Hi Lionel, it’s a pleasure to talk with you! I enjoyed listening to Modest Midget debut
album so much, so congratulations: in my opinion it is one of the best releases of
You were born in Buenos Aires, you grew up in Israel and now you live in the
Netherlands. What a “strange life”, can you tell something about that and your studies
as a musician?
I’m an Israeli, with a big portion of my heart still living in Buenos Aires, although I was
very young when we left. Apparently I got something strong from the Argentinean
atmosphere at home.
My parents were in their thirties when we arrived in Israel, so they were, and still are
Argentineans, daily speaking Spanish and playing south American music (Argentinean,
Chilean and Brazilian). That’s the origin of music in my life. Israel is a very different
“scene”. After having grown up there, being in Holland I now realize how competitive the
Israeli society is, and how lucky I was to grow up among some very special and fine
musicians there, a group of people who worked very hard and gave everything they could
to make good music. Among them was my dear friend, composer Amit Poznansky and the
now famous Brazilian percussionist Joca Perpignan.
First of all, Modest Midget sound is very difficult to define. It seems minimal when you
are listening to the songs, but it’s full of instruments and ideas. It’s pretty brilliant.
Would you define it for us?
First, thanks for the compliments! It’s always great first and foremost to hear that people
appreciate the music. Defining it is always going to be impossible for me, because when
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Modest Midget (Lionel Ziblat)
Condividi 6 Article by Gaetano Loffredo
Publish on: 26/01/11
you create something new, you first want to make something which wasn’t there before,
which means that if you’re lucky, you will succeed to such an extent that your music will
be difficult to categorize, until one day someone will put a flag on it and announce a new
name for your style. I personally just call it “Rock And Roll” but it’s my own personal
projection probably. Secondly, I don’t feel a need to put any fences around my music, and
that’s what a definition will do. It’s not my job and I’m probably not very good at it either.
Then, I want to say that your sound is close to the British style, isn’t it?
I honestly have no idea. There are indeed many British artists that I loved, but then
again, there are many American ones also, Israeli, Brazilian, Argentinean ones, jazz, folk
and classical music. I heard a lot of old jazz at home because my father is a huge Louis
Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke fan. I loved some Pat Metheney too, Chick Corea and of
course Django Reinhardt. Maybe you can argue that I love music of minorities…?
Can you tell us something about the story behind “The Great Prophecy Of A Small
Man” and the meaning of this title?
I arrived in Holland in order to follow the conservatory studies, but most importantly I was
hoping to form a band to materialize some vague ideas that I had. During the years of my
study I was trying out with different people and I learned that it was not going to be easy
finding the right partners for it. After I completed my study, I decided that the best way to
portray my ideas would be to just record the music I wrote. I had a bunch of “slightly
weird” songs which didn’t have anything to do with the classical world where I was at the
time, but they did seem to belong together. I started recording them on my own, with the
aid of a few acquaintances, among them Emiel De Jong who offered a big hand during the
recordings, playing wind instruments and making some vocal parts. I was toying with the
name Modest Midget for a while, and it became very clear to me that it was more than
just a name. It was an abstract being that would drop by and inspire me to write this
particular kind of music. A little person like him who comes along like that, has obviously
something to say, and it sometimes feels like I’m actually his vessel for delivering his
message to the world, hence the title of the CD.
It’s finally clear: The Beatles music is the greatest inspiration for Modest Midget.
Would you talk a little about this?
I’m not sure that it’s so clear to me actually. After all, as you said yourself, it might not be
so easy to define “the Midget” sound. My biggest musical idol and inspiration is definitely
Chico Buarque, at least concerning the use of colour and variety in the music. He also
taught me that your role as an artist is to reflect on what is happening around and share
it with your listeners. The Beatles are a very happy group who wrote very attractive
music, and had the luck of working with a fantastic producer and studio team. It’s always
inspiring to be exposed to that. Stravinsky taught me to dare come out with a new sound,
even if most people will judge you negatively at first. Zappa and Beethoven taught me
never to give up and persist with whatever you do, as long as you work hard. Deep
Purple taught me about intensity of sound and rhythm. Listen, there are many wonderful
musicians I had the luck to have discoeverd: Cuchi Leguizamon, Les Luthiers, A.C. Jobim,
Danny Sanderson, Shlomo Gronich, Matti Caspi, Robert Fripp, Gentle Giant, Bartok, Ravel
and Schnitke. I think the Beatles are great but if it was only Beatles I would have gotten
bored and not inspired at all.
Where did you get ideas in order to compose your tracks?
I never know. This is one of those mysteries that you grow to respect. Respect the fact
that you don’t know everything and that you never will. You have to be in the right mood,
and dwell in the chaos and the dirt of the unknown. Sometimes its different, when I’m
euphoric for some reason, and out of nowhere; music comes to my mind. Sometimes I sit
and enjoy playing with sounds or ideas in my head, manipulating them around, until it
becomes something that has to be come out to the world.
So, let’s talk about the artwork that’s very… Artistic… What does it represent?
I was struck when I discovered that a singer that I knew in the conservatory, Josefien
Stoppelenburg, was also a painter, and a damn marvellous one too! When I saw this
painting it just all seemed to fall into place. And every day I see it, I see it in some new
way how it all fits with the album and the music. I still like it very much. Aren’t the colours
Let’s Return to The Beatles: what is your favourite album and why?
This is a difficult question. Almost everything they did sounded new and fresh. They never
repeated themselves, both musically and even production-wise. However, there is one
album that I think is the weakest: “Beatles For Sale”, but its still great and inspiring none
the less. Another album which is under-estimated is “Rubber Soul”. I think this one was a
huge leap forward in the Pop / Rock world. There are a few albums that I loved as a
young kid and that I still enjoy listening to today. An album like “The Gates of Deliruim” by
Yes for instance was also a big favourite, but I hardly get back to it now, even though its
respect is in its place of course!
What is your favourite instrument to play? You are not only a pianist, isn’t it?
I’m a guitarist actually. I play some piano too but I don’t see myself as a pianist. Still, I
don’t see myself as a ‘player musician’ anyway, which means that after playing a certain
instrument for a while, I’m fed up and need a different stimulation. And in a way I consider
it playing an instrument too.
But you are principal a great
composer… How difficult is to
compose for an orchestra?
After years of learning orchestration
and discovering what composing is
about, I realized that writing for
orchestra is not just a technique. It’s
also a philosophy. When composing for
an orchestra you are first and
foremost working with sound, and with
the range of frequencies that we can
hear and deal with.
Since the moment I started
considering myself as a reasonably
accomplished composer, I also started
approaching music production the
same way. Composition is all about
balance. A good recording also has to
have balance. If you have big gaps
between high and low registers, or if
you have too little low, or too little
high, the piece (or song) will be weak.
On the other hand, if there is too much
happening on the same frequencies,
or too many elements demanding
attention, you have a problem too. This is why being able to write something subtle and
simple that manages to fill the space is truly an art. The same goes for the contrary,
writing something that sounds like chaos but that has the impact and drama that you
sought for. The difference between the orchestra and a recorded production of a fourpiece
band, is the tools and the idiom that you use. The frequencies and intensity of the
music still all have to be there.
Let’s talk about new songs. In my opinion “Troubles In Heaven” is one of best songs
of the year. Fresh with a fantastic melody, violin, guitars, orchestral choir and The
Beatles atmosphere… What do you think about that?
I think I like you. More seriously, “Troubles In Heaven” is cool to play. A bit complicated to
play live in a 4 piece band, because I’m very loyal to the arrangement on the album. But
indeed, its one of those songs that the ladies usually like. And there’s something very
special about pleasing ladies in the audience.
But it is an album with a lot of good tracks: “Contemporary Ache”, “Baby” and the
instrumentals… what is your favourite and why?
When I write music, its always my baby. I don’t ever compare between them in the same
level. If I feel like listening back to an old recording I made (and these recordings are
already behind me), then what I chose depends on my mood. I like Contemporary
because its straight rock, no bullshit, and yet it gets a bit complicated but without ruining
the drive. I love doing it live too. Baby is one of those delicate things I’ll probably be
proud of till the end of my days (honestly!).
What about your expectations regarding “The Great Prophecy Of A Small Man”?
I’m very careful with expectations. My goal - very simply put, is this: I think there are
probably more people around that might enjoy it. I’d love them all to have a chance to
know about it. That’s enough for me!
And… What about Modest Midget next steps?
I’d love to go back to perform some more, around Europe but also outside. I was thinking
about the Fiji Islands. And I’m also hoping to start recording the second album in the
coming year. There is already some new music being cooked for it!
I think your music is perfect for theatres, I hope to see you in Italy for a concert…
I’d be honoured, and I’m sure it would be a great pleasure for the guys in the band too. I
have a strong feeling that Italy will be a great place for us to play…
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