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15 Questions to Jacob Heringman

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi to you too! I'm well, thank you! I'm at my desk in my house in Streatham, South London, in a chaotic room strewn with the contents of the desk drawers which my 19-month old daughter, Edie, has emptied. And now, some time later, as I go back and reread this, I'm on a train returning home from filming a scene about Anne Boleyn and her sister with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. A lutenist's life is varied!

What's on your schedule right now?
I have a mixed bag of things on my schedule, because my life has a number of strands to it at the moment. The thing that probably takes the most time just at the moment is looking after my daughter, because this happens to be a busy time for my wife (Susanna Pell, of Fretwork and The Dufay Collective), and we try not to be working at the same time. The second strand is of course music. I've just returned from a concert with the singer Jennie Cassidy and the multi-instrumentalist Philip Thorby in Somerset, England. Before that I was writing a list of my 10 "Desert Island Cds" for Goldberg Magazine. Before that I was at Air Studios in London recording a lute track for an album of arrangements produced by Peter Asher. I will soon be off to Copenhagen to teach and perform and give a talk at an Early Music course. After that I'll be in the Granada Festival in Spain, followed by the York Early Music Festival in England. And so on.... The third strand is the Alexander Technique. I qualified as a teacher of the Technique two years ago, and I do some teaching (I'm particularly interested in helping musicians who have developed physical problems There are many!), and I occasionally give talks, and I do my best to remain somewhat immersed in the work by having lessons myself and attending workshops. The A.T. has transformed my music-making, and my life.

You're one of the artists on the Magnatune label. What attracted you to their basic premises?
I like the idea of giving the artist a fair return for his or her work, and the idea that the copyright remains the property of the artist, which it should, of course. In fact, the last two record labels I've made solo CDs for follow this practice as well: Robert Fripp's Discipline Global Mobile label released two of my discs, and, after that, Avie (based in London) released three more. In all cases, I own the copyright. I also like the fact that Magnatune assumes that most people out there have integrity and are willing to pay a fair price for music. A surprising number of people who download my music from pay more than the minimum recommended amount when they buy the music. And, I'm a great believer in not pigeon-holing the genres Magnatune offers many kinds of music, not just one style or genre.

One of the ideas of Magnatune seems to be that you can sometimes only truly assess the value of music AFTER you have listened to it several times (instead of after you've bought it). Is that something you can relate to?
Yes. Speaking personally, some music has an immediate impact, but, more often, it takes time. Again, speaking personally, some particular albums or pieces of music mean a lot to me because of the context in which I got to know them. That's really about living with the music for a period of time.

The most basic question: What does music mean to you?

This is not a question that I can give a complete answer to. I can give an answer, and it will probably be quite different from an answer I might give next week, or an answer I might have given last week. My answer will reflect some aspect of the question which happens to be foremost in my mind at this moment.

For me, music is a way of approaching another time, another place, another point of view, another world. When I listen to or play or study a piece of music from 500 years ago, if I approach it with an open mind and a minimum of baggage, and if I'm really prepared to listen, I have the chance  to learn something about another world. When I listen to a piece of music from the other side of the globe, the same applies. When I study the work of another musician from my own culture, still the same applies. Thus, for me, music is a way to get beyond myself, and to explore and perhaps understand and build a bridge to the most secret, the most hidden, the most private, the most foreign universes. Music communicates with much greater depth and subtlety than words can. I am not religious in any conventional sense, but the most profound religious music by Bach and Josquin makes me see through their eyes and to feel something of what they felt. When I hear the most hypnotic Sufi music I join the Sufi brotherhood. As a musician, I feel that playing gives me an outlet to communicate things which I would have no other way of communicating. It's self-expression. But equally it's a means of understanding what is different from myself.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What's your approach to performing on stage?

My views on this have changed a lot in the last ten or eleven years, since I got interested in the Alexander Technique. As a younger musician, I had a relatively narrow view of this question: if I could play all the right notes in the right order and not make too much of a fool of myself and maybe even be impressive, I was happy. Now, I see things differently: I'm very interested in communication, and I believe that a performance which communicates nothing is worth nothing. When I am performing live, a number of factors occupy my attention equally: there is, of course, the music itself (and the instrument and its technique); there is the audience; there is my own state; there is the performance space. My attention is very much on the quality of my own "use" (as we Alexander Technique people say), the quality of my own psychophysical state -- on communicating the music as purely and truly as I can, and on maintaining an awareness of the audience and the room.

What's your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

I feel strangely outside of the music scene, and don't really feel able to comment on this. I think there is a crisis in the sense that it appears to me that being a musician who remains true to music is virtually incompatible with making a living. I am very much turned off by the commercial aspects of being a musician, and I'm not willing to make the necessary compromises in order to be financially successful. But perhaps it's always been so....

Imagine a situation in which there'd be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions Would that be an improvement to the current situation?
This is how it was in the time of the music which most occupies me: the renaissance. Writing a piece based on someone else's music was not theft. On the contrary, it was a tribute. Yes, I think in some ways it might be an improvement.

Some feel there is no need to record albums any more, that there is no such thing as genuinely "new" music. What do you tell them? Is "new" an important aspect of what you want your pieces to be?
I think novelty in intself is worth nothing. The best music, of whatever era, is timeless -- it is always new.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a poltical/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
I think that is up to the artist. However, I would point out that all art, like it or not, has either a direct or an indirect political/social aspect. If you refer back to what I said when you asked what music means to me, you'll note that I said that music is a way to learn about other worlds. Insofar as music can take us beyond our own horizons, it can greatly enrich us and humanise us. This has profound political/social implications.

I believe that a culture which does not value music and the other arts is in mortal danger.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?

The theme of my festival would be "Bridges to Faraway Worlds". It would be a festival which brings together various kinds of music which are not often heard together. -- The "faraway worlds" referred to in the title are: worlds far away in time (12th-century Paris, for instance, or Venice around 1500), worlds far away in space (African drumming? Virtuoso Pipa music?), and worlds far away in thought (Partch? Moondog?). It would not be about synthesising or amalgamating these worlds, but rather about enjoying and learning from each one of them on its own terms.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as �music�. Would you draw a border� And if so, where?
I don't think it's advisable to start drawing borders. They'll only be crossed. I would just say the thing that is often said: the same sound can be music in one context and not music in another. And, by the way, often when people say "this is not music!", what they actually mean is "I don't like this", which is an entirely separate issue.

Many artists dream of a "magnum opus". Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?


Solo and Collaborations:
Holburnes Passion - Music by Antony Holborne (ASV/Gaudeamus/Magnatune) 1997
Alonso Mudarra: songs and solos (ASV/Gaudeamus/Magnatune) 1997
El Maestro (1536): songs and vihuela solos by Luis Milán (ASV/Gaudeamus/Magnatune) 1998
Black Cow: Lute Music by Valentin Bakfark and Matthäus Waissel (DGM/Magnatune) 1999
Airs de Cour (Linn) 1999
A Renaissance Songbook: Philippe Verdelot (Linn) 2000
Josquin des Prez: sixteenth-century lute settings (DGM/Magnatune) 2000
Jane Pickeringe’s Lute Book (Avie/Magnatune) 2002
The Art of the Lute Player (Avie/Magnatune) 2002
The Siena Lute Book (Avie/Magnatune) 2004
Blame not my Lute (Magnatune) 2006

with Virelai:
Ther is no rose (Virgin/Veritas) 1997
Chansons nouvelles (Virgin/Veritas) 1998
Treasures from my minde (Virgin/Veritas) 1999
Sad Steps: New settings of renaissance poems (Riverrun) 2002

Jacob Heringman
Magnatune Records


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