Interview with Gustavo Beytelmann

Philippe Teissier du Cros – Which part of your own music comes from academic music and which other comes from popular music?

Gustavo Beytelmann – Hard one! I think that today, all of that got deeply mixed up. I began to play popular music when I was 11, as much as I can remember. My father was a good jazz musician and an excellent tango musician, and he played the violin in amateur. My parents discovered I had good ears, and when I was about 4 or 5, I started to play the piano, and my father told me: “It is the wrong tune, start again!” But soon I was able to play the whole repertoire he liked : Duke Ellington’s pieces, tango, and I started to mix everything … When I was a teenager, I really thought I would become a jazz musician because I had discovered Thelonious Monk, who deeply-moved me when I was 12 or 13. And then, I fell in love with classical music … I never could untangle all of the multiple threads! Which thread belonged to classical, which to jazz, which to tango … When I was in my 30s, I frequented pop, rock, cinema music, jazz, jazz-rock, tango, folk music … I felt a very deep necessity to reunite all of this into one only thing. There would not be anymore so much rooms in the same house, I wanted to hang around in there as if there was one room only. I did not figure it out very quickly, but I felt, in an intense way, this violent desire within me. Time has passed now, I am lost in thought, but I feel more calmed than 30 years ago, for I think having found a good synthesis when I say that all of this, totally I mean, is me.  I could imagine a very large mirror made of multiple shards, and those shards are not linked between each other. But if you take away one of these, the mirror is absolutely not the same anymore! So, I know it is fragmented, but I see my own face behind it; and I would not be able to tell you which shard comes from myself, and which comes from the others.

PTDCIf we talk about your link to the academic music, I think about Bela Bartok, who was a pianist. Do you feel proximity with Bela Bartok?

GB – In fact it is kind of funny you are talking about him, because two years ago, I was contacted by the Enesco Festival of Bucharest. The person who contacted me said they wanted me to come so badly because I was very close of Bartok and Enesco, who forged their own materials  and never gave away their origins, but always found a way to construct a complex identity with other types of music! I told myself: “They must be mistaken, this cannot be me!” But that was the way they saw me after all! It is finally kind of relieving to experience comparisons like that, because you are feeling a little bit less lonely … and a lot less original!

PTDCWhat it the type of relationship you have with modern composers?

GB – When I was younger, I had a fluid exchange with composers of my own generation, but with older ones too. It is very curious though, that recently (and I cannot say I decided it either…) the world slipped away to become my world. And unfortunately, this is not a formula! And now, contacts with them are more spaced out. There is one link to which I give a greater role nowadays, it is the link I have to youth, and it does affect me much more than the reality seen by my contemporaries. That’s a true affirmation that the reality of the youth affects me deeply.

Ugo-James GrillisDoes that mean that the actual types of music affect you?

GB – I have much more contacts with younger ones and I am much more interested in them than a 65 years old composer for example! I lost a bit of interest in my contemporaries because this is a well-known field, and I am more concerned about learning new things you see!

UJG So your preferences go in exploring uncharted territories?

GB – That is right, this is a way of seeing things. In my professional sphere, and though I already faced fierce criticism on multiple times, I tried not to live in an ivory tower, to always be open-minded. This directly concerns my experience with Gotan Project for example. I took part in this as a pianist and an arranger for the 3 albums they made. Or in Catherine Ringer’s next album too for example. You can hardly imagine the same guy who plays “Fuimos”, playing in a Catherine Ringer’s album, can you? And yet! I am not setting a comparison between Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, but I want to try to keep all the doors and windows wide open!

PTDCHas the relationship between Gustavo the pianist and Gustavo the composer changed or evolved?

GB – That is an excellent one! When I was young, I had this crazy idea shared by a lot of people: I desired a great compatibility between those two, rise both of them on a professional stage and on and on and on … The time I took to develop my technique and the time I took to develop my composing skills came up with one certitude: that I had to represent an idea induced by the composition with the 10 fingers related to the technique! What I do mean, it is that I am an interpreter who works with ideas, and not with the muscle. That was a serious point of no return when I realized that the only way to keep a play fresh and new was to interprete an idea. And that is the main reason why I do not leave improvisation, and surely one of the reasons we are together today. Philippe [Teissier Du Cros ed.note] knows me, and I assume that he perfectly knew I would improvise when he asked me to take part in the Architekt of Sound project.  And I felt a lot of pride for it! From my point of view, the musician’s one and not the composer or interpreter, improvising is the key. This is always a come and go which actually teach you something. Improvisation is the key to find equilibrium, and you learn from equilibrium, a lot! When I am writing, I am not improvising, and when I am improvising, I am not composing! The image of the house I mentioned earlier can be perceived as a lair, it would be closer to the feeling I get from it. This lair is builded through the years, and it is here to help you operate a quick switch from worlds, ideas, forms or materials to another … There is a true relationship between the piano and the art of composing, a relationship perpetually evolving.  But you could refuse it and say “I am composed of multiple personalities, I am a definitely fragmented self”. In this way, I am trying to be a lot less ambitious, I’m trying to touch unity using the different means of expression I have at my disposal. The paper and the piano have their own laws.

UJGNone is dominating, they are complementary!

GB– Exactly! And that is the reason why I like the metaphor of the fragmented mirror. There is a lot of things coming and going among the shards, but you can still see your own face behind it. This is a life experience, and if I may say so: this may be more flagrant concerning the artists. I am composing as if I were an academic composer, though I am not! I may be composing following the rules, but I have to improvise after. I have to improvise pretending I do not know how to compose.

UJG – I wanted to talk a bit about “Tiempo Argentino” … How much this band was crucial in your musical constitution? Would you perceive it as a cornerstone now?

GB – That links us directly to your first question in fact! Back in the days, I felt a great desire to assemble all of the “shards” in a big one, and one only. Tiempo Argentino is directly linked to it. It was a kind of lab. This was the first time I tried (and my colleagues did not know about it) to mix up classical forms with popular pieces. My first pretty serious experiments were done with Tiempo Argentino! This was very important back in the days, and this is so much important to remember it! It’s a very good thing that you are making me remind of these days, and it proves that everything has an origin, somewhere, at a certain point of time. Many things are not as vague as they seem to be finally. Tiempo Argentino was the starting point of a trajectory; my own trajectory. This is precisely why this reminiscence is very precious.

UJGOk Gustavo, the last one comes from Raphaël [Jonin ed.note]. How would you define Architekt of Sound? How do you perceive it as a label?

GB – If there’s one thing I totally agree with, it is the denomination. The noun is very well chosen because of the rare adequation that subsists usually between forms and content. In the particular case of AoS, there is, definitely, an adequation! I was seduced by the approach, and much more by the link between the artists and the founders. I took pride from being chosen because I know, all too well, that this choice is particularly difficult, it appeals ambition, excellency, musical research and experimentation, it is demanding on a high level … I said yes immediately when Philippe took contact with me ! And when I saw the first recording sessions of Bruno Chevillon, with the sound and visual, I understood that the project was very serious. I am very proud and very happy to be a part of this, of this label. I truly think that it requires bravery and a great sense of the musical art, we have to respect the direction taken by the founders.

We thank Gustavo Beytelmann for his kindness and wisdom. We share this interview with a great deal of pleasure. 

Ugo J. Grillis & Philippe Teissier du Cros

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