Jozef Van Wissem is a Dutch lutenist and post-minimalist composer who has been adapting via tablature and improvising on music written for his instrument circa 1600 A.D. His work has been commissioned by London’s National Gallery to accompany Hans Hoberlien’s painting The Ambassadors, and he has written the music to the video game The Sims Medieval. He won a Soundtrack Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his score to Jim Jarmusch’s 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive. He is also a prolific recording artist who has released many solo albums since 2000 as well as collaborating with artists James Blackshaw, Gary Lucas, Jim Jarmusch, and Tetuzi Akiyama, in addition to issuing albums on a variety of labels including his own Incunabulum. He tours nearly incessantly.
Van Wissem’s first instrument was the guitar. He studied classical music throughout his teens while being aware and a fan of emergent rock & roll sounds emanating from punk. In the 1980s he was guitarist and frontman for the post-punk/new wave act Desert Corbusier and a bar owner. Eventually tiring of the rock & roll lifestyle, he sought quieter, more focused music. Remembering the transposition of the lute repertoire for guitar, he decided to learn the instrument. He sold his bar, moved to New York, and studied the instrument formally with Patrick O’Brien, developing his own style of mirroring, via tablature, the canon for the instrument from the Middle Ages — beginning at the bottom left and finishing at the top right, inserting improvisation, new sections, and interludes along the way.
Van Wissem’s debut album, Retrograde Renaissance Lute: A Classical Deconstruction, appeared on Persephone in 2000. It startled listeners in Europe and the United States and won a surprisingly large number of press reviews. He followed it with Narcissus Drowning in 2002. In 2003, Van Wissem recorded Diplopia, his first collaborative album with Lucas. It was the first of six for Willem Breuker’s BVHaast label that also included Simulacrum: Mirror Images for Solo Lute and Electronics, issued the same year, The Universe of Absence with Lucas and Proletarian Drift with Akiyama in 2004, the solo Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear in 2005, and A Rose by Any Other Name: Anonymous Lute Solos of the Golden Age, which was the debut from Incunabulum in conjunction with BVHaast in 2006. A further collaboration with Akiyama was released by Van Wissem’s label in 2007 entitled Hymn for a Fallen Angel; the solo Stations of the Cross appeared as well. In 2008, Van Wissem and Blackshaw recorded the first of two albums as Brethren of the Free Spirit, The Wolf Shall Also Dwell with the Lamb (via Important) and All Things Are from Him, Through Him and in Him (through audioMER). He also released his solo album A Priori via Incunabulum.
Van Wissem’s reputation was spreading far and wide. He was regularly reviewed not only by the independent music press, but his international live appearances were reviewed by television and radio and in print. Between 2009 and 2011, he released three more albums with Important: It Is All That Is Made, Ex Patris, and The Joy That Never Ends. Van Wissem began recording collaboratively in 2011. Suite the Hen’s Teeth with Smegma and Downland with United Bible Studies both appeared. His recorded collaborations with film director and musician Jarmusch began in earnest with 2012’s Apokatastasis, which was followed quickly by Concerning the Entrance into Eternity and The Mystery of Heaven. Each release was on a different label. That year also saw the release of Movement in Marble/Stone with electro-acoustic composer Gregg Kowalsky.
In 2013, Van Wissem issued the solo album Nihil Obstat on Important, and with it the title track to the score for Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, in collaboration with the director’s band SQÜRL. The full soundtrack, which also featured Yasmine Hamdan, Zola Jesus, and Madeline Follin (Cults), was released in 2014, after the score won the Cannes Award. In December, Van Wissem issued the solo album It Is Time for You to Return on Crammed Discs. That album featured Fo¨llakzoid’s Domingo Garcia-Huidobro, who directed the dreamlike 2012 film Partir to Live; Van Wissem also collaborated on the score, which was released in 2015 by Sacred Bones.