Interview with Volkmar Zimmermann and Kristian Gantriis

When did you start playing the guitar and why? What did you study and what is your musical background?

We both started playing guitar as young kids. I started out ”classical” on the piano at eight before switching to the six-stringed at the age of 12 playing as well classic music as rock, jazz, folk and flamenco. Kristian Gantriis also first picked up the guitar at the age of 12 playing classical, but he also quickly acquired taste for punk and heavy metal.

What were and are your main musical influences?

We have very different musical backgrounds. Not least due to our difference in age. But we also have a lot in common. We are both inspired and influenced by various African styles and Argentinian tango to mention a couple. But actually, we also influence each other. We have played together for a long time in Corona Guitar Kvartet, so we influence each others sound. But we also both influence the musical room, we are in, and hence we both create and move within the framework, we two form together.

How did you get the idea to release your last album with Kristian Gantriis “Pinpoints”?

First of all, we wanted to avoid a standard guitar duo repertoire – anything but that. Initially we set out on a three-step-mission: First, we wanted to play tango arranged by our friend Pepe Ferrer from Argentina. Next, wanted to play arrangements of Danish Folk School Songbook classics arranged and recomposed by our friend Svend Hedegaard, who already wrote VIA for the CGK’s second album, Northpoints. Finally we wanted to record Kora-music from Mali. In the process, we decided to save the Kora-music for our next album, and instead play works that were close to our hearts and complemented each other.
Stephen Wingfield’s work ‘Teyatá’ was actually given to us after Corona Guitar Kvartet’s first Toronto concert, when we went out for a beer with Stephen – it took ten years for us to start playing it, but it soon turned out to work excellent with the way, we play together. John Frandsen’s ‘Nocturnal Processio’ was on our ‘bucketlist’ for a long time after I first premiered it at Copenhagen Guitar Festival. The three works by Frederic Mompou almost asked to be transcribed for guitar-duo, and Kristian was up for the task. But again: It was critical not to do a standard-repertoire.

How did you start your collaboration with Kristian Gantriis? You are a great duo...

Thank you. We have played together in CGK (Corona Guitar Kvartet) since 2001, and at some point it just seemed natural explore other musical areas together, than what we play with CGK. We have a good vibe together, and we know each other well. We have intuitive understanding of each other in gestures, timing, stroke and sound ideal, and it just felt like the right thing to form a duo.

The music in your cd seems to create a sort of ideal bridge between contemporary music and music from the past. I sometimes feel that in our time the history of music flows with no particular interest in its chronological course; in our disco-music library, before and after, the past and the future, become interchangeable elements. Could this be a risk for an interpreter and composer of blurring into a uniform vision?

If there is no risk, there is no point. There is no such thing as a historical flow in music. There is history, and there is music. We seek out the music, which fits into the space, Kristian and I are generating. Of course, you have to be loyal to respective ages and their musical practices, and there are genre- and style-conventions, which die hard. The challenge is not to dig too deep into one style or age or to think, that they are even linked in a certain way. Music is what happens, when music happens, and we set out to capture that fragile moment in the happening.

How do you express your “musical form” under the aspect of both, execution and improvisation? How did your instruments changed the way you play and think about music?

Improvisation was always integral to our musical practice. We grew up with a guitar in our hands, and we play all sorts of styles from all ages, which leads to a high degree of variation in the musical expression. And that calls for improvisation – aware of it or not.

What does improvisation mean to your approach to music? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as in the classics, or are you forced to look elsewhere and turn to other genres, like jazz, contemporary, etc.?

We see no conflict between classical guitar pieces of the great masters and improvisation. Of course you always improvise within a grid or framework provided. The framework or the context you’re in is always fluctuating, and there is a big variety of parameters, you can improvise based on: phrasing, order, tempo and so on. And then there is also a great improvisational freedom within the old classical masterpieces and the koramusic from Mali for example.

And what do you think is the “function” of a moment of crisis?

Any crisis is a good opportunity to move on and get going. So in terms of music, it’s very much a good thing, really. But we have yet to experience our first “duo-crisis”.

What are the essential five discs, always to have with you…the classic five records for the desert island…?

Now that is an impossible question to answer. Actually, I’d hope there’s a streamingservice available on the island … But for me Bach, should be there, Toumani Diabaté (maybe his Symmetric Orchestra), Tinariwen and Thomas Mapfumo, Warren Zevon, Pete Townshend, Fleetwood Mac. Tusk, The Stranglers: Rattus Norvegicus, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Julian Bream’s ‘20th Century Guitar’. Kristian would definately bring Tom Waits: Closing Time, Who: Who’s Next, Paco: Solo Quiero Caminar, Radiohead: Ok computer, again Julian Breams ‘20th Century Guitar’… But there is so much, and tomorrow it would be a different list altogether.

What are your next projects? What are you working on?

Of course we want to promote our new cd with a concert-tour. We are planning a “borderland-tour” at the Danish-German border. But we are also going to work on new material. For example the kora music from Mali. It has already been arranged for us by the South-African musicians Derek Gripper and Reza Khota. Then we have new material from American composers Hsueh-Yung Shen (including a piece for guitarduo og percussion), Michael Schelle og Faye-Ellen Silverman, that we are looking forward to work with. We also want to work on with new arrangements of what we call ”traditional folk music” – renaissance-music. We also very much feel like playing with an orchestra again. And there is a piece by Henri Tomasi for string-orchestra, flute and two guitars – it has a folkmusic tone to it, that we like a lot. There is also a Bach-project waiting, and a Danish spring tour with Corona Guitar Kvartet. And finally, there is the Danish-Estonian Five Seasons-orchestra, I’m in, that has a new album coming. There’s plenty to do, and so little time …

Last question: a few years ago, during an interview with Bill Milkowski for his book “Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries” Carlos Santana said, “Some people have talent, some people have vision. And vision is more important then talent, obviously.” I think you have a great talent, but … what is your vision?

It is tempting to quote the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt for the words “Anyone with a vision should see a doctor”. Santana is a very spiritual gentleman in that respect … But no more joking: We want as a duo to play some music, that is more immediate and intuitive – easier to access and less modernistic. And more focus on the collaborative energies in the music, we play together. We still have a base in CGK, but we also want to create a space, where we can get together in another more immediate “folkish” kind of way. And then once again: anything but the traditional guitar duo repertoire.