April 13, 2015
“There is no such thing as harmony in itself. I can't figure out what a chord is without a rhythmic life.”
“Music is vibration, you set something in motion, and in its turn sets the air vibrating and it hits your ears. To me that is what music is.”
“The core of it all is time and memory. Time + memory is rhythm.”
“Juxtaposition is what brings life into art.”
Marc Ducret (geb 1957, Paris, FR) was our guest at the Hochschule Luzern - Jazz Institut for two days including master classes/lessons in guitar as well as workshops in his personal brand of music theory. Marc incorporates many streams of creative expression, both as a composer as well as in his guitar playing which utilizes a wide variety of sound production techniques that mostly rely on his hands rather than the effect pedals so common with guitarists nowadays. Marc plays acoustic and electric guitars with 6 and 12 strings, fretless, baritone, soprano.
Die Gespräche werden geführt von Gerry Hemingway, Dozent für Schlagzeug, Ensemble und Kompostion
I was able to attend one of Marc's workshops prior to this music talk and experienced a significant moment of musical presence as he demonstrated a very basic exercise. The exercise was simply playing a major scale up and down but rhythmically in groups of three demarcated by a slight accent every third note. After explaining this he demonstrated it on his guitar and in this moment I could perceive very clearly the profound development of what was clearly years of integrating sound, touch, clarity, expression, and above all a deeply rooted rhythmic presence. The latter in particular is what often lies behind the richness and mystery of groove. Groove, in this case, can be described as an embodiment of how a player conveys with their hands, and in some cases also their feet, a rhythmic presence that has the ability to engage our shared physical relationship to music.
Marc described his early interest in music as benefiting from the golden era of rock and roll in the 1960s that affected so many people of his generation, myself included. Growing up in a suburb of Paris, his primary nutrition for popular taste was the geographically near British scene, which he heard mostly via the radio. He was so attracted to music that even as early as eight years old he would hide his father's radio under his pillow at night so he could listen to music while others slept. He recounted that listening to music and reading kept him company in his early years. Black & white American popular music (for example Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin) from the early 60s did not circulate so often in popular French culture (only via curiously translated French cover versions, popular with the Yé-Yé artists - for example here).
The first desire of being a musician came from the urge to sing the songs he was most attracted to which also meant accompanying himself on the guitar. Though he also wanted to play drums a crowded home situation and a lack of resources would not allow the chance to explore that wish. So via the songs he could sing, he played the guitar. In these times he learned everything by ear, as the only chance to observe how it was played was when he could see music performed at live shows. Later between 14 and 15 years old he found out about a library in Paris where he could listen to records and this opened many doors to the wider possibilities of music, with discoveries of composed music such as Debussy, Ravel, Bartok.
Meanwhile his father, who worked primarily as a police officer, was an influential force in Marc's early life. He pushed him in the direction of a professional career related to literature and language. This set roots for Marc's lifelong interest in literature, which has interwoven with his musical pursuits in more recent times. His command of English (often not the case with musicians born in France) related to his early attraction to archaic Elizabethan English or 16th century English theater, which he could imagine doing translations of on a professional basis. However music remained his central passion in the earlier years overriding his father's wishes
Around this time as a seventeen year old (having just started college study) came a turning point in his musical interests. A friend, who was the best guitar player he knew locally, offered him a job to substitute for him in a dance band for a short six-week tour in North Africa. This was considerably out of alignment with his father's wishes, but his mother intervened and made it possible for him to go. Four weeks into the tour, he and the group he was playing with realized they had been scammed by the person who had hired them (an unscrupulous gangster who made off with all of their fee), and so they ended up marooned in Tunisia, in debt to the hotel owner who had hired them and therefore with no money to get home. Unwilling to admit this to his parents he instead conveyed that things were going well as what was to be six weeks eventually evolved into nine months!
As it turned out, the band that Marc ended up with in this situation, a quite competent r & b cover band, realized that there was much that Marc was unfamiliar with as a young, self-taught musician. This led to the pianist inviting Marc to join him each morning when he went to the club to practice. Marc absorbed the exercises and musical material the pianist routinely practiced, learning by example how to practice himself. Meanwhile this group continued working in a kind of enslaved arrangement with the hotel, trying to find a way out of the situation they had gotten themselves into. At this point were they not only obliged to provide five hours of dance music but also background music for dinner which introduced Marc to another completely unfamiliar musical territory, the playing of “standards”. In the end, these nine months ended up providing Marc with a significant growth in his foundational skills as a musician.
From 1976 to 1983 following his return to Paris his evolution continued at a slower pace, while continuing to work in other dance bands, whom were less skilled and interesting then what he had experienced in Morocco. He eventually migrated to working as an accompanist to singers and songwriters as well as often doing studio work. By this point in his life he was depending on his living from his music skills, which meant that he sometimes found himself in situations where his reading skills were not quite good enough to manage the charts he had to play. But needing the work to survive he would find a way and manage to get the pianist or another musician at the session to play the music while the others were setting up utilizing his increasing ability to memorize quickly by ear.
Another interesting example of adaption based as well on what he did not know, was a tour with the Cornish singer Brenda Wootton who sung in the Kernewek language. Here he learned to play in many keys on the guitar without a capo, simply because he did not know or ever use one before. From this naïve gap in his knowledge he built another useful skill that would afford him flexibility in shaping his personal language and technique.
In 1986 he began writing for musical situations that he assembled to perform his music, often in trio or quartet configurations. Eventually in 1991 would come another important period of his musical evolution with his work in collaboration with composer/saxophonist Tim Berne. Discussing his work in composing led our discussion towards what music he found compelling and inspiring both as a player and a composer. The first example he offered was the George Russell work, “Concerto for Billy the Kid” by George Russell (featuring Bill Evans among others). Marc stressed that a primary point of interest for him was the work's rhythmic aspects as well as its thick multi voiced density. He spoke as well about what he termed the “community of rhythm”, which he also referred to as the sharing of rhythm that has the effect of breathing life into the vitality of the music.
His second example was from the composer György Ligeti, the 4th study of his piano etudes, “Fanfares”. When he first encountered this piece he had not previously considered that a classical piece could have a danceable aspect to it. Marc spoke for a while regarding the misunderstandings or limits people put on their relationship to music (partly by how supposed “experts” guide them), summarizing his comments later with this statement: “Style does not exist, its something we hang our narrow-minded-ness to, but style does not mean anything. We mean style when we try to cram our feeble or weak minds into something broader than we are which is music.”
Having transcended the various limitations he encountered in his musical path Marc showed us how he eventually processed his life experience into a personal musical expression that broadens our understanding of the endless openings music can sustain. At 1:22:33 in the interview (podcast) he offers a solo acoustic piece utilizing prepared guitar that introduces us to some of his sonic vocabulary and organization. His prolific output continues, and much of it can be found via online resources.
Gerry Hemingway (Oct 2017)