Modest Midget (Lionel Ziblat)
Article by Gaetano Loffredo - Publish on: 26/01/11

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 2010!

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 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 just great?

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.

modestmidget_intervista2010_02But 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 four-piece 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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