Pierre Bensusan

Press Release

Ian Kearey:
You switched from classical piano to guitar at quite an early age. What were the reasons for this? 

Pierre Bensusan:
Coincidence and neighbourhood. Also my father was a big Django Reinhartd fan and offered me a steel string guitar. 

Who were you listening to at the time? 

PB: Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Cat Stevens, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jony Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, John Baez, Bob Dylan, The Beattles, Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Canned Heat, Django Reinhardt, Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Barbara, Graeme Allright, Maxime Leforestier, Boris Vian, etc. 

And how easy was it to get hold of guitar music in Paris? 

PB: My first big guitar Flash was when listening to Bob Dylan and then to Narcisso Yepes playing "Jeux Interdits" which I learnt by ear. Thanks to some record stores like "Quincampoix", "Musimage", and "la FNAC", you could get most of Transatlantic Records, Bluegrass music, Vanguard Records, Chant Du Monde and so forth. This is how I found out about Bert Jansch and John Renbourn as well as Doc Watson, Big Bill Bronzie, Robert Johnson, Miss. John Hurt, Gary Davies, etc. What a trip ! You had to work hard and use your both ears to learn the tunes of these great players, whereas today you can get just about all the written music you like... 

Did you go straight onto a steel-strung guitar? 

PB: Yes, 6 string first, 12 strings afterwards and then back to a 6 string. My first serious 6 strings was a Gurian, followed in 1978 by my Lowden S22 Lowden which I played and recorded with until now. 

Or (like many other young boys) did you go through a stage on nylon-strung or classical? 

PB: Never. It is now that I am playing a Nylon octave Guitar designed in Dortmund. I would like to play a nylon though and will ask Juan Miguel Carmona in Granada to build it. 

And was Paris in those days the melting pot of musical and cultural styles that reputation says it was (early World music)? 

PB: It is interesting to note that the French Folk revival initiated right after Mai 1968, but it came after the US and the protest against the Vietnam war and England in search of its roots. These 2 countries were the detonators. At that time, I was a steady Piano student but since 1973, became so much immersed into Folk Music that I didn't know or didn't see that Paris was credited in such terms. Already in the 60s the vocal group "Doubble 6" was re-inventing the polyphonic scatt jazz singing. Right after the 2nd World War, Paris was that major place for Jazz. This has contributed to the blooming of great artists, musicians, composers and singers. 

In my opinion, the world music movement has been emerging from several points at the same time after years of incubation in the west, like a reminescence and vivid testimony of the different ethnic group composing our western nations after decolonisation. The North American, British, Celtic and French Folk Revivals have helped lots of people to get aware of what is called today World Music, which is already a western original and compositional global approach using ethnics elements mixed with other musical elements coming from pop, rock, classical, jazz, african, techno, sound effects and so forth. In the Folk/Rock gendre, Alan Stivell was pretty much ahead of everyone else and helped the Celtic World to move and bloom. In France, we use the expression "Musiques du Monde" when we speak about ethnic music and its original patchwork progression as lots of contemporary artists use them today. "Folk" sounds corny I guess. Maybe the real inventors of World Music are people like Debussy, Ravel, Gerswhin, Satie, De Falla, Bartok, Villa Lobos, Berstein, etc. who were already then fully aware of the profundness and wealth of their respective cultures but also eager to discover and recognise the cultures of other people and nations. 

It is also interesting to poin out that acoustic guitar music has used the Folk movmeent vehicle to emerge and route itself. Marcel Dadi was reveling the Fingerstyle techniques of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and Jerry Reed while Davey Graham, Renbourn and Jansch were labelled " The English School" and offered a different strum. Steve Waring and Roger Mason living in Paris then also brought a lot of frehness to it. Dick Annegarn has a superb original guitar style to support his powerful and beautiful songs. I remember finding out about Martin Carthy in one of the 5 Folk Clubs in Paris. This changed my guitar approach. When the Folk mouvement diminished in amplitude, most of these performers would offer only rare performances in France, while they'd would still be present in other countries of Europe. 

I was myself educated into a very favorable musical environment within a family with very mixed origins all leading to the Jewish diaspora of Spain, Marrocco, Algeria, France, England, Persia... My sisters and parents exposed me to all kinds of different music even when we still were living in Oran (Algeria). I have since then always refused and run away from sectarism and orthodoxy, and always liked the idea of mixing so called cultural elements to the point where the origins of what is played are still noticable but no longer relevant. I was also enjoying organizing my own guitar music and always felt I could come up with a personal outlook on how to play without having anybody to tell me what material to play. This is partly why I never desired to take formal guitar lesson. I chose my masters and would hang out with their music until I decided to concentrate more on my own voice. My concern was to feel in sync. with an imaginary folklore which was a reflexion of my mixed origins, but most of all to incarnate my appreciation of what the earth is about with all its children. Music has always been for me an ideal refuge to go to and helped me to get often the sensation that I landed on the right planet, question I often ask to myself. 

Who first introduced you to DADGAD tuning? 

PB: Davey Graham, but to a greater level, my friend Herve Delord in Paris in 1974 who I jammed with all the time at the TMS Folk Club behind the church of St Germain des Pres. 

Following on from this, it isunusual for a guitarist who uses non-standard tunings to stick to just one of these: did you try others, and with what success? 

PB: Yes, I tried many others and even recorded with them, please listen to my first 2 albums Pres de Paris and 2 and answer for yourself to the 2nd part of your question. However, in 1978, I decided to stick with only one tuning and chose Dadgad. The album Musiques recorded in 1979 was all Dadgad. I considered Dadgad like most part of guitar players consider standard tuning. 

To be completly honest with you (everything I said before before was a lie), the tuning is not the most crucial element, the inspiration, the ideas, the organisation and architecture of the music, the feel, the grove, etc. are the keys. The tuning helped me to articulate, have maybe more fun and understand what I had inside that wanted to come out, but sincerely, I could have very well achieved the same or different results in standard tuning and be as happy in the process. Maybe I am saying this because I don't even notice any more that I am playing in a different tuning. 

Ian Anderson has just re-released Dave Evans's first album, and asked me to bring his name into the conversation. I believe he was an early influence, and made you a high-strung guitar...? 

PB: Ian did the right thing ! People need to know how creative and original has been Dave Evans musical and guitaristical stand point. More than a musical influence, Dave was and still remains one of my best friends and human references. We often jammed for hours on all kinds of traditional materials, were eager to play for each other our latest works and always looking forward what each had to say. He and Jacobien Tamsam, his girlfriend then, helped me to build myself as a person and a musician. Their house in Brussels was like mine and touring musicians were always welcomed. (This is where I met Ian by the way !) Every tour in Belgium was a joy because I'd get to see them. We shared many of the same loves for arts and life visions. In their house, I was introduced to Weather Report, Nick Drake, Egberto Gismonti and Hermeto Pasquoal's music, and my life has never been quite the same since. The album Musiques was rehearsed extensively in their home before beeing recorded in Normandie at the end of 1978. And it's no coincidence if I asked Dave to build my 23 Strings HarpGuitar. 

What other guitars have you played that you rate highly? 

In the steel string acoustic domain, some old Martins and Gibsons, some Colling, James Goodhall, Alain Queguiner, Franck Cheval, and of course George Lowden's own guitars and the production of his company who really stands out. Sorry for all the talented luthiers I forget here. (As an aside, I also switched to the Elixir strings a while ago, and think they are wonderful, particularly the way they keep their tone after hard playing.) 

Good for you ! Your latest album, Intuite, is completely instrumental and acoustic. Was it a conscious decision to make it this way, or did the compositions suggest this direction? 

PB: Most of the tunes recorded in Intuite have gone full circle from the writing to the playing mode on stage and touring. It was the right time to lay them down onto a recording, even if the title track Intuite was almost completly improvised in the studio. It also coincided with a time where I was tired of carrying my equipment and effects all over the place. This, in fact, helped me to rediscover the beauty and purety of my acoustic instrument. Each tune could have been exploited and looked at differently, in an orchestral or small group environment, or even a song context... The way I looked at it is that if the music works, it should work no matter the instrument. The challenge was to make it work on a single guitar being in fact a small orchestra, then everything is normally possible. Also because it was the first recording produced entirely by myself in my home studio, I look at the all experience with a special smile and contentment. Steve Rodby (who has produced Pat Metheny, Herbie Hanckock, Michael Brecker, Oregon and many others) has brought his tremendous experience in co-producing the final stage with me. The mixing and mastering were done in Los Angeles with Rich Breen, and it came out through Steve Vai's label, Favored Nations, for a worldwide distribution. I believe "Intuite" has been channelled in a very serene and gracious way from its conception until its delivery, and the final association with Steve Vai whose music and abalities I admire for years is the cherry on the cake. 

Will this be the form of the next album, or are there other surprises and developments ahead? 

PB: Obviously, my identity has been clearly re-established with "Intuite" and this is something I will naturally keep in mind when producing future works. At the same time, I have different facets which I am eager to use, take advantange of and present to the audience without betrading myself, but yet keep a sense of continuity, surprise and innovation. 

And how do you compose guitar pieces ? do you, as some players do, pick up the guitar and get the fingers and brain into harmony, keeping the results and moving form improvisation to finality; or is it a more formal process, starting with a manuscript book and the staves? 

PB: I mostly improvise with the guitar, voice or piano, or follow an inner idea. I then optimize that first rendition into a more structured form, which utimately in most cases ends up on a piece of paper prior or after beeing recorded. I also use the concerts to rehurse the piece, improvise, try new things and keep on building the piece until I am fully satisfied with its form. My main concerns being that it works musically. Often, the piece keeps on maturing even after been recorded, in some cases, I would record it again later then. 

I read on your website that youâre working on compostions for choir and ensemble; will these be released, and are they related to your guitar compositions, in that they use a wide range of influences and styles? 

PB: It was 2 years ago, I was comissioned by le Festival de la Cote d'Opale in Boulognes/Mer (North of France) to write a piece for a 200 piece children choire along with guitar and keyboards played by Jordan Ruddess. Working with children from age 8 to 18 was a tremendous experience. It has not been released as such but that first work will find extensions and developments in collaborations with vocal ensembles in the future. That's something my agents are working on at the moment in order to collaborate with amateurs or pro choires and small orchestras put together by music schools or regional organizations. I would not mind exploring the world of film scores as well... 

Which guitar players today do you listen to? 

PB: I draw my inspiration from many forms of music. But in the guitar world, my influences are many: Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, Doc Watson, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Big Bill Bronzie, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Ry Cooder, Earl Klugh, John Mac Laughlin, Ralph Towner, Jim Hall, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Schoenberg, Yan Vagh, George Benson, Larry Corryell, Lenny Brau, Pat Metheny, Andy Timmons, Egberto Gismonti, Leo Brouwer, Roberto Aussel, Leo Brouwer, Paco De Lucia, Pat Metheny, just to name a few... I wish I had more time. There are so many great players around. 

Are there any up and coming players, and who among earlier players do you think an aspiring guitarist should listen to? (I know this is an impossible question, but I'm a great believer in sharing influences and players...) 

PB: I believe, since Sabicas and Paco De Lucia, the Spanish Flamenco guitar world has seen lately some fantastics players to emmerge, I would recommand to listen to Vincente Amigo, and of course, listening to Paco de Lucia is a must. I am also very touched by Ralph Towner, Egberto Gismonti, Sylvain Luc and Pat Metheny. 

You have an incredibly busy schedule, it seems. How do you manage to juggle this concert work and giving masterclasses with finding the time to compose and record? 

PB: That's a good question ! Yes, it's a bit crazy at times but music is my life and it seems like I always find a way to organise my time, so that I can fulfill all my various and complimentary interests. 

And do you have any more collaborations, such as the one with Didier Malherbe, planned? 

PB: Yes, one with New York Keyboardist Jordan Rudess who currently plays with Paul Winter Consort and the Dream theater. Jordan will hopefully play on my next album. 

Who, in an ideal situation, would you like to work with (any instrumentalists or vocalists)? 

PB: Leo Kottke with who I played in Salt Lake City last year, John Renbourn with we performed about 10 concerts in the USA, John and I have a project of recording duets on French music, Jordan Rudess (Keys), Bobby Thomas (hand Drums), Emmanuel Binet (Electric Bass); Steve Rodby (Up-Right bass), string quartets, orchestra, choire, ethnic instrumentalists,... and of course very beautiful - and talented - female singers !!!... I'd love to work with Kate Bush, Tracy Chapman, ... 

(This question is optional, but might be fun) The BBC radio programme "Desert Island Discs" asks people to select eight pieces of music that they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. What would be your 8 pieces of music ? 

PB: - Self Portrait in 3 colours (Charlie Mingus)
- Santinela (Milton Nascimento)
- Libera Me (Gabriel Faure's Requiem)
- Canson Del Amor (Paco De Lucia)
- Sicilienne (Bach interprated by Dinu Lipatti)
- Les Barricades Mysterieuses (Fran?cois Couperin, interprated by Lawrence Bouley)
- Highland Aire (Lyle Mays)
- Song Before last (Keith Jarrett, Koln Concert)

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