Guillaume Gargaud: 17 Compositions

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French composer and guitarist Guillaume Gargaud releases 17 Compositions, a compilation of acoustic guitar works that are framed by pitch and intervallic restrictions. Gargaud has systematically liberated himself from the constraints of his background in a straight ahead jazz vocabulary, while integrating influences from Messiaen to Webern to Cecil Taylor. His intuitive approach to seeking out different sources of inspiration has allowed him to cultivate a uniquely expressive voice.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 26:32
01Composition no. 1
Composition no. 1
02Composition no. 2
Composition no. 2
03Composition no. 3
Composition no. 3
04Composition no. 4
Composition no. 4
05Composition no. 5
Composition no. 5
06Composition no. 6
Composition no. 6
07Composition no. 7
Composition no. 7
08Composition no. 8
Composition no. 8
09Composition no. 9
Composition no. 9
10Composition no. 10
Composition no. 10
11Composition no. 11
Composition no. 11
12Composition no. 12
Composition no. 12
13Composition no. 13
Composition no. 13
14Composition no. 14
Composition no. 14
15Composition no. 15
Composition no. 15
16Composition no. 16
Composition no. 16
17Composition no. 17
Composition no. 17

French guitarist, improviser, and composer Guillaume Gargaud is a restless musician, exploring many different corners of the avant garde and mining them for essential components that he can then integrate into his unique and powerfully expressive musical voice. On his 2011 release, Lost Sounds, we hear music for layered guitars and electronics, painting a maximalist soundscape. On 17 Compositions, Gargaud strips the texture down, presenting an austere twenty seven minute collection of linked works for solo steel string guitar that excavate the space between improvisation and cultivated notated work.

In a sense, 17 Compositions can be understood as an exercise to identify and then codify improvisational tendencies. Gargaud analyzed his improvisations to discern his “obsessions”, as he calls them, and then established constraints on his playing to try and focus the intention of the works. By choosing a pitch language that prioritizes dissonant intervals, Gargaud created a unified vocabulary for all of the pieces in the project, while establishing contrast through textural, gestural, and rhythmic means. For instance, on I, we hear angular arpeggiations played freely in irregular groupings of the pulse. On III and IV, the focus is on overringing sonorities and harmonics, while VIII introduces the evocative timbre of the string bend and X integrates those bends with quick flourishes, glissandi, and trills. The final composition, XVII, is written with perhaps the most conventional texture, a mournful chord solo that features more triadic material than the previous tracks, and reads as a farewell coda to the intimate space that the previous 16 short compositions have established.

This is music that asks to be listened to with focus and attention – the contrasts Gargaud establishes between the compositions are subtle, intended to draw us in. The entire set unfolds as a meditation on the melodic and harmonic vocabulary Gargaud has set up, reinforced by a phrasing approach that is not wedded to steady pulse, preferring instead to treat each gesture as a gem to be investigated on its own terms. While the genesis of 17 Compositions may have been quasi-didactic (an analysis and conscious manipulation of improvisational habits), the result is deeply personal and expressive, a retreat to essential components of music making.

– Dan Lippel

Recorded and mixed during May 2020 at Le Havre Studio, France

Guillaume Gargaud

Guillaume Gargaud is a French composer and improvisational guitarist. He has played on some twenty-five albums, and has composed a substantial body of music for contemporary dance and cinema. He has collaborated with Stephen Grew (UK); Conserveries Mémorielles (Quebec); Burton Greene, Marc Edwards, Ben Bennett, and Jack Wright (US); Korvat Auki Ensemble (Finland); and many more. He performs solo in Europe, and in the United States and Canada. He lives in Le Havre in France, where he also teaches improvised music.



Avant Music News

Guillaume Gargaud’s seventeen compositions for steel-string, acoustic guitar are short—none is longer than a minute and three-quarters—linked pieces of an elegant simplicity. The simplicity is more in the concept than in the sound, which can be subtly complex; each piece involves self-imposed constraints that in effect attempt to convert some of Gargaud’s improvisational gestures into etudes centered on certain pitches and pitch relationships. And this is where the complexity comes in. For despite Gargaud’s focus on a paring down of material, the often-recurring pitch relationships that make up that material and that Gargaud introduces, elaborates, and plays variations on, are harmonically sophisticated and shot through with a dissonant tension that belies the rather quiet mood in which they’re presented. While each brief piece can stand alone as a kind of tone poem complete in itself, listening to the entire sequence is like seeing an object from many different perspectives which, taken together, give a picture of the essence of the thing.

— Daniel Barbiero, 10.05.2021

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