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INTERVIEW TO MIQUEL BRUNET

Our path crossed with Miquel Brunet in June 2022, when we decided to record a very special work for us: Andante et Scherzo by Eugène Bozza. At the end of a dirt road in Bunyola, on a very hot day, we entered the ONA Estudis recording studio for the first time, which was a part of Miquel Brunet's own house. There we found not only an amazing collection of technological artefacts and musical instruments, but also a person who would become a personal and professional reference for us. Working with him was a remarkable experience, the kind that ends and you can only think about the next one. In 2023, also in summer, we recorded two more pieces in Miquel's studio and shared several days of intense recording and learning with him. We could not miss the opportunity to interview one of these people who have left their mark on the path of Lítore Quartet and who we consider so relevant in the musical life of Mallorca, which we feel as our home.


We hope you enjoy this very interesting interview and that you will be inspired by Miquel's words, full of passion and love for the music and culture of the Balearic Islands.


Miquel Brunet in his recording studio



What was your first contact with music?

As a child, in the 1970s, I was lucky enough to go to a boarding school, La Porciúncula, where a visionary and enthusiastic Franciscan who practised an intellectual eclecticism that was unusual at the time, instilled in me a passion for music in many ways: love of Bach, jazz and electronic music in equal parts. In a setting of study and nature, of recollection and discovery, this friar had a workshop where he built his own amplifiers, mixing boards and electric instruments. These devices were the ones we used to play some experimental masses that the Franciscan composer Antoni Martorell, who was then studying there with Ennio Morricone, would send us from Rome. For me, in the midst of the dictatorship, coming from a small town, at the age of ten and from then on, all that environment had an impact on me and left its mark on me. When we finished piano lessons, we spent hours listening to and commenting on vinyl records with Wendy Carlos' electronic lucubrations with the Moog synthesiser, the complete Cantatas of J.S. Bach, Jacques Loussier, symphonic rock, Duke Ellington and contemporary music by Halfter and Stockhausen. A real luxury in those times of intellectual darkness during Franco's regime. And there I began to prepare for my piano exams at the Conservatory, while playing double bass with a group of students.


Throughout your career you have defended and promoted Mallorcan culture, especially in the field of music. When and why was this intense connection with the music of your homeland? Why is it so important for you to disseminate Mallorcan cultural heritage?

We live on an island, where the increasing demographic pressure and the impact of tourism have had a depredatory effect on our own language and culture. And I love cultural diversity and diversity of thought. In 1978, at the age of seventeen, I was directing a choir and the group Los Valldemossa (three Mallorcan brothers and a North American singer) came to find me. After their Eurovision performance, they were tireless travellers and musical ambassadors of Mallorca all over the world. With them, I was able to travel to places I would never have imagined (United States, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Pacific Islands, and of course all over Europe), proudly exhibiting our musical identity with a very varied repertoire, but where our adaptation of roots music and the task of setting Catalan and Mallorcan poets to music always predominated. I understood then, on each return home, after admiring so much diversity, that the best way to be universal and not be swallowed up by globalisation, is to contribute to transculturalism with our own cultural identity, instead of imitating others.


Now more than ever, I still think of the imperious need to have a distinctive and genuine sound, as a socio-cultural collective that defines and identifies us as a people. This happens to many other cultures and societies on the planet to which we show devotion for their music and culture, while we ignore our own identity. To this task, to esteem and promote the sound of the Islands, I dedicated my project FERMENTS (2015), a multidisciplinary artistic project that, in a double album and documentary on DVD, reflects on the sound and musical identity of the Mallorcan people based on oenology, gastronomy, dance, poetry and, of course, music.


You studied piano, harmony, jazz and contemporary music at the Conservatory of the Balearic Islands. At what point in your life did you connect with the field of music production and sound recording?

At that time (we are talking about the seventies), these subjects were not taught at the Conservatory. I studied piano and harmony, yes, but my studies coincided with the time when the group Los Valldemossa delegated to me the tasks of musical direction and the production and arrangement of new repertoires. From their hand, when they already had a great deal of recording experience, especially in London, Barcelona and Madrid, I entered the world of the recording studios of the time (in 79-80 the concept of "home-studio" did not exist), and the connection with the impact that electronics and technology had on me during my years of study at La Porciúncula re-emerged. It was the time of big consoles and microphones of exceptional quality, and records were recorded with a commendable seriousness and rigour. I was fascinated by the idea of leaving a sonic record of the creations.


At that time in Mallorca there was no academic training in this aspect, so the journey through different professional studios was very profitable. Years later, (from 2006 to 2012) I had the privilege of being a teacher and teaching the subjects Electroacoustics and Composition with Audiovisual media at the Conservatory of the Balearic Islands to students who were also interested in music technology, and I enjoyed it very much, because I had the feedback of some exceptional students with whom I shared knowledge and experiences, and with whom I have a very good relationship. Some of them are still today part of the musicians in my projects and concerts.


What was the purpose of ONA Estudis in 1991?

Throughout the eighties, I invested a lot (almost everything I earned) in setting up an electronic music studio, making the most of the musical technological evolution that connected analogue instruments with the advent of digital technology. It coincided with the transition from analogue synthesis to the new MIDI protocol and digital synthesis. I still have most of the instruments and peripherals from those years. At a certain point, I considered the possibility of, in addition to composing with electronics, recording works by others and publishing relevant musical proposals from our culture, without closing myself off to projects from any source, and in 1991 I founded ONA Edicions Musicals. These are years of recording and publishing many records on our label, especially classical, jazz and traditional music, with a special focus on island composers. Today, ONA's catalogue (between ONA Edicions and ONA Digital) is close to four hundred references published in different formats. The satisfaction I have experienced presenting these productions every year at the MIDEM in Cannes, France, over many years has been priceless. MIDEM has been the meeting point of the world's most important recording industry, and I was almost twenty years proud to bring a grain of diversity and genuineness to the global music publishing scene.


Many artists and different musical formations have passed through your recording studio, what differences do you find between them when it comes to working? For example, what differences do you find between a recording session with a classical band and a recording session with a jazz or pop band?

The first that comes to mind, because of the procedures employed, are the concepts of "synchronous" versus "asynchronous", both of which are valid and exciting for me. Asynchronous multi-track recording, where not all the performers coincide at the same time, has the peculiarity of greater experimentation in all senses: microphonic positioning, proximity/remote, investigation of effects and manipulated sounds, dubbing of sound lines and almost unlimited possibilities of rearrangements and creation. In this case, I never question whether it can be realised live or not, just as a film is not the same as a play. What is important is the creation of sound and timbre.


On the other hand, when recording classical and jazz, the aim is to capture the magic of the most inspiring moment that happens from the complicity of the performers and to try to interfere as little as possible in what they want to communicate. This process has its complexity, because you have to be prepared for unpredictable dynamics and unrepeatable moments. It is very stimulating. And although some people are reticent about classical recordings in the studio, I like to appreciate it, because of the high level of interpretative self-demand that they entail, and the atmosphere of motivating tension that the fact of being recorded generates. Live performances have the false cover of the visual part, which distracts the listener's attention from the strictly sonorous part. Let's say that live mistakes are less mistakes. On the other hand, in a studio album that will be perpetuated in history, the value of communication is entirely reserved to the music and the quality of the performer, and this is very enriching and demanding for him or her. And above all, a live performance is for a moment, while an album is forever and ever. What would we do without some historic recordings?


With you, we had the pleasure of recording three works: Andante et Scherzo by Eugène Bozza in 2022, Fragments Striés by Hèctor Parra and Der Blutige Schaffner by Robin Hoffmann in 2023. What has it been like working with us and what do you think about the final result?

Recording with Lítore Quartet has been one of the best experiences in my professional life. From the beginning, I was captivated by the rigour and seriousness of such a young ensemble, when facing a score and its recording. I remember very well the atmosphere of respect and professionalism that permeates the studio when Lítore Quartet enters the studio door. They do it with the elegance of someone entering a sacred place or a place of worship, and it all leads to an attitude of great responsibility for the activity that you are going to do. These are works of great difficulty, requiring a great deal of interpretative control, which could dampen the general mood when some fragment goes against the grain in the recording. But I never perceived in the members of the Lítore Quartet the slightest discouragement and, on the contrary, a situation of great interpretative control and deep knowledge of the work. Everyone knows the role of the other members, and the contribution of suggestions you make and how to approach it is admirable to me.


Another thing that fascinated me is the democratic policy of the group: the respect and the way in which interpretative questions, musical decisions, and techniques to be applied to the interpretation are approached. Rarely have I found such cordial treatment in ONA Edicions when it comes to arguing discrepancies. I cannot say that in all other recordings I have found such a positive and flexible level of communication between the members of the group and that they contribute so much to the growth of the final sound result.


All these "litorinian" peculiarities are conveyed in a first-rate sonic result, far from rigidities or euphemisms. When you listen to these recordings by Lítore Quartet, a dense music that enters a labyrinth of crossroads, but that seems to flow naturally and transcends the difficulty of both scores when it sounds in Lítore Quartet's mouth. I would go so far as to say that they are a "risk-taking" ensemble because they know how to draw beauty from the danger of difficulty.


On a personal level, let me add that, despite the youth of the four members, when I see and hear them, I have the feeling of their kindness and humane treatment, they have been with me all my life.


Lítore Quartet in ONA Estudis, Bunyola. 26 of July of 2023


What is it like to record with a saxophone quartet? What difficulties or facilities do you find with this formation when recording?

I would say that the challenge of recording contemporary music for saxophone quartet lies in the treatment of dynamics from a technical point of view. The dynamic range is very wide and the amalgam of frequencies overlaps at many different volumes. Therefore, the microphonic technique must be able to clearly capture the subtlest passages with the mechanical difficulties of the instrument, but at the same time be prepared for very high sound levels at the next bar. 

I am not in favour of big technology interventions at the time of recording, such as compressors and limiters, or equalisers, because it always results in unwanted colouring. I have always believed that the best technology is the one that best reflects reality. For me, the key is a good microphone positioning that is able to handle dynamic complexity well. And, of course, always having the score in front of you, to anticipate surprises.


Your studio is in the same house where you live, what advantages and disadvantages do you find? Is it dangerous to overwork yourself?

My experience in this respect is positive. This is due to the fact that the border between what is work and what is my passion does not exist. Since I chose the job I like, it's as if I've always been on holiday. I love music, technology and sharing it with other people. On the other hand, being close to home, when the level of work is intense, allows me to reconcile family life more effectively. 


During our recording sessions in your studio we also had the help of Guillem for the visual part. How did your friendship and working relationship with him start?

It started in a theatrical environment. It would be very difficult for me to work right now with anyone other than Guillem R. Simó on all the graphic and video work. I am lucky that, apart from being a good and generous friend, he is an avid listener of classical music, with a vast collection, to the point that I never manage to discover anything new, because when I show it to him, he already has it, he knows it and has all the information and documentation. He is the ideal person for graphics, with an extreme sensitivity for the arts and a connoisseur of the artistic languages of all times, with a great inclination towards current languages. Therefore, any contribution to the image he makes always has an artistically argued foundation. Apart from the great work he does at ONA Edicions Musicals in graphic and video design, he is an admired actor with a voice of exceptional timbre. In fact, we met working in the same theatre group, where he performed, and for which I composed a lot of music for the stage.


Tell us about an anecdote that happened to you in the recording studio that you especially remember or/and an artist that surprised you because of his quality or his way of working.

I remember in particular a work many years ago with Antoni Armet, who came to produce a record by the soprano María José Montiel for Discos Ensayo. Antoni Armet had produced and recorded Frederic Mompou's Canciones y Danzas, performed by the composer himself. What most seduced me was how, without having any musical training, he directed the recording sessions, both technically and emotionally, always seeking the excellence of the performers and the vital quality of the moment. Also the way he managed the time and human relations. It was not for nothing that this album, Modinha, was a finalist for the 2001 Grammy Awards. It was an honour for me to have been able to record this album, to have learned from Antoni Armet's disposition and humanity, and to have experienced the cordial and musical atmosphere of the process: the sessions, the meals, etc.

 

The exquisiteness that reigned throughout the week that this project lasted (and now comes the anecdote) contrasts with a musical editing job I did for a ballet company, which, as a way of inspiration, brought me a cassette tape where to describe what they had recorded on the tape they had written: "Bolero by Rabel, by Mozart". This is a symptom of the importance of a well-rounded, cross-disciplinary education, whatever your profession.


What are your goals as a musician or audiovisual producer from now on? What makes you feel motivated or excited?

My main aspiration is to try to maintain a standard of quality in future projects. It worries me to see how computer technology has virtualised processes in the recording world that can only be organic. Everyone records nowadays, but the question is whether acoustically, with the abusive use of pluggins, the minimum requirements are met. This affects not only the result, but also the path to the result. Many processes in the world of creative recording that were the result of the interaction of the protagonists in the search for an artistic result are now entrusted to a collection of presets in a software application. And this is noticeable when you listen to the music. Dehumanisation cannot affect art, because I am not in line with turning works into "products".


The same goes for listening to music. I claim the act of listening to music "per se", without doing any other activity at the same time. We have time for whatever we want. Nobody forces us to, for example, fry an egg or make a pizza, while listening to a Lítore Quartet record. Listening to music demands maximum attention if we want to enjoy it to the full. And that is why I don't want to give up putting the maximum effort into recording the repertoire, even though it is difficult in the age of Low-Fi.


All too often, music has taken a back seat to give prominence to factors external to the artistic-musical fact, as it is now the frivolous image that dwarfs the work, self-promotion, the anecdotalism of the networks, the posing in short. My restlessness leads me to explore all the new and exciting paths that science offers us as long as age and health allow me to do so, but I am worried about falling into the trivialisation of the essential, by phagocytising the accessory. My illusion and to what I dedicate the maximum effort, with the help of the best current technologies, in the research and quality that has traditionally accompanied historical recordings in the essential aspects: the image in art, music and sound.


Because my maxim is: "well done, it also pleases".





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