Interview with Rémi Jousselme
When did you start playing the guitar and why? What did you study and what is your musical background?
I think I started around eight, there was a guitar at home because my dad liked to play some picking and sang songs with it. I went to the ‘conservatoire’, the musical academy of my city, a proposal of my parents with the good old idea that it’s good to start with a classical training. We didn’t listen so much classical music at home, more jazz, pop, flamenco, rock and brazilian music, but I finally discovered the fantastic classical repertoires through my studies and step by step became a real classical guitar nerd ! But I always played a lot of chamber music so the contact with others musicians got me to discover a lot, at the beginning I was more attracted by XXth century and contemporary music, but time passing I’ve been able to appreciate classical and romantic areas.
As a teenager I played also a lot of blues, rock and metal, but it seems so far now… Not that I can’t appreciate this styles anymore, but I don’t like the contact with the electric instrument so much nowadays, it seems very cold to me now, and I am not particularly interested in the technology you have to be a specialist in, to really enjoy the large possibilities of it.
Finally, I’m a very classic guy…
What were and are your main musical influences?
There is really a lot, my tastes are highly eclectics… and I am deeply impressed by the artists with a large range of expression and a capacity to switch from one aesthetic to another, that’s why I love so much Frank Zappa and Toru Takemitsu, to quote to very different illustrations!
We could speak hours about Martha Argerich, Alfred Brendel, José Miguel Moreno, Pierre Hantaï, Pierre-Laurent Aimard… or about Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky…
To speak more specifically about guitarists, I can say that I obviously have been influenced very much by two of my teachers, the guitarists Gérard Abiton and Pablo Marquez; it wouldn’t be very fair also not to speak about the brazilians, of course the fantastic Egberto Gismonti, and the Assad brothers, who came as a revolution in the classical guitar world.
I saw you play a lot of contemporary composers’ music, why this choice?
I don’t know if we can speak about a choice here… As I just said, I cannot stay with just one aesthetic, I like so much to play different styles…
The contemporary classical music of today is quite unknown by audiences, and most of the time I don’t address my concerts to specialized people. So, it’s not always easy, and the balance to find, not to scared and to respect audiences that are not familiar with, is an highly interesting question.
Without any militancy, I almost always play some non-tonal music, because it’s a part of my culture, as XVIth century music is, for instance; this is a question of personal need and pleasure.
How did start the idea to produce your last record Exils? Why and how have you decided to « mix » the stories created by Royds Fuentes-Imbert and the music of Toru Takemitsu and Atanas Ourkouzounov ?
Well, Toru Takemitsu is one of my favourite composers, and I am so grateful that he wrote quite a lot for guitar… I wanted to do something to celebrate his memory for the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his death. It was a long time since I had not recorded anything, then… The idea was not to produce a whole Takemitsu program, but to put him in contact with another composer. I chose naturally Atanas Ourkouzounov because I felt he deeply loves Takemitsu’s music as much as I do, and because a part of his production has strong roots in Japan. I loved his Postlude in Green (a tribute to Takemitsu) and Toryanse Tales since a long time, and it obviously had great sense to associate both of them in one recording. I dreamed the album to reflect some of the different aspects of Takemitsu’s own catalogue: film music, arrangements of songs and original scores for guitar. So I asked Atanas to wrote arrangements in his special way, but as Takemitsu did, songs from his childhood, songs he simply likes… He was very enthusiastic, generous, and I am deeply grateful to him. I’m very proud of these “Eastern Songs”, which were for the first time recorded here.
The idea to mix this very consistent program with stories is not mine, the producers at Contrastes Records wanted it to appear in their Cinema Dreams Collection, then the music can be listen as being the soundtrack of the film, suggested by the extracts of the storyboard contained in the booklet.
How did you meet Atanas Ourkouzounov? It was the first time that I had the possibility to listen to his music and I really like it, can you tell us more about this composer?
I think we met at Antony Guitar Festival near Paris more than 10 years ago, we were invited to share a concert, I played solo and he played with his ensemble; we didn’t play together but I remember we spoke a lot, the French way…!
Atanas was born in Bulgaria and came to Paris to study; he’s a very talented performer, something quite rare nowadays among the composers. The duo Ogura-Ourkouzounov he formed with his wife, the Japanese flutist Mie Ogura, is by far the best of its kind, both because of its exceptional musical qualities and because of its extraordinary repertoire.
How do you express your “musical form” both under execution that improvisation? How did your instruments changed the way you play and think about music?
Well, I must confess that I am really not a fetishist of the instrument, the object means little to me, it’s just a necessary media between the music material and me; and if one can influence my thoughts and my playing I am not really aware of, and I am not sure I would like to know so much about it. I don’t really want to objectify all the aspects of this kind of process, I think a good part of it must remain mysterious…
The truth is that I currently own only one acoustic instrument and that I try to do my best to express different styles by changing my way of playing instead of changing the instrument. Maybe in the future I would consider things differently, but that’s my current position.
What does mean improvisation in your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or you’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc.?
I am definitely not an improviser…!
I did experiment improvisation in different styles, blues-rock in my youth, and during the last 10 years in a contemporary, free way. It was sometimes interesting to start a sort of collective composition with an ensemble, but this is absolutely not my main concern. I am more interested in the process of instant-recreation that is the modern classical performer’s job. It can be a very creative and even a free way to live the music, without any of the supposed frustration not to be an instant-composer…
If you listen to a different interpretation of a song you already played and you want to perform do you take care of this listening or do you prefer to proceed in complete independence?
I would definitely take care (and even borrow elements consciously and, anyway unconsciously…), but only if I feel it can complete my own perception of the music.
I sometimes feel that in our time the history of the music flows with no particular interest in its chronological course, in our disco-music library before and after, the past and the future become interchangeable elements, could this be a risk for an interpreter and a composer of a uniform vision?
Yes, of course, and I can’t forget that in the past, musicians played and listened almost only their contemporary music… Nowadays, we can consider that we have at our disposal the entire history of music, both scores and recordings are so easy to get, is it too much? I don’t know, the future will tell, but I don’t want anything but to enjoy this situation. For someone like me, a music lover of all ages and styles, this is a blessing.
The most important thing is to try to make intelligent use of the situation: to get as more information of any kind as I can, and to analyze it, helps me a lot to built my interpretation, in terms of style for instance… Then the question of the uniformity stays, maybe it can be a risk, but the incredible diversity of approaches to the instrument could be a vaccine, I hope…
What are your essential five discs, always to have with you…the classic five records for the desert island…?
Goldberg Variations, JS Bach by Pierre Hantaï
Roxy and elsewhere, by Frank Zappa
Pièces de Théorbes, Robert de Visée by José Miguel Moreno
My favourite things, by John Coltrane
The rite of spring/Petrouchka, Igor Stravinsky by Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra
But if you ask again tomorrow, maybe I will give another list…
What music do you usually listen to?
I really listen to a lot, it’s very important in my everyday life. All kind of music, a lot of classical of course, there is so much different styles of it… As well as pop, jazz and hip-hop music.
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
We are exploring the zarzuela repertoire with the wonderful soprano Ainhoa Zuazua, marvelous music that has surprisingly never been sang with guitar before; we will record this program next year.
I am also working solo on French music, after dedicating myself to Brazilian, Italian and Japanese music, I suppose I need to turn to my own country and culture…
Last question: a few years ago, during an interview with Bill Milkowski for his book “Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries” Carlos Santana said, “Some people have talent, some people have vision. And vision is more important then talent, obviously.” I think you have a great talent, but … what is your vision?
Thank you for the compliment but sorry, but I am an humble handcraft man, I have no definitive sentence to say… I am a lover of the last words of Domenico Scarlatti’s preface to his Essercizi per gravicembalo: Vivi Felice !