King of improvisation Louis Sclavis and Battambang's Phare Ponleu Selpak create music to accompany silent films at Wat Botum this evening.
© nicolas perrier
A diverse career
Passersby at Wat Botum tonight might be surprised to hear the sounds of European jazz and traditional Cambodian music emanating from the temple gardens. Inside, renowned French jazz musician Louis Sclavis and a band of 10 young Cambodian instrumentalists from Phare Ponleu Selpak will be joining forces to produce a score to silent French films. Having played music for close to half a century, Louis Sclavis's diverse career has seen him create works ranging from solo projects to soundtracks for visual art. Last week, an exhibition of photographs taken with his mobile phone opened at the French Cultural Centre, and on Saturday he and Phare Ponleu Selpak performed an improvised concert with a traditional Cambodian dancer. This is the first time Louis Sclavis has been to Cambodia - he says he is looking forward to combining two unique cultures through music.
How did your trip to Phnom Penh come about?
I have a blog with my photographs, I am not a photographer, I am a musician, but I just take photos with my mobile phone. The French Cultural Centre saw my blog and photos and [they] wanted to do something with [my photos] mixed with my music. But I did not want to show my photos and play in front of them. [The French Cultural Centre] wanted me to meet local people, artists or photographers. So we decided to just make an exhibition of the photos and to do a concert with musicians from here. We [are doing] two concerts, the main concert is to a French silent film and [the other is] with musicians and a traditional Cambodian dancer.
Do you think people in Cambodia will be able to relate to your music?
For this special project I don't play only my music, I start mainly from Cambodian music because the musicians I work with play traditional music. We start from Cambodian songs and I try to do something different, to put in improvisation. I do not bring composition. I try to bring something different, to use the sound of instruments in different ways. I take a traditional [Cambodian] instrument and make it more European. What I try to do is make a bridge between France and Cambodia.
How do you rehearse for an improvised performance?
For the concert we can really improvise, for the movie you need to be more strict because [they are] very short movies so we have to decide exactly what [music] we will play for each movie. Because there is little chance to improvise, this is quite prepared.
You started playing the clarinet age nine, how did you choose this instrument?
When I was a child I wanted to play an instrument, it could have been anything. I went to a little music school in my town and there was only a clarinet teacher. I think it was a good choice because I still play the clarinet, but mainly bass clarinet.
Is your family very musical?
They like music very much. They always helped me to continue to play. When I decided to become a professional, I was quite young, like 18, and they always pushed me this way.
Is it true you believe musicians should not be restricted to one style of music?
Yes, yes. All the young musicians - especially jazz musicians - usually are very open to every kind of music and culture. Since the beginning, jazz is a mixture between cultures. For me, what is most important is the relationship between the people; I don't care if you play with fantastic musicians if you don't share anything. It's why I chose the young Khmer musicians [from Phare Ponleu Selpak] because they are very dynamic, they want to play and this is more important to me, more important than just the music.
Who do you expect will come and watch you play at Wat Botum this Tuesday?
I don't know, I think when you play at the French Cultural Centre, it is more French people, European people, but the silent movie and the concert [will take place] in the centre of town [Wat Botum], so it is for everybody. I think that when the French people come it is nice, but this is more for Cambodian people. Everything is for Cambodian people, but it is easier for them to go into town than it is for them to go to the French Cultural Centre.
Louis Sclavis and Phare Ponleu Selpak will perform at Wat Botum this evening at 6:30pm.
Louis Sclavis' exhibition of images taken with a cell phone camera will run at the French Cultural Centre until the middle of February.
INTERVIEW BY BRETT WORTHINGTON