Interview with Angèle David-Guillou

Angèle David-Guillou

Four years on from the elegantly grand piano-led compositions that comprised her given-name debut album Kourouma, the French-born London-based Angèle David-Guillou – formerly of Piano Magic and song-based solo alias Klima – returns with the rhythmically fascinating, melodically accomplished and simply rather beautiful En Mouvement on the Village Green label.

Presenting a width of mood colour, from the darkly pensive to the joyously exuberant and adeptly orchestrated with ingenious string and woodwind arrangements, En Mouvement takes as its musical theme the entire notion of ‘movement’ within both music and the composer’s emotional inner life. This is reflected in a series of compelling and contrasting pieces that unite and explore both rigorous minimalism and a highly developed sense of melodic romanticism.


 

You were originally known for your work with the Anglo-French electronic art-rock band, Piano Magic and, more specifically, your own singer-songwriter guise of Klima. It’s something of a musical voyage between those projects and En Mouvement. How did you come to land on such neo-classical shores?

It’s a return to my own shores if anything; or rather I’m not sure I’ve ever left them. Neo-classical? I received a classical education in piano and music theory from the age of 5 to 16. It’s had a massive influence on my musical culture and practice. I’ve always listened to a lot of ‘classical’ music, in the broadest sense of the world. In many ways when I started singing and playing guitar in a rock band in my teens, it was also a response to this strict education that didn’t allow for much experimentation and personal expression, which is what I’ve always strived for. I think you can hear my ‘classical’ influences in most things that I’ve done.

It’s true that many musicians attempt to run in parallel musical genres but do you feel any anxiety that your earlier audience will have trouble following your shift? It’s not always easy to be seen as more than ‘one thing’.

Many musicians do what they want. I don’t think about these things at all. I don’t compartmentalise music and I don’t make music for other people. Of course, it’s a huge satisfaction if people are touched by one’s music, especially when performing live, but in all honesty, I write music for nobody else than myself. I have always done exactly what I wanted creatively. It’s all that matters to me; I don’t see the point otherwise. You take it or leave, that’s not up to me. It’s all me. I can’t be someone else.

Do you feel that your prior ‘Angèle’ album, the largely instrumental, largely piano-based Kourouma, could be understood as a stepping-stone between your Klima work and En Mouvement?

I imagine you could say so retrospectively, it wasn’t intended like this and to be fair every record I’ve made is a stepping-stone in its own way. I wanted to do something very specific with Kourouma, something very intimate, with clear melodic lines and condensed around the piano. I had very different ideas in mind for En Mouvement. I like to learn my trade through making records and I hope I will continue to evolve and learn with every record I make in the future, I have still loads to learn about music and lots to discover about myself. That’s primarily why I make music.

The arrangements, structure and feel of En Mouvement is quite full-orchestral as opposed to simply utilising orchestral instruments. Presumably you felt that what you had composed needed that treatment and that effect?

The intent was there before I started writing the music. Whereas Kourouma was thought of as a piano record with orchestral instrumentation, for En Mouvement I wanted to write specifically for other instruments, and especially for the saxophone family. I also had very specific production ideas before any recordings had been made.

To me there’s a notable presence of certain minimalist composers as prime influences, on the album. I’m hearing Glass, Nyman and the lesser known Wim Mertens, in particular. Would you agree?

I love Philip Glass. I love the strangely peaceful and claustrophobic atmosphere of his music. I love his use of repetition and change in his compositions. I love the production on his early records. His music moves me and makes me think. I think the way Michael Nyman uses modern brass/woodwind instruments on pieces that have strong baroque influences is very interesting and I know Wim Mertens has explored that too. But I wouldn’t say that I am touched by either Nyman or Mertens. I like music to be more free and evolving, I don’t like to hear the structure of a piece (change of chords, cut and pasted repeated part, etc.), and at the same time, I love to hear the writing of a piece, which is what I love about Glass, Xenakis or Gavin Bryars for that matter. Alvin Curran’s piano compositions are very dear to me too.

But there are also more esoteric influences upon the album, both musical and external to music?

I always have one or two philosophical books on the go and I became really interested in Sufism in the past few years. I am in no way an expert by the way, but I love the poetry, the delicacy and the humour of Sufi fables in particular. I find Sufi music and dance fascinating and more generally have developed a slight obsession with anything Persian (including rugs and pottery). I find the writings of G.I Gurdjieff quite remarkable (to use one of his words) and yes, the music he composed with De Hartmann, for his beautiful movement classes, is to me, amongst the most beautiful there is.

A more general question. While it will never become as market saturated as indie or, more latterly, ambient have become, there is a sense that minimalist influenced neo-classical music is becoming an increasingly crowded field. Would you disagree? Or, if you agree, how does one maintain an individual voice in such an environment?

I know what you’re saying, but frankly I have more important things to think about in life, like my parents’ health, my friends and trying to find good French wine in London. I don’t write music thinking about what other musicians do or don’t. For once, I don’t listen to much contemporary music at all. I am on my own journey as far as I’m concerned. I am aware that other artists who formerly were known for doing electronic or even more traditional guitar-based music are going towards composition; and actually, the opposite is true too. I think that’s great for music as a whole. It doesn’t mean all of it is good though.

I believe that at least one performance of the work is due in November. You’re joined by the Guildhall Saxophone Ensemble. Does this mean a radical re-arrangement of the pieces on the album?

No radical re-arrangement, some pieces on the record are already written for 10 different instruments, but yes a re-orchestration for 16 saxophone/woodwind players. It’s going to be great fun (and a lot of work until then). I’ve just done a first performance with a small ensemble formed of two saxophone players, one violin and one cello. That was really inspiring and I can’t wait to do more with them.

A question on behalf of the old fans; will you return to song format, at some point, or is this music now ‘where you live’?

I can’t say for sure, but it’s not impossible. I definitely would like to sing again. I love songs; it’s just not where my mind is at the moment. I’ve been playing piano and doing backing vocals for my dear friend Mark Fry. I love his songs and his voice, and singing with him, especially when we play live, gives me a very satisfying dose of good song writing. That suits me very well at the moment.

Would you say that there is one particular quality that binds all of your work together?

I’m trying to make music that is as honest as possible.