David Jisse (1946-2020)

On 18th July singer, composer and radio host David Jisse passed away. Jisse’s activities were formative for my own experience of and journey into experimental music, specifically musique concrète and tape composition. In 2008 I got heavily into the work of Luc Ferrari, who remains one of my all-time favorite composers and artists, in large part because of David Jisse’s work. I had had a glimpse into Ferrari’s work back in high school when at some point around 2001-2002 I bought the compilation OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music (1948-1980). Having been intrigued by what I had heard, I began listening more closely a few years later. My starting point for further listening was David Jisse’s highly personal and engaging two-part radio hommage to Ferrari which he made as a radio host on France Culture, broadcast on 27 and 28 August 2005. Those shows were later made available via UbuWeb and from there I downloaded them, added them to my iPod, and listened over and over again for days. They remain a brilliant introduction to Luc Ferrari’s work characterized by Jisse’s many stories of getting to know Ferrari by chance as a neighbor (through finding magnetic tape in the trash bin) and developing a friendship and professional relationship with him. Since then I have sought out and listened to everything I could get my hands on by Luc Ferrari. For a long time, Jisse was also co-host on France Musique’s Electromania show with then GRM-director Christian Zanési and author Christophe Bourseiller. An ear-opening radio show characterized by eclectic and idiosyncratic playlists that introduced me to a lot of adventurous music.

David Jisse at the frasq performance festival in Gentilly October 2011.

David Jisse was also a musician: first a singer, then a composer of electronic music working for theatre and film productions while also making installations and personal sound works. In 2011-2012 I lived in Paris for a seven-month period and got the chance to see a performance by David Jisse at the frasq festival in the Paris-suburb Gentilly in October 2011 (I have reposted at photo from frasq‘s Flickr stream from the festival above). At the festival Jisse performed the work Cinémix (2011) – a personal reflection on his own cinephilia through sound. The work processed personal anecdotes and sound works by Jisse – making prominent use of the theme song that Jisse made for Claude-Jean Philippe’s television show Encyclopédie audiovisuelle du cinéma (1978). Back then I recorded snippets from the show (which I cannot seem to find just now unfortunately) and also wrote an impression (in Danish, originally) of that show. Below I post a translation of that written impression as a way to pay tribute to Jisse’s work and hopefully also introduce some new listeners to it. I have updated it slightly and improved the phrasing of it in English. La Muse en Circuit has also posted a statement here (in French).


David Jisse Cinémix (2011)

In its own peculiar way David Jisse’s musical efforts are deeply anchored in the institutionalized spheres of musique concrète. Jisse primarily operates in the areas of film- and theater composition in connection with the sound studio and national arts centre La Muse en Circuit of which he is also the director. La Muse was founded in 1982 as a national centre dedicated to and rooted in the compositional activities of Luc Ferrari and have since 1999 been directed by Jisse on the suggestion of Ferrari. The studio aims to promote ideas and compositional aesthetics that share a kinship with Ferrari’s practice while also supporting events that highlight and allow for the legacy of the INA-GRM compositional tradition to continue to develop. Among others, it does so through financial support to events such as the Audible festival in Bagnolet, which offers an alternative venue for contemporary musique concrète.

Jisse’s own musique concrète compositions – which are few – may be qualified as located somewhere between psychogeographical soundscape, cinema for the ears and radiophonic montage. In his work Mille vingt-quatre (2004), Jisse explored the soundscape of his childhood’s regular holiday location, the mountainous area around Les Chavants, located in 1024 meters altitude, a number reflected in the work’s title and length – 1024 seconds. In Jamais plus pareille (1986) – which I still have not had the opportunity to listen to – he compiled a series of recordings made on the Swedish icebreaker Frej that would go on to become the foundation for Luc Ferrari’s Prix-Italia winning radio documentary Brise-Glace – Et si tout entière maintenant… (1987).

Because Jisse’s own production is so sparse it was in itself a great experience to get to attend the performance of his latest work simply and soberly titled Cinémix. Having been located far away from Paris when I got seriously into the work of Jisse and Ferrari, it was not easy to figure out what he had going on based on his minimal discography. To emphasize the cinema for the ears tradition that Jisse operates within, it was telling that the performance took place in an old cinema. However, there was little left of the cinema atmosphere in the room which the performance took place in. The venue’s history as a cinema was highlighted in the foyer, but the room itself was bare, characterized by raw concrete materials without cinema seats and arm chairs instead spread throughout it. For the performance, Jisse had chosen to explore the room’s potential using an eight-speaker surrounding the audience while dimming the lights. In comparison to GRM’s overwhelming acousmonium this was a somewhat more modest dispositive, which gave the performance an overall more intimate feel than those at the French radio.

Jisse’s performance combined readings of personal cinema memories with sound collage work. Reading through a filter distorting his voice, Jisse would recount personal anecdotes of becoming acquainted with cinema from his notebook: the first time he encountered the Marx Brothers, MGM’s Leo the Lion and his experiences as a cinephile running through the streets of Paris from cinema to cinema to catch films. Although Jisse’s filmic references were very traditional and far from the absurd and funny genre film citations found in for instance the ciné-mix works of Radiomentale, Jisse delivered his anecdotes with great sensibility and passion making for an engaging performance.

The style of Jisse’s sound collages may be characterized as being close to other contemporary ciné-mixes, although without the tricks of a DJ conventionally used in some ciné-mixes, such as crossfading as a way to create rhythmic bridges and sequences. In this respect Jisse’s take on the ciné-mix genre seemed more firmly anchored in a poetry reading tradition centered on the spoken word which is not often encountered in ciné-mixes nor in musique concrète works. Though of course, there are plenty of narration-, monologue-based literary concrète works – take for instance Francis Dhomont’s Sous le regard d’un soleil noir(1982) – there was more of a live-feel to Jisse’s readings.

Jisse’s Cinémix also left the impression of a musical activity that is closely tied to Ferrari’s aesthetics and approach. What gave this impression was for instance Jisse’s way of processing film samples so as to try to enter the filmic spaces and play out himself against the fictional characters of the films. In this respect it reminded me of Ferrari’s Orson Welles-centered Madame de Shanghai (1996). Moreover, Jisse’s work was executed in a subjective, diaristic style reminiscent of Ferraris Far West News-works (1999), that make use of a distorted, pitched-down narrator’s voice guiding the listener through places, people and anecdotes.