About/biography

Lute player and composer Jozef Van Wissem often performs in rock venues and could easily pass for a Nordic metal overlord, with thigh-high black leather boots and long, dirty-blond hair. Van Wissem can captivate a room on his own, as unafraid of spare beauty as he is of experimental gambits. When he plays,  the melody’s delicate glimmer freezes the moment, begging the listener to come closer as he steps away from the microphone. Van Wissem holds the instrument in front of his chest as the natural sound resonates inside the lute’s boat-like cavity. He’s not only liberating the lute, as he suggests later, but also asking his audience to liberate themselves from accustomed approaches to music. 

— The Washington Post

Van Wissem is both an avant-garde composer and a baroque lutenist, and thus no stranger to dichotomy (New York Times). He has been pushing the lute’s agenda out of the academy and into more accessible circles (Pitchfork). Jozef Van Wissem is possibly the best know lute player in the western world. To get into his world is to surrender to the inevitability—and timelessness—of a strange  music created at its own pace, in a manner wholly of its creator’s making. He sets the listener into a private world, looking out through a glass darkly, such is the intense quality of the music. Brevity, simplicity, directness is the key” (The Quietus)

The titles of his works often have a Christian-mystical appeal. Van Wissem moved to New York in 1993 and studied lute with Pat O’Brien. In 2013 he won the Cannes Soundtrack Award for best score at the Cannes Film Festival for Only Lovers Left Alive. He also composed the soundtrack for the Sims Medieval video game.

Van Wissem has released three records with the filmdirector Jim Jarmusch. He was commissioned to compose a sound piece for Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors (1533) by the National Gallery. In December 2017 he was invited to perform the madrigal depicted in Caravaggio’s painting .the Lute Player (1596) at the Hermitage museum. His previous record, features this Renaissance work, entitled You Know That I Love You. The record’s title We Adore You, You Have No Name comes from the Secret of Secrets book, a description of worship of the nameless all-inclusive God. In 2020 he released “Ex Mortis” inspired by the Book of Special Grace written by the German nun Mechthild of Hackeborn and her sisters in the 1290s. On the record he sings with Jarboe (Swans). The title of the record he had inscribed on the neck of his third unique black lute, especially build for him.