Anouk and Jos interview each other about Plaisir d’amour.
First, how they got to know each other:
Anouk: I played in the group ‘Wild Geese’ for about a year. The group is known to change musicians and in the year that I played with them it was mostly the fiddle player who changed. When I decided to stop playing in the band, we had one more concert to go and before that a rehearsal with a new fiddle player, which was you. I remember thinking ‘I would like to work with him’ and for a second I thought about staying on in the band, but I decided to quit the band anyway. In the next half a year the idea of starting a group together kept playing in my mind, and so I decided to call you and see if you would be interested.
Jos: ‘Wild Geese’ was a nice band, but too much of a ‘Celtic mash’ for me. That is why I did not play with them for very long either. The fact that you quit after my first concert with the band was disappointing; you were one of the reasons I liked playing with them. Your idea to start a duo was a gift from the starts, even more so when I look back now. You are a well versed, musically versatile colleague! And collegiate.
About the instrument the duo uses:
Jos: Lever harp, Celtic Harp, folk harp; you play a lot of folk music, traditional music and original compositions. Is your harp really a ‘folk harp’? Or a ‘Celtic harp’? Is it loaded to call it a ‘lever harp’?
Anouk: That is quite a hard question to answer. I think using ‘folk harp’ or ‘celtic harp’ mostly says something about the use of the instrument and the sound associated with it. It also gives you an aesthetic image of a small harp, without a huge pillar like it is used on the pedal harp.
‘Lever harp’ is a term that covers the instrument best; we use the term pedal harp as well, both terms describe the way the half tones are made. But saying ‘lever harp’ takes away a bit of the romance of the instrument, and I find that a bit of a shame. I like saying folk harp, it makes me feel connected to a tradition of other folk harpers.
Jos: To continue on that topic: you studied to be a pedal harpist at the conservatory. Why do you choose to play the lever harp in Plaisir d’amour?
Anouk: The sound of both instruments is very different and so is the experience of playing them. I once heard someone say ‘playing pedal harp is like sitting behind a type of machine’, and I can see her point in that. Don’t get me wrong, I still play the pedal harp and am happy to do so, but the connection I have with my folk harp feels a lot more direct. The harp is smaller, which is nice for transportation but also more inviting for both the people coming to our concerts and myself. It helps that I like the challenge of arranging things in a way that they can be played on lever harp, even if it contains changing many levers.
Jos: anything concerning the harp was new to me. I used to have a cliché image of a monumental angel-like instrument, playing lots and lots of arpeggios. That all changed radically when I heard you play the folk harp.
Anouk: Jos, within Plaisir d’amour you do not only play violin, you also play viola d’amore and bowed psaltery. Can you tell us something about these instruments?
For instance, what is the difference between violin and viola d’amore? How do you pick which instrument to play with a piece?
Jos: The viola d’amore was mostly used in the 17th and 18th century. It has seven strings and as many resonant strings. Although known, even then it was a bit of a rarity. I find the sound heavenly. The amore is modest and it suits pieces that are also sung. Just like the bowed psaltery, a sort of bowed harp. But violin will always be my main instrument. It allows me to express my feelings best and I can use my own rather unusual techniques for playing. The violin and I are one. I must say though, ‘violin’ is probably not the right word for the instrument I play: my instrument has five strings (unlike the violin which has four) and is a little bit bigger than a normal violin.
Something else: do you think that our instrument plays a part in the type of musician you become?
Anouk: Yes, I think so. I notice that you think of the violin as your voice. You have a very direct contact with the tones you make, you can influence the pitch with your fingers and feeling the distances between the notes makes the way you experience your scales and modes different. I think as harpist we miss that extra dimension, because all strings are evenly spaced and so we do not feel differences in pitch in our fingers.
Jos: Yes, as violinist you can feel every step of the scale. If you want to play a whole note you need to place your fingers further apart than playing a half note. This makes you able to experience how a key is build.
But the violin being my voice is more important still. I make a tone with two hands, with my fingers but even more so with the bow, and while playing the tone I still have control over it. With the harp, once you played your tone you have less control.
Both instruments have you grab the tone directly though; it’s like you are holding it when you start playing.
Jos: The CD is not only with harp and string instruments, we also sing on a few of the recordings. Can you say something about how this came to be?
Anouk: We were looking for ways to bring some variety to what we do. For ourselves but also for the people coming to our concerts. An audience going to classical concerts is used to listening to instrumental music all evening, they might enjoy going to a concert with a string quartet. But pop, and even folk, concerts are very much made up of songs.
Jos: We started out trying to add a member to our duo, by working with a singing who I used to work with in the past. But we quickly realised we form a unity as a duo, which made it hard for someone else to fit in. So we decided this was something we needed to start doing with the two of us. It was quite exciting to start with, neither of us are born singers.
About the age difference (we leave it up to the reader to guess how many years!):
Jos: We differ one generation. Does that make a difference to you in the way we work together?
Anouk: eh… not so much? You can use some old fashioned words sometimes, but anyone who loves language as much as you do might use those. I don’t really feel the age difference usually. Sometimes it comes up in conversation, for instance when you told me you were at the occupation of the Maagdenhuis in 1961 (a big historical event in the Netherlands), then I realise the differences in age.
One thing I do realise when we play together is all the things you have managed to accomplish in your life and how quite well known you are in the Dutch folk scene. I have a huge respect for your knowledge and skill and it feels like an honour to play with such a good musician.
Jos: Well, I am very happy I got some decades to develop my music insight and cleverness, but I also see it as a privilege to be working with younger professionals like you. And your skill and enthusiasm are a strong stimulus for me. You are one of my best friends and I do not keep any secrets from you. Friendship has always been important to me in working with colleagues and with us it is very strong.
Anouk: You have lived a life as a professional musician, and have been active in the Dutch folk scene all this time. You have played in many different groups; is it different to play in a duo than in a group? What makes Plaisir d’amour special for you?
Jos: A duo is certainly different. You cannot hide behind anything, musically speaking; you are always open and exposed. A duo asks for equality, to be honest with what you want to do yourself and how you experience the other person. This goes for any good working duo, but with Plaisir d’amour I have found someone who is musically likeminded, and a friendly colleague!
And then there is the repertoire. Two distinct musicians, with many differences, you would think tastes will differ?
Anouk: We both like folk and have the experience of playing different styles of music. We get together with ideas and see if the other likes it, in which cases we start it. Of course you have a big contribution because of your years of experience and you have a bit more time to work on things. We also play some of your compositions. Those compositions aren’t always easy listening, it can take a bit to get to know a piece well enough to really go for it. But your enthusiasm is usually contagious and I know I start loving pieces when a get to know the nuances, so I look for those.
Jos: I love making arrangements for us, so I keep coming up with new things to play. In practise we usually like the same things. And I love that you aren’t afraid to try my demanding arrangements!
Plaisir d’amour’s music is very diverse. Dutch, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Breton, Irish, Scottish, original compositions and songs. The common denominator is:
Jos: Quirky, defiant and eclectic.
Anouk: Sometimes dramatic, other times enthralling, always music that gets to you.
The CD is called Nachtvlucht (translation: Night flight), just like one of the tracks:
Jos: for many years I worked on the ‘brown fleet’, which are party ships. Everyone would be inside, drinking and smoking. Every break I would get I would be going on deck, to look out over the sea. Sometimes at dusk I would see a long line of birds. That is Nachtvlucht.
The CD just came out, Plaisir d’amour is starting a tour to promote the cd and is already working on new material. What will the future bring?
Anouk: Some new Dutch repertoire.
Jos: I lead some ensembles who specialize in Dutch music.
Anouk: We are also preparing some klezmer, and I am composing some music for us now.