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Sophie Tassignon

Sophie Tassignon is a Berlin-based singer, composer, improviser, arranger, and bandleader. Her work centers on the human voice in performed and recorded works as it traverses composed and improvised singing and vocalizing. Fluent in five languages and inspired by a wide range of musical experimentalists, Tassignon has been heard in a variety of contexts, from avant-garde jazz and free improvisation to theatrical performance and electroacoustic music. She's released albums with several musical projects including Charlotte & Mr. Stone (with Simon Vincent), Azolia (co-led by Susanne Folk), and her group Zoshia, as well as collaborations with her husband, Canadian-born saxophonist Peter Van Huffel. She also leads the ensemble Khyal, which blends jazz and Arabic poetry. With Zoshia in 2006, Tassignon issued her debut jazz recording Moon Talk to critical acclaim. In 2008 she and Van Huffel cut their first collaboration in a New York studio, the widely acclaimed Hufflignon. In 2017, she and saxophonist/singer/clarinetist Susanne Folk formed Azoola with saxophonist/bass clarinetist Lothar Ohlmeier and bassist Andreas Waelti. Tassignon began her formal musical studies on piano at age four. At six she took first prize at Jugend Musiziert in Hannover, Germany. She continued studying classical piano until she reached the end of the school system's curriculum. As a child she sang in a choir as one of the middle voices. The artist claims that it was this experience that more than likely trained her ear to write melodic accompaniment lines. While attending one of her mother's rehearsals she heard all the different voices of Dvorak's Symphony of the New World, internalized them, and committed them to memory. The intricate arrangements of certain composers influenced her to write arrangements, developing her own style in the process. As a teen she also studied the drums for five years and the trumpet for two, but always returned to piano and singing. Further, she wrote songs and used a tape recorder to capture her singing at the piano. She used several other tape recorders to dub more vocals on top, creating her first foray into experimentation. Tassignon attended the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles where she earned a master's degree. She studied jazz piano on the side and took some classical singing lessons though she found it difficult because it clashed with her desire to improvise. While attending university she encountered free jazz and fell under its sway. In 2005 she formed the jazz a cappella Screaming Bitches project with singers Anu Junnonen, Elena Dunkelman, and Jacobien Vlasman. Though they did not record an album, they regularly played clubs across Europe and developed an international reputation based on their MySpace postings. As leader of Zoshia, Tassignon issued Moon Talk in 2006. Featuring 11 of her own compositions, the album's recording and release were funded by the cultural department of the French Community of Belgium. In 2008 she and Canadian saxophonist/husband Van Huffel, with New York bassist Michael Bates and Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser, released Hufflignon for Portugal's Clean Feed Records which was chosen as "CD D’Emoi", one of their prestigious monthly mentions. Tassignon formed the electroacoustic duo Charlotte & Mr. Stone with British electronicist Simon Vincent, who had introduced her to the possibilities of electroacoustic music. The project involved creating sonic textures and compositions in a live context. The duo gave numerous performances across Europe. Signed to British label Vision of Sound, their acclaimed debut, Trees & Birds & Beautiful Things, appeared in 2011. During this period, Tassignon began a longstanding collaborative relationship with Polish theater director Elzbieta Bednarska. The singer composed music for and performed in her theater productions including Taghaus/Nachthaus 2009, Schneeweiß und Russenrot in 2010, and Nacht in 2011. In 2013, Tassignon and songwriter, singer, and saxophonist Susanne Folk formed the band Folk-Tassignon Quartet with Lothar Ohlmeier on bass clarinet and Andreas Waelti on double bass, and released Dancing on the Rim for the NRW Records label. They performed at numerous venues and festivals across Europe and have toured China twice under the invitation of the German General Consulate of Chengdu with additional support from Initiative Musik. (The band later changed its name to Aziola.) That same year, the singer and Van Huffel formed a new quartet called Act One with pianist Julie Sassoon and bassist Miles Perkin to release the album House of Mirrors for Wismar Records. In 2014, Charlotte & Mr. Stone performed at the SYNC.14, the International Festival of Electroacoustic Music in Ekaterinburg, Russia, and issued their sophomore outing, Live at Cafe Du Bugaud, for Vision of Sound. 2015 saw Tassignon receive an invitation to the Visby International Centre for Composers (VICC) in Sweden to develop new material for what would become her debut solo album five years later. In 2017, Charlotte & Mr. Stone presented a six-part, five-hour performance at Copenhagen’s festival, examining the meaning of the concept of "binary" and the heretofore unrealized emancipatory potential of technology. Tassignon also resumed her collaborative work in the theater with director Bednarska. Since then, she has performed the work Stimmen Aus Tschernobyl annually. They also worked together in Die Mauern Von Hebron and Unrast. All of these works exhibited Tassignon's use of the electroacoustic voice. Also in 2017, Aziola released the album Everybody Knows, on which the album's pieces were composed equally by Folk and Tassignon. The vocalist also gave an experimental electroacoustic solo performance at the opening of an exhibit by German visual artist Margareta Hesse in Berlin. The performance involved experimenting with the influence of sonic textures in an environment intended to limit the visual scope of the public; the only visible feature was red laser lights projected throughout the gallery's rooms. Tassignon self-released the performance as Licht - Raum - Erkundungen and sold it through her website. Tassignon was the first female artist to sign with the U.K.'s RareNoise label. They issued her debut solo album, Mysteries Unfold, during the COVID-19 spring of 2020. It featured four original compositions and re-visionings of pieces by Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, Dolly Parton, Russian poet Yuliy Chersanovich Kim, and Cowboy Junkies. Tassignon juxtaposed harmonies that harkened back to Gregorian chant and postmodern electroacoustic experimentation, and placed primal vocalizations alongside luxuriant melodies. She discovered unifying echoes in the songs' thematic material assembled as a way to celebrate the stories of women's voices suppressed and silenced throughout history.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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