Jaume Muntsant (aka Nigul) has been a student of sound, composer and a phonography enthusiast since 2005. He has published his ambient drone work on different netlabels, (Audiotalaia, Green Field Recordings, Kaos Ex Machina, amongst other), and has performed live at various festivals in Spain and Europe.
Where does you moniker Nigul (clouds) come from, and how did you get into music?
I have always been interested in music. As a teenager, I used to play in different punk and grindcore bands. Not long after, I discovered electronic music and I started dabbling with it. “Nigul” is a name I like, it’s how they call clouds in the Balearic Islands. I like both the sound and the meaning of the word, as I often look for “cloudy” textures in sound conjuring up a foggy and smoky atmosphere.
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Your first couple of albums “Esperant la Nit” and “Pedra, Sang” were both released on Polish netlabels — Far From Showbiz and Chaos Ex Machina — in 2007. Was that a happy coincidence or, without wanting to make too much of a sweeping generalisation, was there something in particular in Eastern European experimental music that you felt drawn to?
A bit of both. Around the same time I started making music, I discovered the world of netaudio and Creative Commons licences. Back then, both labels were rather active and were releasing a lot of very interesting music. I used to download all of their releases and I followed them assiduously, so that, once I started making my own music, I know I wanted to be part of their roster. There’s always been very good experimental music coming out of Eastern Europe, especially in terms of dark ambient and even though neither of these labels is still active, I am proud of the fact I’ve been able to release my music with them.
Both albums also seem to share a cinematic quality, which has not been as apparent in some of your later output. Indeed “Pedra, Sang” contains direct samples from films, and I’m thinking, for instance to the track ‘Antiques Contes’, which contains lines of dialogue from “Inland Empire”. Is that because you’ve gradually moved more towards texture and mood rather than narrative and atmosphere? Also, David Lynch is often cited as a major influence by many ambient and electro-acoustic musicians. Apart from the fact that he delves into the darker side of things, why do you think that is?
With time I have gradually abandoned this narrative aspect within my music to concentrate more on the texture of sound. My aim is to evoke feelings rather than to tell stories. This, in a way, is applicable to David Lynch, and “Inland Empire” is a good example. It’s a cryptic film with a maze-like subject matter which is difficult to unravel but which, on the other hand, is capable of suggesting all sorts of moods and feelings to the viewer that surpass the confines of the story. It’s as if Lynch establishes a direct connection with our inner world, our fears and worries, or at least, that’s how I see it. This goes beyond just creating a dark atmosphere and Lynch is unique in this. Also, he has always paid a lot of care to sound in his own films. The sound design of “Eraserhead”, for instance, reads like and essay on drone and electro-acoustic experimentation.
Following from the previous question, why this obsession with Angelo Badalamenti and Laura Palmer?
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It is true that many electronic and experimental music artists have been inspired by David Lynch and, as I was saying before, I believe this is because he always takes risks with his films and he connects with like-minded viewers in this way. Twin Peaks may just be the prime example of a cult TV series and it’s only natural for it to have been referenced so extensively by the musicians and artists in general. In my case, I wanted to make a cover version of the Laura Palmer theme for a long time, just as a fan.
Your first performances were based on rhythmic patterns, “something between ambient, techno and experimental music”. You continue to pursue minimal techno under your other moniker Hermético. However, you have since revisited beats as Nigul with your album “hrmtsm_3”, which is based on heavily processed field recordings. What role, if any, did clubbing and deejaying have in shaping your output as Nigul?
Techno music is another great passion mine and it’s always going to influence what I do as Nigul. At first, I wanted to keep the two projects separate, each one of them with its own distinct style, but to be honest, both the compositional process and the style are quite similar in both cases. Even if Nigul is clearly an ambient project, repetitive sound patterns are always present in my music. In fact, I have worked with strong rhythmic patterns on several occasions, as is the case of the album “hrmtsm_3”. As its title suggests, this album is closely connected to my other project, Hermético, which is my techno moniker. I am very proud of “hrmtsm_3” and I hope to pursue a similar path in the future. As a matter of fact, I am currently working on an audiovisual project together with Marco Domenichetti that is musically in line with this.
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You’ve released a number of albums on Edu Comelles’ netlabel, Audiotalaia, which is indeed one of the most interesting electro-acoustic labels currently operating in Spain. As a platform, “Audiotalaia is also twinned with two other collective endeavours: La Escucha Atenta, a platform founded by Juanjo Palacios, which also holds the LEA Ediciones Catalogue (focused on field recordings) and the world acclaimed Audition Records, the documenting adventure by Julián Bonequi, focused on free improvisation.” The focus is not simply on releasing music, but also on performing with a number of regular events taking place in Valencia and Barcelona. How important for you is the establishing of a network of like-minded artists and musicians?
It is very important that the music we make is not seen as something elitist and these events always provide a welcome opportunity to meet other artists and musicians, which in turn generates ideas for new projects and collaborations. Also, as my work is very much focused on the internet with albums released digitally and promoted on social media, it is good to have, on occasion, an actual physical space to meet. Furthermore, this is also a good way to encounter musicians working more with experimental and improvised music, and being able to see them play live can be more instructive than just listening to their albums.
You also curate the program Núvol de Fum on Radio Mollet, dedicated to ambient and minimalist electronic music. One thing that struck me from listening to the excellent mixes you’ve produced over time – all available on Mixcloud – is that you don’t generally opt for the usual suspects, so to speak, but you seem to seek out more obscure names and releases. Do you do this out of passion or is it an attempt to introduce this kind of music to a wider audience? Also, is there an appetite for ambient and minimalist electronic music in Catalunya?
One of the objectives of Núvol de Fum is precisely this, to give a platform to emerging artists or to those musicians that may have already produced a significant body of work, but have never achieved the recognition that I feel they deserve. Most of what I play comes from netlabels who release albums through Creative Commons, which in the world of ambient music represents a really vibrant community. There’s a lot of good music out there that gets lost in the ocean of the Internet and what I try to do is to rescue it and give it visibility.
I don’t think there’s any special interest in Catalunya for ambient music. On the one hand, there are many artists who do very interesting stuff, but on the other hand, the audience for this genre remains rather small. Even within electronic music festivals, ambient rarely gets the space it deserves. Having said that, I am very happy with the way Núvol de Fum has been received, I have many more listeners that I could have hoped for in the beginning. At the end of the day, ambient music seems to works better in a home environment than in a live one or in a festival context. I know people who are not that into ambient music, who, nonetheless, listen to my program while reading or studying.
Field recordings are an integral part of your music, mostly mixed with layers of synthesizers and samples. However, albums such as Records de Queralb, and Gravacions de Llorenç, are “pure” recordings of the Catalan soundscape. Which are your favorite locations and which would you say are the optimal conditions for you to take field recording?
I like recording all sorts of sounds. The albums you mention aim to capture the soundscapes of small Catalan villages. At the same time, I have also released an album, “#acampadaBCN 110527” made entirely with recordings were taken during the morning of May 27, 2011 in the Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, during the “cleaning” operation when the police tried to evict the #acampadabcn movement.
I am interested in different sounds, which can range from natural landscapes, to industrial sites and abandoned spaces. I love environments full of natural reverb, storms and suchlike. When I record sounds, I am more interested in capturing a specific moment in a specific place than in finding the ideal conditions for recording. What I try to avoid are undesirable sounds like that of the wind and of the sound recording device itself.
With you being from the Iberian peninsula, I cannot but mention the name of Francisco Lopez. What impact, if any, has he had on the way you think about both field recordings and sonic art?
Without a doubt, he is one of the most important reference points of sonic art in Spain. The way he processes recorded sound is unique. He really creates incredible sonic textures. I don’t know him personally, but I hope to be able to meet him one day. It goes without saying that everything I listen to does influence, in one way or the other, the way I make music even if my Nigul project has always been something very personal and intimate to me, it is a sort of self-discovery journey.
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Loops and repetitive structures are very important in your work. This is probably most apparent in “Crom” your first ambient work, which was built exclusively with manipulated field recordings. As you explain in the linear notes, “all the sound material I’ve used comes from an old Aiwa TP-500 walkman that I got some months ago. This model has an internal microphone which I used to make a collection of different environments and sound textures. The limitations of this device have led, paradoxically, to some recording sessions freer and less dependent on the technical aspects. The idea was to collect varied and ‘raw’ sound material without worrying about distortions, limitation of frequencies or noises that I usually try to avoid (clicks, hits, wind …).” Could you expand a bit on the role that technology plays in your work? What programs do you use to process the sound? Also, how important is it for you to create a melodic structure in tracks that originate from field recordings?
As I mentioned, I see my Nigul project as something very personal where experimentation holds an important role, but with this I mean experimentation as seen from a slightly naïve point of view. I try out different instruments and techniques in order to achieve specific sounds and textures without limiting myself to those instruments and techniques. With “Crom”, I wanted to break free from my usual working method in the way I used to take and process field recordings. As I had this old tape recorder, I thought it would be interesting to work with raw sounds inclusive of everything I normally tend to avoid. It’s a different way of working in that one is not concentrating on the soundscape itself, but rather, on the textures of sound itself. It is very interesting to be able to create rhythmic patterns and melodies from raw and dirty sounds full of unrelated noise. It’s like trying to sculpt something from a rock, little by little, by chiseling away, one is able to shape something coherent out of amorphous matter. To do so, I use Ableton Live, which offers untold possibilities to process sound.
Whereas many electro-acoustic musicians might adopt English monikers and opt for English titles in order to gain a more international appeal, all your albums and track titles are rigorously in Catalan. Is that simply a linguistic choice, or is it also, in some way, a political statement?
Nigul is such a personal project for me, that I associate the albums and tracks with personal events and feelings in my life. These could be dreams, particular fears or experiences I had. This means that the resulting tracks act as a sort of personal diary. Even if that might not be apparent to the listener, that is how it is. As my music speaks about me, it is only natural that I use my mother tongue to express this.
How do you approach a live performance and how has your live set-up evolved over the years?
My set up is relatively simple, laptop with Ableton Live and midi. For a number of years I used a homemade theremin, which I used to improvise with and process in different ways, but basically I rely mostly on my laptop combined with audio and midi. In my live performances there’s a certain amount of improvisation, but, at the same time, I also like to play tracks from my albums, which are recognizable. There’s always a mix of new and old material with a modicum of improvisation.
What’s next for Nigul?
I have been working on a new album for quite some time now, which will be titled “Maleïda”. It is darker and more aggressive than previous releases, with heavier rhythmic patterns and a more electronic sound. This is what I am currently concentrating on, but I also have other projects on hand, such as completing the “Rain” trilogy for Webbed Hand Records and pursuing my audiovisual collaboration with Domenichetti. In addition, I am also doing some live gigs in Barcelona.