INTERVIEW WITH ALBERT GIMENEZ
By: Jorge Munnshe
Albert Giménez is a guitarist and a composer, well known both for his solo career, along which he has released ten albums, and for the fact that he has been a member of such prestigious electronic bands as Neuronium and Macromassa. Likewise, he has given numerous concerts, including tours in several countries.
I visited Albert Giménez in his studio, and there I interviewed him. I start the interview asking him about the origins of his musical vocation:
"I began to feel interested in music at age fourteen, more or less, when I discovered Jimi Hendrix. His music impressed me a lot. Then I knew what I wanted to do, which was to play the guitar in an experimental, innovative way. My beginnings as a guitarist were the typical ones: playing in street bands and school bands during my teenage days. My activity became more professional when I met Jordi García, and later Michel Huygen, and we founded Suck Electronic, a band that at the beginning was called Yeti until we changed the name after our first concert. Our music was between the electronic and the psychedelic. In those times (the mid '70s) I was very interested in German electronic music, like for instance Tangerine Dream's and Klaus Schulze's, and I tried to work more or less within this trend. After a while, I left the band. Then I met, through Michel Huygen, the musicians of the band Macromassa, and entered this band. I recorded Darlia Microtónica with them, live, at the Magic hall; and on the third day the police came and there was a frightful fight; the music was very radical, provoking, and experimental".
(In those times Spain was going through a phase of political transition from general Franco's dictatorship that had lasted for about forty years, towards democracy.)
"I continued to give concerts with Macromassa. I specially remember a very amusing one at a cultural center. Each one of us would bring a tape with things he had recorded without the others knowing what it was. For instance, I brought recordings from a television set, records played backwards, and other similar material. Our performance consisted in playing all our tapes together as, at the same time, we played our instruments. The audience, mostly consisting of people over sixty years of age, had come to listen to us without knowing what we used to do, and became astounded at what we played. Even so, there were those who were within our wavelength, and one even came to say: "This is better than Pink Floyd!"
After some time in Macromassa, Michel Huygen proposed Albert Giménez to become a member of a new band, Neuronium, and he accepted.
"In the beginning we were Michel at the keyboards, me at the guitar, and a bass player plus a percussionist. Later, we decided to do without the bass player and the percussionist, having another keyboardist join us instead, Carlos Guirao. We recorded our first album, and went on tours, television performances and so on".
With respect to the two first and legendary albums by Neuronium, Giménez explains:
"The devices we used in Quasar 2C361 were very primitive, in comparison with the equipment available nowadays. I used a tape echo unit for my guitar, which made an incredible noise, a volume pedal and a distortion unit. Vuelo Químico, where we counted with the collaboration of Nico, is better that the previous one, in my opinion. The first one is rather less elaborated. It was the first time we had ever entered a professional recording studio, and I guess we were all somewhat nervous".
Besides, you had very little time, didn't you?
"Yes, this recording was paid for by ourselves, and we didn't have much money. The recording of our next album was paid for by the label".
Even so, despite Albert Giménez's modesty, that first album by Neuronium has succeeded in becoming a classic of electronic music, due to the talent in the composition and in the performance, which make the technical "imperfections" give it a fresher air, spontaneous, like that of a live concert.
Yet it was in those days when the artistic concept of Albert Giménez had changed.
"After our second album, I became somewhat saturated with electronic music, and almost completely left its path. I ended up abandoning the electric guitar and chose the acoustic one, even if I didn't do so at once. I had never been taught classical guitar, so I had to develop my own performing technique by myself, with nobody's help. This took me a long time and a strong effort on my part. From this point I began to compose for the classical guitar. I also experimented with it, made some sort of experimental jazz, and performed solo or in collaboration with other musicians. Then I created my own independent label, Filobus Records".
It didn't take him long to release his first solo albums. His first release after he left Neuronium was Un Somni Petit, released in 1981. The following year Imatge was released as well. It was followed by Atlas-Naif, a collaborative work between himself, Victor Nubla and Enric Cervera. His evolution as a guitarist continued: "Meanwhile, I felt very much attracted by the twelve string guitar, maybe a little influenced by Anthony Phillips". And he also evolved as a composer: "In Escapada, I entered a Jazz wave, even if I made an electronic part of a similar style to what I am doing now. In those times (the early eighties) the guitar synthesizers that I am using now didn't exist, and to achieve the effect I was looking for I had to resort to manipulating the reproduction speed of the recordings". This same year (1983), Six Jours a Barcelona was released, a collaboration with Dominique Lawalree and Conrad Setó. In Música Secreta, released the following year, everyhting is improvised, according to Giménez's claim. Discours. Live Europa Jazz Festival Le Mans gathers his performance in this festival. Quietuds, Concert Confidencial and Música Contemplativa were his last works with the acoustic guitar before he came back to the electric guitar in the mid nineties. Dudum, a first sample of this way back to the task of exploring the electronic universe, appeared in 1995. And two years later, Mosdum has followed it.
I ask him about how he decided to come back to the electric guitar:
"A moment arrived when I had perhaps enclosed myself too much within the classical guitar, and had written many compositions for it, maybe a hundred of those. I also came to feel saturated, like years before had happened to me with the electric guitar. And I began to speculate with what I would do if I played with the electric guitar once again. The final step was the fact that I purchased one of those classical guitars that can be switched on, and from this point I began to study how I could shape its sound to make different things. At the same time, I listened to things that Robert Fripp was doing, and also to Suso Saiz. I bought an electric guitar, effects pedals, and an e-bow, and then I started to experiment".
For Albert, the e-bow turned out to be a key piece of his equipment when it came to shape the music he had in mind:
"Getting the e-bow, was for me a little like finding the Philosopher's Stone. It was impossible to find one in Spain. A cousin of mine went to the United States and got me one. The e-bow, an electronic bow, makes what I had always wished for: The continuous sound in the guitar, as if it were played with a bow. I believe I now have enough equipment with the electric guitar, the e-bow and all the devices I have been coupling to all that, according to my specific ideas, at least for the time being".
Albert Giménez shows me what he means. By using only an electric guitar, he succeeds, through his peculiar equipment, in building an impressive electronic orchestra, as if different polyphonic keyboard synthesizers were playing in harmony. Bewitching melodies, ghostly choirs, roars of an analog texture that take the pitch up and down as if it were manipulated from a hand potentiometer, he gets to make everything sound with the guitar. And my astonishment increases when, as I ask him about the origin of the impressive music I hear, he reveals that this is an improvisation of that very moment.
I ask him about his contact with Suso Saiz:
"I heard Suso Saiz live at a festival. When, after the concert we could talk, I learned he had albums of mine. I commented that having listened to his music had contributed to making me come back to the electric guitar, and he confessed he desired to work with the classical guitar, just like I had done".
In his recovered electronic side, Albert has already given concerts, like for instance at the festival Sonar and the series of concerts of Gracia Territori Sonor.
I wonder about a peculiar circumstance: In electronic music it is more usual to find the musicians use keyboards.
"Right, and this is why sometimes the people who come to my concerts value in a positive way the fact that I use a guitar. I remember, for instance, when I was doing the sound tests before my performance at the festival Sonar, that a technician exclaimed when he saw me," A guitar, at long last!" I believe the guitar gives a more personal touch to my music, and that it is an instrument that allows the musician to express himself in a different manner from what he would do with a keyboard. The terrain of synthesizers is unlimited, yet the fact that you have one instrument among all your equipment that can sound without switching it on, in some way allows you to begin from a higher step".
A somewhat controversial question: Do you think that perhaps the guitar is more expressive than keyboard instruments?
"In my opinion it is so, obviously, as this is my chosen instrument. Furthermore, because the guitar permits you to create the sound in a more direct way, it is not through a device as for instance the keyboard of a synthesizer that controls the parameters that determine the sound, or that of an acoustic piano that is the one to activate the strings in it. On the other hand, in the guitar, you play the strings straightaway, you shape the sound with your own fingers, it is more crafty".
Due to his fruitful experience with both kinds of guitar, acoustic and electric, I ask him to explain what each one has contributed to his artistic evolution.
"Playing with the classical guitar has given me a solid basis that allows me to play both this one and the electric one with better skills than when I began with the electric guitar in the early days of my career. The acoustic guitar demands a constant work, daily, so as not to lose skills, and to find out more sound shades. As for the electronic one, what it contributes is, perhaps, a continuation of the classical guitar, a more orchestral expansion, so to speak, with a more polyphonic capacity for expression. The fact that I can play with delays and other effects, allows me to do things as if I were a string quartet, something that I could not do with the classical guitar, and of course it allows me to explore new sound fields.
I ask him about his acoustic guitars, and he shows me one of those he used lately, playing it for a while. The music he creates from it is wonderful indeed. And to conclude, I ask him whether there is another instrument he may be interested in or he may have been related to.
"I have devoted myself only to the guitar, even though I have always liked the string instruments very much, like for instance the cello and the violin. In this sense, I have always had a great interest in classical music, and from it I have learned things I have applied to my music".
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