Instrumental exploitation

When Christine Abdelnour plays her saxophone she doesn't want it to sound like an acoustic instrument, in fact, she doesn't want it to sound like a saxophone at all. The French-based Abdelnour rejects orthodox techniques and established sounds in favour of un-pitched breaths, spittle-flecked growls, biting, slicing and echoes. You won't hear a story when Abedlnour's plays, instead you'll hear a physical exploration of time and space, you'll witness the transformative relationship between the player and the listener. Primarily a solo artist, Abdelnour has collaborated with Kernoa Ryan, Andy Moor, Magda Mayas, Pascal Battus and many others in various tours and projects and loves to participate in the visual arts, dance, theatre and poetry. While Abdelnour won't define the music she makes, she has played within many genres including free jazz, rock, electronica and noise.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?

In 1997, I got attracted to improvised music. When I was young, I did a little bit of classical music on piano and guitar but it was too strict for me. Then, when I was 18, I started directly with improvised music on the clarinet and the saxophone. I did some improvised music workshops and then I entered the orchestra of Instants Chavires in Paris. The Instants Chavires was the place to be for that kind of music. I was going there two or three times a week to listen to concerts and I practiced there too through workshops. In that period, I was very impressed by saxophonists like John Butcher, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann or Mats Gustaffson. 

I learned some techniques, just by listening to their solos on CDs and trying to reproduce the same sounds. Then, I felt more attracted by electro-acoustic or purely electronic music and I tried to get rid of the specific sounds of  the saxophone itself . The more I was playing, the more I got frustrated by the instrument and I tried to find ways to escape the instrument. I tried to develop my own techniques and now I hope that I don't sound at all like a saxophone. I'm trying to produce sounds that are close to those of electro acoustic music but on a purely acoustic instrument.  

But sometimes, when I listen to music at home, I don't think about all this at all. For example, I never listen to improvised music at home. I don't listen to jazz and I won't define my music as jazz. I listen to all sorts of music, read all kind of books and watch all kind of movies. I'm not a fetishist of anything and I don't feel related to any kind of musical history.

What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?

My duo with Michel Waisvisz was very important for me. With him, I started to play with electronic music. His playing was amazing because it was not just flat and virtual electronic music but his body was really involved. His music was wonderful in rethinking music and the relationship to the body. So it has inspired me to play something different, like how can I sound like him with my acoustic instrument.

My duo with Andy Moor is also very special for me. It is the more improvised duo because sometimes I really don't know which direction we are going. Our music is very rock in terms of energy and quite intense for me physically. We play a lot with the presence of the amp, feedbacks, it is very electric and "no-jazz" but at the same time there is this kind of minimalist repetition and irregular rhythm. Our music is very open and versatile.

My duo with Magda Mayas, was also a big thing for me. Magda is like my alter ego in music. We sound immediately in tune, we are so locked into each other that it's unclear who's doing what sound. This fluidity in our dialogue allows us to bring together intensity and inventiveness, sharpness and softness. It is quite a unique experience.

My duo called Split Second with Ryan Kernoa is also fundamental for me. Our music is made of multiple frequencies, pulsations, interferences between different harmonics that creates the particular effect of  'beating'.  The aim is to let the listener perceive lines and shapes in the music, appearance and disappearance of vibration. It is all about disorder and confusion: the sound stands still and begins to live inside the one who listens. It is difficult to classify the music of Split Second.  We appeal alternately to sound techniques referring to minimalism but also, due to our work on frequencies, the drones or feedback of electro-acoustic music or even rock music. The duet unwinds a sound space combining sharp and low sounds, dense and continuous frequencies which evolve very subtly in time. Our music exploits the space in all its directions: depth, height, but also the invisible space of silence.

What are currently your main artistic challenges?

I would love to go beyond the idea of a simple concert. For me it is too limited and often frustrating. I would like to record more. I would love to be involved in a more global project in order to analyse how music can be related to theatre, visual art, literature or dance.

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?

In my music, I'm interested by sound itself but the important thing for me is the creation and the construction of a shape. This work in progress that will build the music is primordial for me.

How a sound will emerge? What is the purpose of a sound, its laws of movement? Do the musician create the shape or is it the shape which creates the musician? Beyond my work on sounds as a multiplicity of techniques, what interest's me when I improvise is to try to analyse how the brain works in music. I'm more and more against this romantic idea that improvising is only related to the body of the musician, that would just feel the music without any intentions. I'm convinced that the brain is also very active in this process, that it's a decision and a will that will conduct the music. When the musician feels or perceives, he is theorising at the same time and his brain obeys to some codes in a causal system.

Music is a language. Language has some codes. Moreover, music is a structural system or an organism where every sound interrelates.  Every sound that we produce has to be stretched towards a change in the shape or has to pass on some information. No sounds have to be anecdotic or useless. The musician has to be always in a state of mind of urgencies that results from the process of listening.  Playing when it's just necessary and being precise and concise. Less is more. I can't think of music without the concept of  listening: to listen is a gesture of composition.

How important are practising and instrumental technique for achieving your musical goals?

Practising is not so important for me. I must say that I don't practise at all. All my techniques are inside me. The more important thing for me is being in the right state of mind. Being focused and open in order to listen.

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