Jacques Bailhé is a well travelled musician. Something like that speaks through your music. Whether it is voluntary or an expression through art, you hear traces of it everywhere. He has travelled through India, Nepal, and Thailand in search for other planes of music. Just hearing any of his songs will give you that essence. This is his latest single, A Mother’s Tears.
Interlacing ambient elements, what was the real tale behind an immense track like this?
The sorrow that speaks
As so often happens to me, a fragment or phrase sticks in my head, either something I’ve invented jamming on an instrument or something I heard. I start exploring its sound or harmony implications, thinking of it as pure music, but almost without exception, as I develop it into a composition. I’m led by the emotions I feel in response to the music I develop and begin to imagine a story. A Mother’s Tears grew from a piece of melody from Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater.
We immediately associate that music with church because, of course, it’s a contemplation of Mother Mary experiencing the Crucifixion of her son, a defining event of the Western world—in many respects, the defining event. But none of that story took place in a church. It took place in 1st-century Judea, a city that socially, wasn’t really so different from our own.
If we recount the events in plain language, without religious associations, it’s a story that constantly repeats in every city around the world: a mother’s child is brutally, senselessly killed with a gun. More often than not, the child is innocent in every way—innocent of any crime, and still so young. We see images of this repeated on the news without end. A weeping mother cries out in unbearable pain, the “reason” for the killing pathetically meaningless and insignificant compared to the loss.
By our inaction, we allow this to continue. Our mannered sympathy and bizarre rationalizations do nothing to end this. We are as brutal as ever. That strikes me as hopelessly tragic. I‘d be overcome with despair, except for this: as these images and sounds come from my television, what I see every time is a mother standing as a pillar of strength, begging, demanding that we abandon antiquated ideas and uphold the fundamental ideals of civilization: co-operation, harmony, compassion. This dance marvels at the towering, inexhaustible strength of mothers—mine and yours—as yet another begs us to change.
I had to do something to try to stop gun violence. Since I’m a composer, I’m using music.
Channeling echoes of memory
Just the ambient opening can give you a cinematic dive into his music. As the strings and piano come in, you’re invited frame by frame into his mind. The notations seem to have the limbic character of a protagonist, and your ears are fixated. Dramatic confrontations are felt between the piano and strings.
Being a multi-instrumentalist, what is your primary mode of composition? Does it vary for each song?
Yes, it does vary for each song, but most often I begin from improvisation on piano, guitar, bass, or a rhythm. Some pieces have been written starting in notation from something I hear in my head. Even pieces that begin from improvisation go into notation at some point to help me work things out
As the layers start folding in, parallel melodies craft the tension. In an epic like this, you cannot bear to imagine the tragedy. In a case like this, it is important to mould the shoes of who you’re viewing the scene through. All the notes point to the sorrow at the moment, and each second is held for what it wants to transpire. Jacques Bailhé composes as though he experiences it all
What are the greatest lessons travelling in search of music have given you?
As Jean Luc Godard once said about filmmaking, “There are no rules, but you break them at your peril.” Learning some Sitar in India and Nepal taught me about structures and forms that are very different from western music. African concepts of musical forms and harmony, as well as different ideas about the use and purpose of music are also differ from Western ideas.
Wanderlust leading to art
All that and the historical development of Western music itself made me think about how genre and other aspects of theory are arbitrary cultural inventions. The 14th century French composer Guillaume de Machaut explored harmonies you can find in Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. My music freely mixes genre and conventions of form and harmony. It helps me to learn about those things, but ultimately, for me, music is all about emotion.
As the strings and piano narrate, the phrasing is what drew me in. This might be instrumental through and through, but just the modulation in the instruments creates the necessary frames of sound. As an artist, Jacques Bailhé takes you to the stage, to see these emotions in transit. It is a spectacular track that takes your breath away.
Are there some elements of memory you haven’t been able to translate as music? In instrumental songs, which becomes the most complex part?
Memory is a fascinating part of music. It seems difficult for listeners to understand a piece if there aren’t any signposts to let you know where they are, how things have changed, and point to where the composition is going. Those signposts are most often created from a melodic or rhythmic phrase: a lick, riff, or hook that restates part or all of the melody or a rhythm in some way. Listeners apparently need this repeated element that engages their memory to understand how a piece develops.
Your album Shiva in Flagrante was a brilliant work of art, something that borders every kind of sound. What is your next ambitious project?
As usual, I work on more than one piece at a time. I never know which one will be finished first
I immediately thought of Lés Miserables & Schindler’s List when I heard Jacques Bailhé . Both movies have emotional trauma depicted in its truth. You will not hear a better album than Shiva in Flagrante, his collection from 2022. This is a brilliant artist with virtuosic compositional skills. Follow him for more spectacular music!