German artist David Helbich first coined the term “Belgian solutions” when he moved to Brussels in the early-2000s. It refers to the ad-lib alterations to the architecture and infrastructure of the EU capital, which Helbich has made a central theme in his photography.
Around the same time, classically-trained cellist Helen Gillet – whose family hails from Belgium’s French-speaking south – moved to New Orleans, where she began to take a more experimental approach to her music. Much like Helbrich, Gillet’s musical vision finds beauty in weirdness and imperfection:
I like mistakes. I’m an improviser. I work with the mistakes. In fact, inevitably even the most polished of my songs… will have something that is unexpected… That is my joy in music, to work with the unpredictable.
Though Gillet had already begun to experiment with improvisational music prior to her arrival in New Orleans, she’s since flourished into one of the most unique, talented, and beloved artists in the Crescent City. She’s known for her eclectic palette – which includes avant-garde jazz, French chansons, funk, alternative rock, and the bohemian flair of the Velvet Underground.
Connect with Helen Gillet
Every week, we provide a playlist of the music heard on our program. Please support your local musicians and record stores.
Friends and Teachers
Throughout her life, Helen Gillet’s musical curiosity has led her to wide variety of educators and collaborators. Here are a few of the brighter stars in her constellation.
Nancy Lesh Kulkarni
As an undergraduate at Beloit College in Wisconsin, Gillet studied Indian ragas and was bewitched by the pull of improvisational music. Cellist Nancy Lesh Kulkarni, a much-sought after performer of Indian classical music, was living in Madison at the time. Here she is in November of 2014, in the India International Cultural Center in New Delhi.
Gillet met Ernst Reijseger at a conference for experimental cellists when she was 22 years-old. Reijseger has won awards for his pioneering work in European jazz cello and recorded soundtracks for Werner Herzog, amongst a litany of other accomplishments. Here’s what Herzog had to say about Reijseger’s work.
Helen Gillet describes cellist Abdul Wadud of Cleveland, OH as one of her “pillars.” Wadud’s music spans classical, avant-garde, aand even reaches into the world of funk. Here you can hear him improvise with flutist James Newton.
Making the House Quake
Given her expansive tastes in music, it should come as no surprise that Helen Gillet is a self-professed Prince “super fan.” When Gwen asked for Gillet’s top 3 cuts from “His Royal Badness,” she was only able to narrow down it down to 6 songs and one additional full-length album! Lucky for you, you can hear them all here…