A year ago I could not have predicted that my favourite concert of April, 2014, would involve a Dutch lute player. Though it is a disservice to Jozef Van Wissem to summarise him in those three words, they are inevitable. It certainly can’t be said that we are experiencing a deluge of post-modern arrangements of Baroque music from the Low Countries. And yet any serious music or film fan would have been hard-pressed to ignore him this year. As well has having released his second collaborative album with Jim Jarmusch (out of more than a dozen previous solo records), Jozef Van Wissem collaborated on the soundtrack to Jarmusch’s latest movie, Only Lovers Left Alive.
The soundtrack is what CPH PIX must have had in mind when they coupled Van Wissem with Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin, pioneers of 70s prog-rock horror soundtracks. Stylistically very different, the pair draw a mix of film-buffs and metal fans (for it must be said that for some reason most people can only appreciate Renaissance music in close proximity to chains and black leather), and if Amager Bio is not exactly packed, nor is the crowd thin around the stage.
As Van Wissem sits himself down under cover of darkness and begins to play, I am disappointed to find that his lute (a black mutation of a traditional one, having sprouted countless more strings) is mic-ed up. The venue isn’t huge, and his playing is compelling enough to command utter silence. But as he moves from earlier work to songs from the Jarmusch soundtrack, it is clear that Van Wissem is making good use of those microphones, altering the distance from the instrument in order to create hints of feedback and weird resonances. At one point he circles around the microphone, so that the audience can hear the lute unamplified. All his music is based on repetitions, and at first seems rather ponderous and alienating. Closer inspection (literally and metaphorically) reveals hidden complexities in the pieces, and the differing dynamics can completely alter the mood of a riff.
The transition, from this to the (regrettably) beefed up prog-rock of Goblin, is less than smooth. Claudio Simonetti is the only original member of the band, the other three being members of a Goblin cover band. What they lack in authenticity (beige-metal guitar sounds and bowling shirts all round), Simonetti makes up for in charm. With a wide grin he asks the audience: “Do you like zombies?” The answer naturally being yes, he reveals that by good fortune he happened to have written the soundtrack to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and is willing to play it for us now. For the next hour or so the band play along to prejections of clips from horror classics by Romero and Dario Argento, interspersed with jokes about the guitarist’s fly farm (a reference to Phenomena) and some vocoder problems during their rendition of Tenebrae (familiar for having being sampled by Justice in the song “Phantom“).
The highlight of the second part of the evening isthe theme to “Profondo Rosso”, which manages to out-do Mike Oldfield in terms of “Tubular Bells”-style eeriness. It is a song I obsessed about long before I was old enough to actually watch a Dario Argento movie, and it is odd that I had to travel all the way to Copenhagen in order to hear it live for the first time.