Patrick Vaillant

I'm very pleased to be the CGOW, and hope we'll have good time together. As I was asked by Larry, this might be a way to introduce myself (but I really liked what Simon Mayor wrote a few month ago).

First of all, I'm from Nice (in Provence, France). This has also an interest, because in the place I leave, I felt when I started to play the mandolin that I had to create a way that was different from the existing ones : the mandolin I wanted to play was neither classical nor american. It was a third type mandolin, closer to my state of mind and musical culture... An alternative in many aspects : another technique, another style, another repertory, another scope of experience, another mood...

I wanted to use the mandolin to create the missing links between the different sources of my musical culture, connecting traditional music from the place I live in, the various musics from the Mediterranean area, and the classical and popular music of the 20th century. All this means both links in space, links in time...

That's what I'm doing while playing with other musicians (the duet with Riccardo Tesi) or with the Melonious Quartet, the modern mandolin quartet I lead, for which we compose or arrange various musics, from traditional to Satie...

Last but not least, I'm playing on specially designed instruments, created by the lute-maker from Marseille Andre Sakellarides. Andre also created all the instruments for the Melonious Quartet (mandolins, alto mandola, mandocello).

I hope this is enough to start with !


Q - Patrick, I have lost my treasured copy of "Veranda" (probably lent and not returned) -- how can I get another one? It's one of my all-time favorite mandolin CDs, as you may know if you read my review of it in MQ. Thanks!

--Marilynn Mair

A - I'm very happy that "Veranda" is among your favourite mandolin CDs. But it is now out of print... I guess you can find it by looking for a record called "Trio" (Tesi / Vaillant / Trovesi), which includes "Veranda" and "Colline".


Q - Other than the original material, how much of the Melonius Quartet's repertoire was written for mandolin? Do you do your own arrangements of non-mandolin music?

A - First, let's leave apart the classical mandolin stuff (i.e. Calace...). We just don't like it. Then, we don't feel concerned by performing any existing mandolin quartet repertoire - as far as it might exist. We want to choose and build our own quartet music.

So there is three situations :
- we compose
- we arrange popular music
- we transcribe classical music - classical meaning of transcription - (for example, we transcribed for our quartet a lot of Satie's piano music).

About the method, I've made most of these transcriptions, but some of them come from a collective work.

So we startet with 0% modern mandolin quartet repertoire, and have now a 100% one.

You can see a list of this repertoire and listen to some stuff on Melonious website (in french, but french for repertoire is repertoire !) :


Q - Can you describe the instruments of the Melonious Quartet in more detail, or point us to a web site where there's pictures? Your description sounds intriguing.

A - There are some pictures of the quartet on Melonious website : (the website is in french only, but it's not so difficult to get to the right page...)


Q - 1) Birth year? At what age did you start playing music? Instrument? Type of music? Did/does anyone in your family (father, mother, uncle, gandparents, brother, etc.) Have a musical background?
2) How /why did you begin playing mandolin?
3) What other instruments do you play (and to what degree)? Do you sing?

A - I was born in 54. I started at seven, I was given for Christmas a Davy Crockett outfit, which included a racoon hat, a (would be) rifle and an unexpected toy guitar : a nice wooden 4-string instrument, with its pick. I realized later that it was a mandolin. I used to improvise while my sister or my uncle played some popular french songs on the guitar. Background : my father was an opera singer in the Opera de Paris, my mother was an amateur piano player, my uncle was a brilliant amateur piano and guitar player, who could play classical and popular music as well. My hamster didn't play any instrument.

I was eleven when I bought my first guitar. Then as a teenager I learned by myself, trying to play different kinds of music (french songs, blues, folk, rock...). From time to time, I used the mandolin, too (not Davy Crockett's, a real one).

Later, I found some interest in folk music and culture of my area (Occitania, Provence, etc.). So I learnt other traditional instruments like fiddle, fife (degree : I was told I was not so bad, as far as folk stuff is concerned ).... In that period, I used to play also mandola.

I came back to playing strictly the mandolin in the mid 80s, while trying to widden my abilities and find my own way in music.

To sing is a part of my range of expression, even if I'm now much more involved in instrumental music or in accompanying other singers. I composed, arranged and even wrote the lyrics of a lot of songs (mostly in provencal language).


Q - In regards to traditional French music, do you play or study music from the entire country, or just from the southern provinces? Does the folk music of your area (Provence ?) have more in common with the traditional music of northern Italy (or northwest Italy)than it does with the music of central or northern France? If so, how are those regional styles similar or different to where you are from?

A - The place I live in is really a meeting point between the Northern Italy and the Southern France - and not only for music. That's the place and the traditional music I know better.

I don't really care about french folk music. For cultural reasons, for musical reasons and for reasons of my own, I'm more interested in the Mediterranean musics.

Remember the famous quotation of Darius Milhaud, who used to talk about his "ideal Provence", that streched from Constantinople to Rio de Janeiro.


Q - Patrick, tell us about your special instruments.

A - When I was looking for a mandolin for my musical project, there was only classical mandolins or folk (american) mandolins. So I went to Andre Sakellarides in Marseille, who is making mostly violins, violas and cellos - and experimental bow instruments. I've asked him to create a new mandolin model for me. So he did (1987). Then came the whole family : alto mandola, tenor mandola, mandocellos, electric mandolin... The work is still in progress, all of them are prototypes.

My mandolin's neck is a little bit longer, the fingerboard is a little more narrow than american mandolins'. The string gauge I use : 9 - 13 - 22 - 32 There's nothing very special about the woods, except it's high quality.

To tell the truth, I'm not a wizard at organology. What is important is that these instruments sound like and look like what we want them to.


Q - I'm an ugly American who can't read French. I surfed around the Melonious quartet site and listened to some soundclips, but was unable to discern where the catalog of cds is offered up for sale. I found a link to one, but couldn't figure out how to order. I assume that I should send an international money order for $18 euros, but what about shipping/handling, etc?

Anyone who covers zappa is alright in my book!

A - Actually, there is one of Melonious CD that should be available, whose name is "Au Sud de la Mandoline". This one includes the Zappa tune... The other one, called "En Forme de Poire", is to be released next autumn. We are actually negociating for a record company to release it, and so there is some special thing that is not so rare in Europe on Melonious's website : we offer the people to pre-buy this CD, with a special price, and we sell it when it's released. This helped us to raise fund to produce this record, which is all about Erik Satie. Of course, this is easy for Europe, much more difficult for USA, as the money order and shipping cost much more. If anyone has an idea about an easy way to do this kind of job through the Atlantic, it could be great !


Q - I like your music very much. I hear medieval and esp. medieval Arabic qualities in it and would love to know if there are certain scales and/or modes that offer you those qualities/flavors.

A - Thanks for liking my music ! What someone hears or recognizes in the music he's listening to closely depends on his own background. I have no kind of interest for medieval or early music. Maybe what you're hearing as medieval is the modal-like aspect, and the monodic quality of my specifical provencal sources. The western european traditional music suffered from the classical approach and especially from the modern temperament and harmony. I listen to lots of eastern music (Greece, Turkey, Central Asia...), and I find in these musics what ours have lost : sound, phrasing, rythm, form, technique, improvisation, variation, ornaments... and of course the scales.


Q - How did you meet Ricardo Tesi and Gianluigi Trovesi? Are the three of you still playing together?

A - I've heard one of Riccardo Tesi's first solo concert, in the early 80s. I met him again in some festival. I had talked to him about my desire to make a musical project involving italian and occitan artists. 'Anita Anita' happened to be the opportunity for it, and I called Riccardo Tesi on this project (1986). We kept playing together, mostly as a duet.

This duet grew up... We met Gianluigi Trovesi in an Italian jazz festival... and it confirmed we had musical things in common.

We don't play anymore with Gianluigi Trovesi, after touring for about 5 years.

The Tesi-Vaillant partnership never ceased, especially with Riccardo's project "Un Ballo Liscio". We're now working again on a new duet repertoire.


Q - You mentioned that you listen to lots of eastern music (Greece, Turkey, Central Asia...)...could you name an artist or two I should investigate for the health of my ears/imagination? I've listened to some Turkish Sufi music but that's the extent of it.

A - About turkish music : you can try and listen to different kind of saz music (Talip Ozkan, Erkan Ogur, Erol Parlak...).
About Greece : the laouto music (Christos Zotos)


Q - Is there a good source for learning non-Western/non-classical scales?

A - The scale is just a part of the modal systems. Any "translation" in the western temperament destroys their meaning. Nevertheless, it's always good for both ears and fingers to try to get in it. I guess you can find some books or websites about scales. What I think important is not the scales, it's how to move in it. So listen !


Q - There is a raging discussion on the list right now. The question is: do instruments sound better after being played a while? The discussion relates to new instruments and older instruments that haven't been played in a while.

To restate the questions:

Do new instruments sound better after they have been played for a number of months or years?

Does an instrument that has not been played in a while sound better after an hour or so of being played than when it is first picked up?

Your thoughts?

A - First, I think that it's not true that an instrument that is very good when it's brand new will always be a very good instrument. It's not true either that a bad instrument will become a good one with time.

But this doesn't really matter. Because I don't think the objective quality of an instrument has an importance. What I feel important is that something happens when someone plays an instrument, and that something is called music.

In Africa, some people play superb music with instruments that are made with a jerrican and brake cables. The jerrican and brakes cable are not even new... But they don't care.

In a word, don't expect from your instrument more than it could expect from you.


Q - I'd like to ask about the Zappa tune....specifically, have you gone after any other rockish tunes with 8 stringers/10 stringers?

A - We didn't play Zappa because it was rockish, we played it because it was Zappa...


Q - Patrick, have you listened to any of our American bluegrass mandolin players? Anyone caught your ear?

A - First time I've heard bluegrass music, I was about 15. It was a record by the "Country Gentlemen". Later, I was keen on old-time music and folk blues. What is surprising is that at that time, the only "roots music" records that were available here were american. It took much more time to find french or italian folk music.

I have little interest in bluegrass music now. So, Let's to american mandolin players... As a matter of Bush, I prefer Sam to George. In terms of Marshall, there is only one : Mike (grandissimo Mike !).

By the way, what about Andy Statman ? Can anyone give me news ? I was lucky to meet again a few month ago the excellent Radim Zenkl, whose cruising building made a stop in Nice.


Q - What are your preferences regarding pick direction in 6/8 time? 9/8 (slip jig and Bulgarian9: 2+2+2+3) ?

A - I have no preference. I care only about the melody's profile and accents. It also depends on the necessity to cross the strings or not.


Q - Are you satisfied with conventional D-u-d-u pick motion? Do you create unusual or reversed pick direction patterns to practice?

A - The DUDU is okay, as far as you can get rid of it. I don't pretend to create anything new, thousands of patterns exist in all the plucked-string instruments tradition (ud, saz, rebab etc.).


Q - If not for your answers which said that you were not interested in French traditional music and medieval music, I would have asked more concerning these. However, my impression is that French folk music has a very high quantity of medieval residue in it, much more than in other European folk musics. Would you agree with this observation?

A - No (I can hardly figure out the references you base this observation on... I enjoy the idea of "high quantity of medieval residue", it sounds quite chemical to me.)


Q - Do you consider the Provencal/Occitan population to be a minority group separate or distinct from "the French", in the same sense that the Bretons and Basques are considered to be cultural minorities? Do you want more political autonomy as the Bretons and Basques do?

A - I am both french and occitan. What makes Occitania is the definition of a linguistic space, which covers the third (south !) of France (Gascogne, Languedoc, Limousin, Auvergne, Provence and also a small part in Spain and some valleys in the Italian Alps). The linguistic revendication can serve various type of discourses, among which some are very reactionnary. Nowadays, what the occitans want is much more open-minded than an "arriere-garde" fight for autonomy.


Q - How close or different is the Provencal dialect or language from mainstream French? (Closer than Finnish<>Estonian? Swedish<>Danish? Could a Frenchmen understand a song in Provencal?

A - The latin had many children, called romanic languages. All of them or in the meantime different and close. Some are national languages, other regional or minority languages. Some disappeared, other will maybe disappear... The main are : italian, spanish, portuguese, catalan, occitan, rumanian, french. French is often considered as the most distant of the others, because - in a word - it's origin is the latin pronounced by germanic people. French people can recognize and understand some words of occitan, which are very close... as he could understand some words in italian or spanish. But not the whole language. As a Dutchman can understand english.


Q - Malicorne were/are one of my all-time favorite folk-rock bands. (I also bought the early Alan Stivell records when they came out in the 70s, but I consider Breton music as something apart from French music.) Are there any current French folk or folk-rock bands you think are doing superior work? Who would you recommend for southern French folk and folk-rock artists/groups?

A - I don't feel that the term of "folk-rock" is appropriate to define the most recent experiences of the occitan scene. You could try to find and listen to:

- Dupain
- Fabulous Trobadors
- Lo Dalfin
- Massilia Sound System
- Lo Cor de la Plana
- La Compagnie Lubat