Name: Daniel Inzani (of Spindle Ensemble)
Members:Daniel Inzani - piano, Celtic harp and composer, Caelia Lunniss – violin, Harriet Riley - marimba, vibraphone, Jo Silverston – cello
Current Release: Inkling on Hidden Notes Records
Recommendations: String Quartet in F major by Maurice Ravel /To A Seahorse by Moondog
To learn more about the Spindle Ensemble and buy their music, visit their website www.spindleensemble.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I got into music quite late, I started teaching myself piano at 16 and was writing immediately as I didn’t really know how to learn other people’s music. I also had to spend quite a lot of time in hospital between 16-18 and a good friend gave me a CD walkman and all the Beatles albums. Listening to them (often high on morphine) blew my mind and made me realise how special music could be. So, as with so many people, The Beatles were my formative influence.
In my twenties, I gained a lot of recording experience as a pianist in other musician’s projects, on tape and digital, live and overdubbed, in different acoustic spaces, I got to know what worked and when from the musicians view point. It wasn’t until my thirties that I started really focusing on the recording process, set up my own specialised location recording studio setup and became a producer.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It’s a long journey and I’ve been so lucky to work with talented musicians every step of the way. Once I’d finished my degree in Mathematics, I played in as many projects as I could, on different instruments and a wide range of genres: Ethiopian music, avant-garde, lo-fi pop, prog, jazz, solo piano, singer-songwriter, folk, rock, blues, psychedelic, rocksteady, beat-making, hip-hop and soul.
Turning all that playing experience into my own voice came from committing to instrumental music and developing my composition style, which took time. I experimented with different musical concepts and a big breakthrough was when I started treating melodies as the inflection of a character’s voice, and then used harmony to give characters added context and mood. I would apply jazz modal harmony theory to unusual pentatonic scales, overlap different time signatures in an idiosyncratic manner and get really mathematical about rhythm and composition. But I always wanted each composition to have a narrative that flowed and took the listener on a journey. If any part of a composition lacked context, felt too technical or self-indulgent then I would rework it or drop it.
The music I wanted to make just wasn’t appropriate for the projects I was in. So, when I’d built up enough confidence I became an independent band leader and offered the musicians something valuable in return, an opportunity for their talents to shine, amongst friends, playing music they were proud to be a part of. After leading a few experimental bands and learning what did and didn’t work for me, I realised chamber music based around acoustic piano was what I wanted to play and so in 2016 I put together Spindle Ensemble.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I have found it a long challenge to hone my own style, but after 20 years of working on it and playing so many different styles of music, eventually I just realise what does and doesn’t feel right for me. I like to combine lots of ideas into my compositions, I take the ideas that come through improvising at the piano and keep experimenting and developing them into one another.
Being creative with little ideas comes naturally, but I had to learn over time how to curate these experiments into a narrative that flowed and worked as a whole piece of music. With Spindle Ensemble, we play through works in progress as a group so that the pieces can grow organically and the other members can have creative input that allows them and their instruments to flourish.
I’ve come from a live music background, I want recordings to capture the musicians at their best and my production style reflects that. So, I have an order of priorities for recording and a lot is in the preparation: Great musicians and composition, awesome sounding instruments, a friendly atmosphere for the musicians to play in, a fantastic live room with spacious dynamic acoustics, quality ribbon microphones correctly placed and then... all other considerations.
Spindle Ensemble position ourselves around a Blumlein pair of ribbon mics which represent the listener’s head position. That stereo image is a 3D representation of us in a space, mimicking an audience members experience of a live concert so they can pick out each musician’s position. That represents about 70% of our recording’s sound, the rest is close mics on each instrument blended in for extra definition and EQ control, and then some further away ambient mics for a bit of depth. If you get all that right then the mixing is relatively easy. The production challenges I’ve had in the past are whenever I have tried to take any shortcuts from this method, but these challenges have helped develop the style I now have.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Instead of partying with the cool kids from school me and a couple of friends spent our teenage evenings recording in our bedrooms onto a 4-track mini disc recorder with one budget mic. My home studio setup grew and from 2012-2018 I was living in a house of musicians in Bristol with an analogue studio setup of shared gear instead of a living room. We recorded dozens of albums there with so many incredible bands loosely known as Bloom collective.
Eventually, I wanted to be recording chamber music on a grand piano in larger rooms with great acoustics. So, I set up a specialised location studio with a secret weapon: lots of Ribbon microphones, mainly from Extinct Audio and X-Audia. They capture sound with vintage warmth and a complementary saturation similar in tone to tape recording, especially in the low frequencies. But they also have been reconfigured to have high impedance, which in combination with an in-line Fet head pre-amp gives gives a strong signal for digital recording with clarity in the higher frequencies and minimal hiss.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
The main piece of technology I am interested in is the acoustic instruments themselves, and I don’t need them to evolve in order to have a lifetimes adventure playing with them. The music we make is totally dependent on the musician’s expressive, interactive and tasteful playing.
I do use vintage plug ins in production to emulate the characteristics of vintage gear I can’t afford. I’ve done a lot of recording to tape through analogue gear and I absolutely love it. But I’ve observed what a labour of love it is to run and maintain the gear and you have to pick your battles, I’ve chosen playing and composing on piano.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I guess I’m a bit old fashioned, you can’t beat the human element. Spindle Ensemble’s parameters are quite fixed, it’s the set of instruments we play: piano, marimba, vibraphone, violin, cello, harp and accordion. It our job to get the most out of these tools and keep an adventurous spirit with the sounds we can get from them. The co-authorship comes from my bandmates, the creative ideas they input to songs, improvisation, their listening and interpretive skills.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Spindle Ensemble is a very collaborative project and it’s all based around playing live together. For example, our single Caligo was two songs ideas that I didn’t quite know what to do with individually, our tuned percussionist Harriet Riley suggested we play them at the same time and it worked so well we stuck with it.
We’ll talk as a group about the concept behind a song or an album to see what extra elements we can bring in to make them feel more complete. We’ve also collaborated with other musicians and that’s something I hope we can do more of after the pandemic.