Mathieu Karsenti

Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin by Mathieu Karsenti by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

Many attempts have been made to define Ma in the English language, in aspects of philology, philosophy, poetry and other arts. It is one of those words that are rather explained than translated, resulting from a lack of parallel words in other languages. In his 2001 book The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher had these thoughts on the subject:

“Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modeled space. Giacometti sculpted by "taking the fat off space". Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses... Isaac Stern described music as "that little bit between each note - silences which give the form"... The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West, we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.”

In other words, the idea of Ma, along with a traditional Japanese instrument, sho, with its Aitaké chords (the standard chords of the sho) were Karsenti's inspiration for his album Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin. Violeta Barrena performs the solo violin part and is accompanied by various instruments. The music is built on the 15 traditional chords of the sho, each existing for the 15 pieces of bamboo in it [learn more about the sho].

Mathieu Karsenti has vast experience as a composer, and notably for film and television. His repertoire includes award-winning original soundtracks for the UK's largest channels and he has received both BAFTA and John Brabourne awards. Clearly, one to associate the music with imagined or real moving images, his works carry a very cinematic atmosphere in general. His previous work Cello Prayers for cello and synths as well as the EP Ichi also put string instruments in the driver´s seat and show the composer´s taste for mixing organic string sound with computerized accompaniment where one might expect an organic background. He creates an interesting atmosphere with his instrumentation and somewhat quirky.

Aitaké Suite For Solo Violin could possibly be the long lost Asian relative of the Assassination of Jesse James original soundtrack by Nick Cave. It is fairly soundtrack-like with a steady rhythm and a violin protagonist. It is easy to envision it accompanying an indie type of film. Barrena has a romantic, soulful sound and plays in crystal clear intonation, this is particularly enjoyable on the higher notes. In the second movement, In the Vastness of the City, she shows more freedom in the change of tone and different colours of sound. In general, the music seems quite strict on metronome, though –the protagonist walking with poised steps. The last movement, Back and Forth, is the one that seemingly plays the most into the idea of space between notes but apart from that, the music is surprisingly often dense with tone -making one reflect hard on the idea of ma.


Cello Prayers by Mathieu Karsenti by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

Cello Prayers cover.jpg

In the second independent release by Mathieu Karsenti, Cello Prayers, each short form track closely resembles the creative arc of an artist in the act of painting. Songs begin with singular evocative melodies, and then pause to explore other melodies or instruments, almost as a painter would begin with a few brushstrokes of one color before changing brushes to add a different texture or pallet of colors. Much the same, the pieces of Cello Prayers evolve over the course of each one in such a way that by the end, a rich and emotionally full painting is completed from the individual parts.

Cello Prayers, though offering only six tracks and seldom few longer than three minutes, accomplishes what some albums struggle to do in dozen-track albums with songs well above the five-minute mark: immerse the listener in a sense of place. The vulnerable and crisp bowings of the cello mixed with the glittering atmospheric backdrop of the accompanying instruments and electronic musical touches plunge the listener into magical landscapes, dark and intimidating conflicts, raw emotional connections, and elated victories, all without the concrete substance of a storyline itself. Paired with any substantial story form, especially cinema, Karsenti’s works clearly elevate the existing drama. However, on its own the music of Cello Prayers leaves us with only the abstractions, begging for a story to be told alongside them. This in itself creates yet another element of richness within Karsenti’s music, though one much harder to define.

As an adventure into the possibilities of music perhaps meant for film but choosing to omit it, Cello Prayers succeeds in creating a movie all on its own, and further allows the stories that lie within to be bent – even sculpted entirely – by the listener themselves. It is sure, though, that the journey taken by those who have the privilege to hear Cello Prayers is anything but idle; indeed, the gentle strings and curious melodies invite and even implore listeners to come take part.