The Camac Voice of February is one of the artists who recently performed at Camac Ibérica’s birthday party in Madrid: François Pernel. The extract now playing on camac-harps.com is part of François’s own arrangement of J S Bach’s first cello Suite. The cello suites are tricky to bring off on the harp – perhaps because of the very different colour of bowed cello bass notes – and it’s impressive to hear this one, the most famous, so successful on the lever harp. If you like that, check out François’s SoundCloud page, where you'll find everything from a Vivaldi-based classical waltz mix, to "Irish groove", "Celtic Breton jazz", and "Rachman'hip'hop".
Despite the sound of its name, traditional music is an exceptionally creative medium, adapting and adopting whatever musical styles it finds and likes. In the lever harp world alone, you’ll find so-called “Celtic” music (itself native to at least five different countries and traditions) married to classical, jazz, world music, rock, pop, electronica and the avant-garde. With its spirit of constant discovery, this music is anything but entombed in aspic, and proves that tradition is as much a question of individual talent as anything else.
François Pernel is one of the lever harp’s most individual talents. Composer, arranger, performer and teacher, his music is distinguished by a particularly skilful appropriation of diverse influences. He has released more than a dozen albums - which you can order here, or download as MP3s - from his composition ‘Gnossienne’ in homage to Eric Satie, to his album ‘Harpe Corps’, on which all the tracks feature amplification and sound processing in one way or another.
I think you have to accept that your musical consciousness is made up of a tissue of influences. In that web, you might find early Messiaen, late Messiaen, Radiohead, Björk, Scriabin, Chopin…I refuse to make a distinction between musique savant and pop, or any other type, or to call one is better than the other. There is good and bad music in every genre, and if you profess that you prefer classical music because that is some kind of sign that you have cleverer, superior taste, all you’re doing is showing your insensitivity to other forms. Take the fantastically complex rhythms in variety music, for example. They’re inspired.
I also find a lot of creative resources in the sound of the harp itself. I work a lot with amplification and sound processing. When I do, I’m trying to experience music from a sound engineer’s point of view, that is, to understand it in terms of different frequencies.
The other thing I really like to do is use the Ischell pickup + air mic double system. This gives me a sound that is very close to the acoustic sound of the the harp, but minimises the feedback that tends to happen when you amplify an acoustic harp normally. The harp’s wood has a natural resonance with, through this double microphone system, is given a sort of layered richness of sound, rather than simply being made louder. My album Harpe Core is entirely recorded using this Ischell system.”
François’s next album, with his harp / bass duo Oak Ink, is now being mixed, and will be released at the beginning of March. All the tracks on this disc are François’s own compositions, and it promises to be another source of surprising new ideas and inspiration. “I’ve really tried to use the harp in a decidedly non-harpistic way this time”, says François. “Sometimes like a piano, sometimes like an e-guitar…and a very groove feeling, with lots of effects.”
“For my pupils, I’ve also written a cantata-ballet, which is my most ambitious teaching project to date! Based on Greek mythology, I’ve composed it for choir, vocal soloist, chamber orchestra, dancers – and harps. This will be performed from April 6th – 8th.
I like teaching very much. Every student is unique – some are very comfortable with Irish music, some like waltzes, some classical music, some need scores to learn happily, others more videos and recordings, and it’s the teacher’s job to recognise and work with everyone individually so they can reach their full potential. I also love the fact it’s a fifty-fifty exchange. You’re not a teacher without students, the students make the teacher as much as the teacher develops the students.
Just as every student is unique, so is every musician unique, and that’s what you have to give voice to if you want a big career. If you play the same pieces as everyone else, it’s difficult to make yourself stand out unless you happen to play them the best in the world. If you feel where the music is that you really love, and go for that, while also being aware of the market, I think that’s the sort of vision musicians need to have. If you do something singular with your personality that also touches others, people should sit up and take notice.”
We like François’s music so much, we’ve got a special CAMAC VOICE GIVEAWAY. We have:
ONE COPY of his extensive book "Autre chose pour harpe celtique". This is a major collection of lever harp music, now available from ouronline boutique! And when I say major - check out the list of contents below.
THREE COPIES of his Harpe Corps album (that’s the one with the Ischell microphones, also available from our boutique). This is currently available here, directly from François's site (soon, we will also be stocking the CDs, but right now they're on order, so you'll get one quicker directly from François).
To enter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address, and something to tell us whether you would prefer book or CD - something like “yes! Mais oui! Please send me an amazing recording / book by François Pernel”.