It is always worth doing that extra bit of research on an artist. You may be none the wiser on listening to Jozef Van Wissem that his music is a mirror image of lute composition. By that I mean backwards. When you do realise the complexity of what is going on you hear such music in a new light. His music is both beautiful and extraordinary. I’m completely hooked.
Much of the work of Jozef van Wissem is based on the application of mirror images to lute composition. The work is idiomatic to lute tablature of around AD 1600. Through study in New York City with Patrick O’Brien, he discovered that from the Middle Ages on, one of the variations on the cantus firmus (the given melody) is the backwards performance of the melody. As a result, on his first group of compositions, released as a CD Retrograde. A Classical Deconstruction (Persephone 002), Van Wissem wrote out mirror images of hundreds of classical lute tablature pieces, copying them out from the bottom right to the top left corner. To these inversions he added new themes, accents and rhythms. He then applied the “cut up” technique of writer William Burroughs and cut, shifted, mixed and pasted the parts together to create new works. One critic has compared this work to that of German painter Georg Baselitz, who paints upside down.
Composer-lute player Jozef Van Wissem is renowned for his unusual approach of the Renaissance and Baroque lute, probably the most unlikely instruments in the world of contemporary music. He cuts and pastes classical pieces, reverses melodies, adds electronics and processed field recordings The unusual wedlock of composition and improvisation creates an unheard amalgam of contemporary folk and early music Van Wissem has accomplished the strange feat of bridging the idiom of seventeenth century lute literature and twenty-first century contemporary music Although he uses subtle electronic sound manipulation, he has largely stayed faithful to the particular timbre, resonance and playing technique of the lute. Van Wissem first came to be noticed a few years ago because of his radical conceptual approach to Renaissance lute music: He deconstructed existing compositions, for instance by playing them backwards. He also composed his own pieces for lute, using palindromes and mirrored structures. His music therefore does not have a traditional linear progression, nor leads to a climax, it rather stays on the same level of intensity. His music is not so much demands concentrated listening, as it will bring the listener in a state of concentrated listening. He runs the Incunabulum label, and performs extensively around the world. He also works with M.B. / Maurizio Bianchi, James Blackshaw, Tetuzi Akiyama and Gary Lucas. With Blackshaw he formed the duo “ Brethren of the Free Spirit’ which has two releases on Important records. Wire Magazine called his solo lute cd “ Stations of the Cross “ a small masterpiece. He has lectured a.o. at Wesleyan University, Mills College and Cambridge University on ‘the liberation of the lute”. Van Wissem has received numerous commissions and grants, most recently from National Gallery, London . He performs about 80 concerts per year around the world His most recent solo Cd ” It is all that is made” was released on Important Records in 2009. Van Wissem was commissioned by National Gallery of London to compose a sound response to Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors.
You will be able to hear some of his work on our Frukie stream and more than likely in a forthcoming mix.