London-based French composer Angèle David-Guillou makes audacious compositions that make you use words like ‘longing’ and ’emotive’ when you talk about them. Basically it’s pretty majestic sounding stuff that deploys asymmetric bar lengths and irregular verse constructions to make something really glorious and contemplative.
David-Guillou has released En Mouvement, the second album to be released under her given name, following her previous work as Klima, and with electronic art-rock band Piano Magic. Born and raised in Tours in the Loire Valley, David-Guillou was classically educated in piano, singing, harmony and musical theory – which you can probably tell from listening to the intricate music she now makes.
So if you’re looking for something a lil different to listen to (it’s guaranteed to make you feel both sophisticated and intellectual) then press play on Angèle David-Guillou’s piano led, Philip Glass influenced compositions and go behind the music with the accompanying track-by-track guide that David-Guillou put together for BEAT.
“When I started working on this record I was going through some major personal changes. Simultaneously, I had finally fallen in love with Glasswork and Einstein on the Beach. Somehow both things became totally related to me. On a personal level, I was trying to rediscover who I really was and, sorry if that sounds cliché, find the essence of me, whilst going through those radical changes. At the same time, I was yearning to evolve whilst trying to create a stability I had lost. To me, this is what Philip Glass does musically: either giving an illusion of permanence/repetition to a music that in fact perpetually changes or, on the contrary, creating a sense of change in a music that is in fact extremely static. This is what the piece ‘En Mouvement’ is about.”
‘V for Visconti’
“‘V for Visconti’ follows more of my baroque obsessions, using saxophones and French horns in registers traditionally assigned to medieval instruments, in Southern Europe baroque music especially. Through this anachronistic use of modern brass instruments and fast repetitive melodic lines, I was longing to create a feeling of both ancient and new, a sort of medieval retro-futurism. The title is inspired by the beautiful 15th century Visconti-Sforza tarot deck, celebrating the marriage of Maria Bianca Visconti, also known as the “warrior woman”, after she led an army of men and successfully defended the city of Cremona from the Venetians.”
“I started working on ‘Desert Stilt’s as I was looking into odd metric changes and Baroque rhythms. At the same time I was reading a passage of Gurdjieff’s book Meetings With Remarkable Men, in which himself and a group of friends are crossing a desert. There is suddenly a terrible sand storm and the team of adventurers are stopped in their track. After a while they decide, as one does, to walk on stilts. High from the ground, the air is clear and windless and they can walk without any problem across the desert whilst the storm is raging below. I love this fable for its beautiful metaphoric meaning but also because it is totally absurd and told with great wit and humour. Peace is achieved through determination, light-heartedness and absurdity. I love this combination of the serious and the absurd and I wanted to translate that into music. ”
“I was very angry when I wrote this piece. It was on the evening of an awful event in France during which a black female politician, I personally have a lot of admiration for, had bananas thrown at her and a child singing to her “who are the bananas for? They’re for the monkey”. I am not making this up. This actually happened in France a couple of years ago. This completely horrified me and I felt an immense sense of shame, disgust, sadness and above all anger towards the country where I was born. It is sad what’s happening in Britain since Brexit and the kind of racist ideas that are being circulated in the tabloid press and by the current un-elected Prime Minister. To me, despite its imperfections, Britain was by and far a haven of tolerance. If Britain was to become worse than France in that field, I’m not sure where I’d go next.”
“‘Vraisemblance’ is the first piece I composed for this album. For the first time, I started writing a piece of music thinking about compositional techniques and trying to have fun creating something complicated with preset conceptual ideas (you get your fun where you can!). Here I wanted to write a piano piece where the melodic lines weren’t played by either hand directly but instead were created at the intersection of both hands, by simple variations in nuances. Playing this piece, and I hope listening to it, is a bit like looking through a kaleidoscope or going in and out of focus with a camera lense. Depending which note you decide to accentuate or focus on, you can change both the rhythm and the melody. For a while I thought it could be much more orchestrated, but in the end I decided on having just cello and violin as if they were inside the piano to beginning with and then slowly opening up in full bloom I’m very fond of the end melody.”
“Of all the pieces on the album ‘En Mouvement’ and ‘Respiro’ are probably the ones that are most about me. This is a very personal piece about trying to be oneself. The working title for the piece was originally Breathing, but I then remembered this wonderful Italian film, entitled Respiro, which recounts the story of a woman who lives unhappily in the very stiffening patriarchal culture of a small island and decides to fake her own death to try and become herself, and breathe. It’s a beautiful film which made a huge impression on me when I saw it more 15 years ago. Though directed by a man, it touches with great intelligence and subtlety on some essential aspects of what it is to be a woman. I highly recommend it.”
“From the start, I had very specific production ideas for this piece. I was really interested in creating a sound that was both extremely realistic and very artificial at the same time. Similarly to ‘En Mouvement’ and ‘Desert Stilts’ for instance, I wanted to create a sonic space that couldn’t be placed. You can hear all the instruments very clearly, they are all telling their own story in their own voice: in many ways they are hyper-realistic. But where are the instruments playing exactly? You can’t hear the room or, if you do, it is a space that can only be imaginary. This was my intention anyway. With regards to the title, Iznik pottery is a very beautiful type pottery, originally made in Anatolia in the late 15th century. The traditional designs are delicate flowers, in distinctive shades of blue and orange, with stems crossing and intertwining, not unlike the different saxophone and clarinet parts on this piece.”
‘Pas De Loup’
“This is the last piece I composed for the album. It obviously draws from Prokofiev, though this wasn’t a conscious decision. My main focus was writing for the bass saxophone. I love this instrument. I love its richness and its power. It can be extremely melow, totally frightening and just absurd. I dream of writing for an ensemble of bass saxophone, bass clarinet and bass trombone. I think that would be quite insane. There is probably an argument going on here. I’m not sure what it is about but it is an argument in French I think, perhaps an argument with oneself. The cello, beautifully played by Maria Reina Gonzalez, is both serene and threatening, whilst the bass saxophone is trying to “hausser le ton”, to sound even more threatening, but ends up sounding a little ridiculous. The piano and violins closing the piece must be the peacemakers. Despite the racket the other two were making, they win the argument with their calmness and optimism. A typical day for me!”
‘Too Much Violence’
“I think the title is quite self-explanatory. Very unsettlingly, for me at the time anyway, I wrote this piece on the day preceding the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan and on the terraces of cafés in Paris. I wrote it very quickly, as I rarely do, and had the title straight away. The world has had some pretty shit years recently and when I was writing the piece, it was actually the tragedy of people trying to escape Syria on boats that I was finding extremely distressful. The haunted vocals are very much about them. In terms of compositional technique, I wanted to experiment with the resonances of the piano, to write a piece that relied on the body piano. I find that, with the notable exception of Alvin Curran, Hans Otte and Charlemagne Palestine, this aspect of the piano is rarely explored. The piece is played on my beautiful August Föster grand piano. It’s a beautiful instrument with incredibly warm bass sounds and amazing natural resonances and harmonics. This is a sad piece about the world we live in but also a love song to my piano.”