute is not all that is on Van Wissem’s mind. He recently explained how his choice of instrument expresses his politics of refusal in a recent interview with Signal to Noise magazine: “I think that in general it is a political thing for me, to play this instrument. It’s anti-computer age, anti-stuff you don’t need, anti-everything that’s wrong with this society nowadays.” And he doesn’t want to just clear the bad stuff away; he has something else in mind. The more records Van Wissem sells, the more emphatically he confronts the people who buy them with Christian and pre-Christian mysticism.

Titles as lyrics
Apokatastasis, a self-released collaboration with Jarmusch, is completely instrumental. Van Wissem uses his song titles to communicate what others might sing; here, they propose the myth and mysticism of past centuries as vehicles for rejecting a present he finds repugnant. The album’s title refers to a restoration to an original state of balance. Greek Stoics anticipated that apokatastasis would come when a planetary alignment provoked a universal conflagration; for some early Christians, the word expressed the concept that in time all creatures of free will, even those who had lost their souls, would be restored to God’s grace. In other words, society’s down and outers had as much claim as its top dogs on union with the divine. Van Wissem has it both ways, although his titles give more weight to the Christian perspective. One of the album’s pieces is entitled “Arcana Coelestia;” study your stars well, so that you might know when it’s all going to end. Two more directly reference the apocalypse, and a third,  “Hetoimasia,” refers to the throne of the second coming. Yet another track is entitled “He Is Hanging By His Shiny Arms, His Heart An Open Wound With Love.” Lest you miss the point, a silver cross is silkscreened on the front cover of the LP, a 'drawing by Wouter Vanhaelemeesch, and the back sleeve sports a photo of Van Wissem playing one of his lutes in front of a crucifix. His faith, however, should not be confused with commercially corrupted, politically repressive institutional Christianity. His beefs against consumerism and his peripatetic lifestyle (he tours incessantly in both Europe and the USA) cast Van Wissem as a wanderer, not a joiner. The video that accompanies “The Sun Of The Natural World Is Pure Fire,” a track from his previous album Concerning The Entrance Into Eternity, links the music’s mystic aura with a luxurious homoeroticism no church these days is willing to countenance, any more than they would the S&M trappings of Tilda Swinton’s recitation on The Mystery Of Heaven’s “The More She Burns the More Beautiful She Glows.” I suspect he’d have more in common with the serpent than Eve, and if subjects are anything to go by, he has a vested interest in the Apokatastasis’s outcome.

In 2012, Van Wissem released two collaborative albums with Jim Jarmusch, and much of the press he got mentioned his work on Jarmusch’s upcoming vampire movie, Only Lovers Left Alive. The vinyl version of Apokatastasis restores another balance by bringing his solo work back into the spotlight; one side comprises three solo lute pieces, the other, collaborations with Jarmusch. Still, it’s a quiet gesture. Released on Van Wissem’s own Incunabulum imprint, it’s much lower profile than his Sacred Bones’ release, The Mystery Of Heaven. You must either attend Van Wissem’s concerts or frequent his website to know that it exists. Add to that the fact that one track is an instrumental alternate take of Mystery’s  “He Is Hanging By His Shiny Arms,” and another is a piece that Jarmusch assembled in part by looping fragments of another of that album’s tracks, “Flowing the Light of the Godhead,” it might be tempting to dismiss this record as a money-churning effort, a fancy version of the tour CDRs you’ve seen on dozens of merch tables. But listening should dispel that impression.

Three dimensions of solo music
Side one crystallizes, in just over 12 minutes, the three dimensions of Van Wissem’s solo music. It is dominated by “I Have So Much More To Tell You But You Cannot Bear It Now,” on which several lute tracks rush up the same pattern and back, like ballet danced upon a staircase. Fleet and bright-toned, it suggests emotions at odds with the title’s rue. Whatever the reason for withholding what he wants to say, it fills his music with joy. “Lux Divinitatis,” on the other hand, is as stark and delicate as a spider web. It likewise steps up and down a path, but this time the path is so short that the piece seems to hang in place like a spider web in a slight breeze. “Arcana Coelestia” returns to the first piece’s propulsive cadence, but with a heavier bass pulse that feels as inevitable in its progress as the titular celestial bodies. Combined with bright overtones, that pulse imparts the trance state that can make a listen to Van Wissem’s music feel like a step down a side passage into an altered state.

 “Apocalypse Revealed,” the record’s first duo track, breaks that trance as cruelly as an uninvited vision of death on a holiday morning. Its construction is so unlike most of Van Wissem’s music that one suspects that Jarmusch assembled it himself. It opens with an echoed guitar loop, which bobs in ripples of similar loops until a peals of feedback and reverb cut across the music like shark’s fins across placid water. Van Wissem plays a Burns Double Six 12-string electric guitar that he picked up after he began working with Jarmusch. On “The Flowing Light Of The Godhead,” a track on Mystery that moves like slow-flowing lava, he uses it to match the American guitarist’s facile feedback manipulations; here, pieces of that track are stitched together to create something more like a recording of nighttime birdsong

“Hetoimasia” pairs a familiar Van Wissem progression with slow beams of electric guitar that thread through the lute’s woody tones like a big, hungry constrictor pushing its way through the rain forest. Then comes another repurposed piece. “He Is Hanging By His Shiny Arms, His Heart An Open Wound With Love” appears on Concerning The Entrance Into Eternity as a setting for Jarmusch’s recitation of St. John of the Cross’s meditation on the crucifixion. With the words removed and Jarmusch’s acoustic guitar pulled up in the mix, it’s lilting and beautiful, revealing the joy behind tragedy. “Apocalypse Explained” is slower-paced pairing of palindromic lute figures and snaky feedback; it ends the LP with a note of doom. But if you opt for the CD instead, there is a bonus track called “Hymn To The Earth” that lets loose the darkness with a delicate guitar piece. Van Wissem picks out a fragile melody on his 12-string and Jarmusch responds with rustic strums; perhaps the balance that Apokatastasis promises is really behind man and earth?

So how much will an LP pressed in an edition of 500 and sold mostly to record collectors change the earth? On its own, it won’t. But it is pretty great, and in its images of beauty, darkness, and rapprochement between sundered parties, it offers an image of how Van Wissem might like the world to be.
By Bill Meyer

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