Jozef Van Wissem - "The Hearts of the Sons" (The Joy That Never Ends)
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.
But elsewhere, Van Wissem plays syncopated rhythms that make the music feel like it’s advancing even as it retraces its steps, and uses them to drive some of the most openly lyrical melodies he’s ever recorded. The best example of this is called “The Hearts of the Sons are Returned to Their Fathers” on the LP and “The Hearts of the Daughters are Returned to Their Mothers” on the CD; it’s the same performance, differently mixed. Van Wissem starts it with a propulsive figure, then he overlays a cascade of lutes, each playing the original melody or a counter-melody that advances the music through accumulation rather than resolution. After about 16 minutes vocalist Jeanne Madic intones a benediction — “It will all transform into great joy” — and the music ends with indisputable inevitability. It’s a great way to end a record, and that’s exactly what happens on the LP (there is one more track on the CD, “The Great Joy.”)
This is the first Van Wissem solo record with guest musicians, and while Madic (who records under the name Vanishing Twins) may be new to most listeners, the other is fairly famous. 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.