Though folk musicians Laura Cannell and Jozef van Wissem present themselves entirely differently (the former polite and self-deprecating, the latter sneering, aggressive and silent), both utilise the imperfections in early musical instruments to their advantage, creating unique effects out of moments that are slightly out of tune, where the instruments squeak or crack.
Easterhouse’s arts venue Platform hosts the unlikely pair as part of the Celtic Connections festival, with Cannell, a recorder player and violinist from rural Norfolk, taking the first half.
Cannell uses techniques she developed herself throughout the performance, such as the ‘deconstructed bow’ and ‘double-barrelled recorders’.
The first refers to a technique whereby the bow is wrapped around the violin so all the strings are played at once, the second, where two recorders are played at once.
The slowly developing suspense of the compositions she performs soon prove these techniques to be more than tricks or gimmicks, as they create unique effects, such as in a piece inspired by a story of the ghost of a dog scratching on a door, replicated by the scratches of Cannell’s violin.
In interviews, Dutch lutist Jozef van Wissem is clear about his artistic choices and their relation to contemporary issues: performances that attempt to be direct, raw, and unpolished, rather than the ‘streamlined’ music of today; a necessity for a crossovers between disciplines, using his compositions alongside high art, film, documentaries, and video games; and the use of the lute as the ‘pop instrument’ of its day, that could be found in, and would transcend, all levels and hierarchies within society.
This latter artistic choice seems to be at odds with the nature of tonight’s performance, as the formalities of an interval and seating suggest a traditional concert, while sudden changes of lighting and van Wissem’s aggressive movements suggest something more like a rock gig.
As the show progresses, the pieces begin to sound more modern, and the performance escalates to the point on the last song at which van Wissem finally opens his mouth, repeating only “do you ever feel like you want to?” in a cracked, withering drawl.
The simplicity of the message, its relation to contemporary desires and the eerie atmosphere that undermines its apparent innocence, seem to draw more from the sinister minimalism of Swans than from the lute’s renaissance tradition.
Yet the music seems to lack something without a visual; van Wissem is perhaps best known for his work with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch for Only Lovers Left Alive, and the intensity of the repetition and persistence of the rhythm, with its unobtrusive melodies, is perfect for creating atmosphere.
It would perhaps gain something from different ideas about the form these performances should take, and a fuller incorporation of the visual elements that seem so vital to complete van Wissem’s art.
Words: Tony Boardman