Pierre Bensusan

Press Release

by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers:

When did you first hear Bensusan, and what were your impressions of it? Did you know Michael yet?

Pierre Bensusan
I cannot remember the year but it was by listening to the album "Aerial Boundaries". Yes, I knew Michael already as we had met when we played a double bill in San Diego a year or two before that, and at the Milwaukee Guitar Festival, along with Leo Kottke sometime later. My impressions were that not only was I touched, but I could feel why Michael named it after me. I heard a lot of my world in this piece; but seen from the eyes, heart, and the perception of an artist sensitive enough to have captured some essence of my being and to have filtered it his own and very personal way. It was not me but him that he was expressing, and that was what counted the most. I didn't feel used. As I said, in Michael's case, he took the risk and succeeded. I could not have written this piece because it was clearly his mind and his interpration of me in a transcended way. I felt happy, honored and still do. It's one of the best guitar pieces ever written in that genre and even long after Michael's departure, it has brought lots of attention toward the music I play. I will always be grateful to Michael also for that. I remember asking Michael if he was going to perform it the night when we played together and he sort of eluded the question. I wonder if maybe it was because I was there.

What are some memories of appearing together with Michael in concert? Did you play much music together? What songs or styles?

PB: We have shared the stage 4 times over the years. The first time was in San Diego. I had heard lots about him and he told me that he was also equally happy to finally meet me after listening to my albums in a loop for weeks. I was impressed with his performance and so he was with mine. There has never been any sense of competition between us. We were both happy for what we had and admire and respect each other. We played together at the end and people went nuts. I remember we played some Beatles song and improvised something else. We had not had time to rehearse anything more accomplished, but we enjoyed ourselves. We never had rehearsed or planned to play together, it just happened.

We did the same in Cupertino (CA) a year later. I remember the atmosphere in the theater was so warm and receptive. Mike Marshall could not be there but sent a note which said; "To my two heroes, have a great show !" We played two more shows together, one in Oklahoma City and one at the Theatre St Denis at the Montreal Jazz Festival. This was the most amazing of all. We both had 3 encores. In Montreal, for some reason, we felt inappropriate jamming at the end. Montreal was special, Micheal and I got there the night before and spent the entire evening in our hotel talking with John Pattitucci - who was there with Chick Corea. That was the last time I really spent any noticable and quality time with Micheal. After that show, Micheal and I talked and decided that we HAD to get together in order to play a substantial duet for the stage and with the view of a recording. Our agendas being what they were, that proved to be very hard to do.

The very last time I saw Michael, we were playing in Buffalo (NY) in different venues the same night. Don Ross came to my show and asked me to join him to go meet Michael at his show. So we did and that was great. When we arrived, Michael had just finished his show and you could feel the sweat in the room. We spent a couple of hours together, drinking a few beers. I played some new piece I was working on for Michael and again, he expressed the desire that we play and work together. Destiny was not ever going to let this happen.

How do you think the compositional style of Bensusan relates to your music?

PB: Micheal captured some of my melodic signature and spacing in the exposition of themes. He could see that I had a Celtic heart at times, and so did he, in his very personal way. He also rendered alternative sonic qualities, not by using Dadgad like me, but by deepening another of his own tuning inventions. I am very sorry to say and to see that for some players, playing Dadgad or another specifc tuning is the key. For Michael, it was clear that the music and the imagination always came first; the tuning was only a tool and a means to an end.

How do you see the impact of Aerial Boundaries on the guitar world and beyond?

PB: Michael was clearly an innovator, unique, original, rich and taking chances. This album remains extremely present and current despite the fact that Michael is gone. His music is still there and so is his perception of the guitar among the guitar community. He invented not a style, which would be far too limited, but a manner to approach the guitar; an attitude, with a very personal sensitivity, true to what he deeply was. His tapping techniques, use of low pitch bass stings, his harmonics, his voicings, all these remain very present in lots of players today. He has been very generous.

Tell me about your piece So Long Michael. What were the circumstances of writing it? Were you conscious of responding to his music in that piece?

PB: The first time I played what was going to become that piece was in Chicago. It was an improvisation and if it had not been for someone in the audience who recorded that show (with my prior consent) and sent me a copy months later, I would have never remembered it. Once I received the copy, I sat down and wrote the piece. I remember it came very fast and spontaneously, almost as if Michael was suggesting to me the path to use. Yes, I was sort of aware of Michael's presence. Of course, the context being so different, it was not going to be to be a happy tune but it's not a sad tune either. Instead, I feel that I have accomplished a feeling of serenity and hope. Not once did I try to quote him or even suggest any technical aspect of his playing. But as for Bensusan, my sole intention was to recreate Michael's Hologram for a few moments and make that abstraction become my reality. I don't believe that music's first strength is to speak to our soul; I think it should first give an idea of the mental state the composer is in, and how he or she perceives the people used as an inspiration; a bit like what a film score would suggest and evoke when complementing the picture.

You, like Michael, seem to see your music in a broader context than guitar. Is that a philosophy you two shared?

PB: It's quite obvious. I don't know about Michael even if the music he played speaks for him vividly. As far as I am concerned, it is certainly not a philosophy but a necessity. This guitar is only an instrument and the only one I have at hand in order to express the music I want to produce and share. As much as I loved my Lowden and now my Ryan Signature, I am a music freak, obssessed with music, not the guitar. If it had not been the guitar, it would have been a different instrument for sure. And so it was, I played piano first, always sang, played mandolin, different percussions, bandoneon, wrote and still do for strings, choir and so forth. I use my guitar only as a vehicle. Very often, I have no idea how to play what I hear, so I work harder on identifying it and then learn it technically. I improvise and write a lot and let the music tell me its own story when I hear it for real, produced under my fingers. I am its first listener. Ultimately, my only intention is to hear it loud, thus all the complex operations and processes, from birth to recording. Once I hear it, my heart is content and I could very easily never play it again and move on. The reality of touring and playing concerts doesn't allow this, so I try to renew the tune, look at it from different angles, let it breathe, take different paths and faces. That's also rejuvenating and gets me to think. I would add that nothing can compare with the stimulation of playing in front of an audience and Micheal had a unique charisma when playing Live.

I will also add something out of context: my friend, Daney Dawson, comes from Mendocino and used to teach music to Michael's two children. I also met Micheal's mother and brother when along with George Winston and Michael Manring, we played a memorial concert in New York City. I still have a powerful memory of that event.



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