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Louis Sclavis: Maps of the Mind

By Published: August 13, 2012
Sclavis was never cast in the role as leader on those Free Music Production collaborations, but when he does hold the reins, his way is another. "When I do my own projects, I am interested in building something quite strict," he explains. Two of Sclavis' most captivating works during his long career to date have also been among the most carefully constructed: first, Dans La Nuit, composed for the silent 1929 movie by Charles Vanel and second, Napoli's Walls, based on the striking street art of Ernest Pignon-Pignon.

Sclavis has composed a lot of film soundtracks, but Dans La Nuit was his first silent movie. "There are three different kinds of relationship, especially when you work with a silent movie: firstly, the relationship with the characters—you need to love them. Then you need to have a connection with the movie maker, the director. When he's dead, it's a very strange relationship," says Sclavis, laughing. "I tried to have a relationship—not a mystical one—but an imaginary dialog with Charles Vanel. And finally, sometimes you have to be really inside the movie and sometimes very far—to let the movie have its own life. You always have to change the focus. When I compose for a movie, I change the focus very often, to create a dynamic, you know?"

Sclavis presented Dans La Nuit intermittently for 10 years, an unusually long life for such a project. "I only wanted to play it in very good venues," explains Sclavis. "So I wasn't interested in playing it too much. If you play this kind of thing too much, it is boring." He adds, "These days, we don't play it a lot, but there are still some festivals which ask for this project." Napoli's Walls had a five-year lifespan, and Sclavis describes how he performed it "almost everywhere it was possible to play."

The discipline involved in such extended works as the two aforementioned and the balance between sound and silence are things that Sclavis has clearly carried over to his other ECM projects, including Sources. "I would like to use more silence, but I am not ready to use more silence in the music," he explains. "I use more and more space than some years ago, and now I begin to be able to do this on stage and to begin to think of silence and space as notes."

Sclavis' fellow musicians in the Atlas Trio—Coronado and Moussay—also exhibit a heightened sense of the use of space, and Sclavis is full of praise for them as well as for the young generation of French jazz musicians in general. "In France, there are a lot of very good young musicians, very strong players with a rich culture and big technique. There is a lot of original, exciting music," enthuses Sclavis. However, his optimism is tempered by the harsh realities facing musicians today. "The only problem is to find a place to play," says Sclavis, "because in France, like everywhere now, there is less and less money for the arts and fewer and fewer places to play."

Louis Sclavis Dans la NuitIn the 40 years that Sclavis has been composing and performing, he has witnessed great changes in music and the business of recording, promoting and marketing music. However, one of the greatest changes in this period, in Sclavis' opinion, is the situation of the musicians. "One thing which has changed a lot is the situation of musicians today, and this has a big consequence on the music," Sclavis states. "Fifteen, twenty years ago, when you had a project, you could play 40 concerts throughout Europe with your band. You could play your music often. You could really play it and develop it. It was possible to go really deep into your music. Today, you have 10 or 20 concerts maximum, sometimes fewer. So you cannot think about the music in the same way, and this has changed music a lot. You cannot develop your project as you could 20 years ago.

"My first group played together for 12 or 13 years," continues Sclavis. "These days, after three or four years it's over, and you are obliged to change because the promoters always ask you to bring something new every time—new musicians and new projects. I think it's more difficult for musicians these days to develop their own way. And there is a lot of homage to Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
, et cetera. And I don't like this too much, because when you are a jazz musician, you don't have to play homages; you have to create your own music. Now, the promoters ask you more and more to play homage to this and homage to that, or to have a special guest, a famous American guest, in order to get a gig. I don't want to go this way. I continue to try to make music as I want, though it's not always so easy.

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