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…
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
In The Mirror of Eternal Light, the Dutch lutist Jozef van Wissem catches his own reflection in tender, minimalist picking and gold-spray overdubs.
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