Interview with Christine Abdelnour: I have to say that don’t like the word improvisation: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Christine Abdelnour. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Christine Abdelnour: – I grew up in Paris in a Lebanese family who came in France in 1975 when the war begins in Lebanon. They did not really integrate France and I was always surrounded by Lebanese diaspora. One of my pleasure of my father was to drive in the evening with the music full on volume in the car. He loved women opera singer and was particularly pleased when I was singing along with the music. So, I would say that my first emotions came with music through driving in Paris. I tried a lot of instruments : piano, guitar, clarinet, percussions when I was a kid and a teenager. When I was 16, I was so proud to tell my piano teacher that I wanted to learn a Keith Jarret score but he laughed at me and told me that Jarret was crap and he gave me Pierre Boulez CD instead. That was the beginning of learning contemporary music. I discovered a new way to approach music through sounds. Then, I discovered free improvisation and started my own experimentation on saxophone.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

CHA: – When I started improvising, I was as very impressed by saxophonists like John Butcher, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann or Mats Gustaffson. I was trying to play the louder possible.  At that period, I learned some sax techniques, just by listening some solo on cds and trying to reproduce the same sounds. Then, I felt more attracted by electro-acoustic or purely electronic music and I tried to get rid of the specific sounds of the saxophone itself. The more I was playing, the more I got fed up with the instrument and I was trying not to sound at all like a saxophone. So, when people ask me what I do, I tell them that my interest in music is sound. I approach sound on saxophone as a malleable material, rich in concrete textures which combine breath, silence and countless acoustic distortions. I don’t like how a saxophone sound. My aim was always to escape the instrument. I’m not sure if my aim was to go beyond the instrument but more go inside the instrument in his own anatomy.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

CHA: – I like to explore the microtonal aspects of the sax: breath, slaps, rolling techniques. Working with air sounds and unpitched breaths to see how the body, the air column of the sax react. Here, the sax should be felt like the extension of the body and voice, an extension of your own air and breath. The mouth is like the door of the body. It is a peaceful cavity surrounded with complex ways. It is not just expelling and inspiring but crossing the inside and the outside.

I also work a lot with frequencies : slicing notes, echoing sounds, “bright” sounds,  extreme pitch tones in order to create a phenomenon of appearance and disappearance of the sound, touching the silence, surrounding the listener and play with his ear, playing also with the space ( try to localize the sound :left right, up, low). Try to disturb and disorient the ear.

Then, I also work with the pressure of the sax : blocking the air column with a bottle that I put in the bell of the sax in order to see how the reeds and the keys react and vibrate. When the column is all closed, you have to push hard to let the sounds come out. It’s quite unstable with a difficult response, but every accident could be magical…

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

CHA: – I trust my influences and I’m ok if it’s coloring what I’m doing.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

CHA: – Working on focus and listening, being connected to the present . The main quality of improvising is listening. A deep listening of yourself and of the context. Listening is a tension and attention of the brain that compresses and interprets a signal. I am alert, in a state of suspension with what has and will occur. This position of tension/release of my listening instantly places me in a continuity of action and therefore in a gesture of composition and decomposition. When you listen, you don’t have to think but you have to open yourself and be available to what is happening, you have to accept the unpredictable things. There are no good or bad sound. If you listen, every association of sound is important. The connection to the present generates commitment, a total investment of the musician who must be convinced by what he’s doing. One of the brakes of commitment is the fear of missing but in improvisation there is no mistake. If there is an accident, you have to play with it, otherwise it would mean that you are not listening. So you have to let it go to be open! 

JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

CHA: – The duo is for me the easiest and the most beautiful group. It is like a couple which exchange. If you put four persons in a room, the conversation will be less fluid and more difficult. There will be alliances, disagreements. Improvised music is like a social network. Being two or being alone is sometimes easier. I have duos with Andy Moor, Magda Mayas, Pascal Battus, Andrea Neumann, Bonnie Jones, Raymond Strid, Sven- Ake Johansson, Chris Corsano, Mazen Kerbaj and many more. I like to work with visual art, dance, literature, poetry, as well as projects with noise, electronics, rock or free jazz.

I like also to play in solo.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

CHA: – First of all, I have to say that don’t like the word improvisation because Free improvisation is usually defined as an action that is created in the moment without any preparation. It presupposes a “mystery” in the interior of the musician since it does not depend on any plan, any writing. My angle of approach is to see improvisation as an act of intelligence, to see improvisation as a specific language with some codes. I’m interested on how the brain works in this music. When I play, I ask myself the question of how a sound will emerge? What is the purpose of a sound? Why what am I doing now will change everything? How to get in and out of the music?  I’m not just a body that feels music without any intention, I make conscious decisions that will build the structure of the music and finally its form.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

CHA: – I think listeners have predefined expectations. That they also respond to “listening codes” depending on the genre of music. I like to defy these expectations and generate surprises and disorientate the ear. Playing with the listener’s spatio-temporal perceptions. I think music is like humor. You have to know how to generate surprises and astonishing transitions.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

CHA: – I don’t know… I’m not interested by jazz but by sounds. I think it’s very important to learn the young people how to listen.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

CHA: – I’ll maybe answer this question when I’ll be 83 years.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

CHA: – Eliminate all the male musicians and be surrounded by very well paid women musicians.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

CHA: – I must say that I really need silence and nature sounds for the moment.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

CHA: – The importance of listening, listening to our self, listening to the others. To listen, you have to forget your ideas: you have to experience all the sensitive aspects of music. Knowing how to listen could change the world.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

CHA: – Nowhere, I’m happy with the present even if it’s difficult time.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

CHRISTINE SEHNAOUI ABDELNOUR - YouTube

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