Q&A with Daniel Nistico

Following on from this week’s review of his new album, Un Viaje Mistico, Daniel agreed to partake in a Q&A to tell us a bit about the album, the work he put into it, his experiences in making it and what he’s up to next.

The album is absolutely fantastic! What was the process for coming up with Un Viaje Mistico?

 Thanks! The main reason that I wanted to start recording was that I had so much repertoire on the go and some of it was quite obscure. I wanted to give people a chance to get to know these more obscure works. I’ve also been in need for a proper album for some time now as it’s a great way of promoting yourself. Not to mention my mentor Anthony Field was constantly reminding me of the importance of starting a career. Just to give you an idea, I had started seriously considering recording since around mid 2012 and it took quite a while for everything (studio bookings, repertoire decisions, spare time etc.) to fall into place.

What was the inspiration for the program?

What I really wanted to do was have a collection of works that were both familiar and unfamiliar for most listeners. I tried to do this in a gradual way on the album by starting with the more familiar works and slowly working my way through to the more obscure ones. I also wanted to have a variety of cultures represented on the album. So we have Spanish, Paraguayan, Australian, American and Irish. The Barrios works that open the album, Mazurka Appasionata and La Catedral, are two of my favorites by Barrios. Sevilla was one of my early favorites and was one of the first pieces that I ever learned on my own from notation. Collectici intim is an astonishing work that I feel a strong connection with. The characters, textures, colours and wonderful compositional craft are all beautifully constructed under a semi contemporary language, which also has blends of almost jazz like harmonies.

What was the inspiration for the title of the album? And, I have to ask, did you pick that title because it rhymes with your surname?!

The title came about in a meeting that I was having with some people who organized the CD launch I did at Nandos. Judith So, who is the mother of one of my students, had the initial idea of the concert and invited Maria Semple, a life coach and NLP practitioner, to help. We were discussing some of the themes behind the CD launch and one of them was the idea of music and it’s mystical nature. Maria is originally from Venezuela and thus speaks Spanish. Due to her experience with NLP, she had the idea of rhyming the word Mistico with my surname Nistico, as rhyming is a good way of creating associations. We then discussed how my future move to study at Eastman in New York is part of the journey of music. The word Viaje, loosely translated from Spanish, can mean Journey. Thus the putting together of these words formed the title of the album.

I particularly love your transcription and interpretation of Sevilla – the highlight of the album for me. Can you give us some insight into how you went about preparing that arrangement?

Thank you, it’s also one of the highlights for me too. Firstly I heard Alicia de Larrocha’s recording of the work, which in my and many other people’s opinions, is the definitive performance of the music of Albeniz on the piano. I noticed the texture in general was quite a lot richer than most guitar transcriptions. It was this richness, in both texture and character that I wanted to capture. I looked at several versions and noticed some differences in expression markings and other things, so I wanted to find the Urtext. The Urtext was my main source and I literally was practicing straight from that version, trying to keep as much of the texture as I could. I also wanted to slow the tempo a little as I feel if it’s too fast it can lose some of the richness and grace that is inherent in the writing. I also worked on this piece with another mentor of mine, Donna Coleman, who is a pianist and had some wonderful insights into the interpretation behind Sevilla.

 What is your favourite track on the album and why?

That’s a difficult question, as I like each track for their different qualities. Probably one of my favorites to play is the work by Lennon as it fits on the guitar so well and exploits many of its ‘natural’ qualities and techniques like strumming and harmonics. Within all these qualities lies an intelligently crafted musical structure that I find captivating and expressive.

Can you tell us a bit about the recording process? Did you enjoy it? What were you favourite parts of the process? And the least favourite? How long did it take you all up?

I wanted to avoid as much editing as I could, so I kept my actual recording time as brief as I could. I spent around 20 hours in the studio recording, including setting up the sound and mic placement, which took a few hours in itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the recording part of the process, especially as Anthony Field and Michael McManus were there almost all the time helping me and making the process much easier.

The post-production phase of editing was a bit of a learning curve for me as I did most of it myself. Luckily Anthony and Michael had written down which takes were successful and which weren’t so I had a list that I could draw upon. With editing I started by choosing the takes I liked the most and then splicing the parts out of other takes and inserting them into the main one. Sometimes these splices would be large, maybe one whole section or phrase and sometimes they’ll be small, down to one note! This process I found fun most of the time. It was incredible to hear a take put together and know that it’s composed of heaps of different takes. But there were times when it was difficult to match the continuity of the original take, for instance sometimes the tempo or dynamics would be quite different from one take to another. This process took maybe 2-3 weeks, though there was tweaking here and there for a while afterwards too. While I was doing the editing, sound engineer Blake Stickland was working on the sound, things like reverb, balance and mic combinations (I was using several different mics). Blake would send me files through dropbox and I would give my suggestions.

The next step was the mastering, which I did at Deluxe Mastering with Adam Dempsey. This was basically a more sophisticated process of adjusting the parameters of the sound. I was stunned by the facilities they had there, particularly the huge speakers that had an incredible sound to listen to the album through. So here we did some slight tweaking and then we put the tracks together so that the timings in-between tracks all ran appropriately from start to end. Mastering went for about 8 hours in the one day. As I was just adding suggestions for Adam to apply to the album, I found it very enjoyable, especially hearing it through the great speakers.

The final process was the album artwork. I had the artwork illustrated by my friend Scott Morton, who is a fantastic young illustrator from Melbourne. I gave him my suggestions and he would send me different options for angles and colour etc. So that happened quite fast and I had the artwork done before I started the post-production process. The biggest learning curve of all for me was laying out the texts and creating the booklets with the artwork from Scott. I did this myself and found this by far the most stressful and (seemingly) time-consuming part of the whole process. I had to find the right fonts, set out the artwork with exact measurements and figure out the layout using Photoshop, which is quite a daunting and sophisticated piece of software!

What “lessons learnt” did you take from the process of making the album? What would you do the same, and what would you do differently next time?

The main lesson learnt is just how prepared you must be with everything! Most importantly the music and the playing must be at top gear. One thing I learnt from the recording process was to be fussy in technical glitches down to microscopic detail as these would result in unwanted and unmusical sounds in the recording. I would get out a red pencil and circle the notes/passages that I knew were not 100% reliable and tried to eliminate whatever was causing the problem, or find a way of making that note/passage easier somehow and write down the solution. I also became more pedantic than usual with the interpretative elements; dynamics, rubato etc. and again would write in my score (usually in another colour) to indicate a fairly specific plan and try to practice that in. This is all fairly similar to a live performance, but I feel like there is more room for improvisational interpretation and taking risks in that situation. These processes were happening during my time recording, so I felt like I learnt a lot in that short time and would try to be more prepared in advance for those aspects next time I record.

You funded the album through Pledge Music – how did you find that process?

It was a great process, very easy and a great way of compelling you to promote yourself via social media! It’s a fantastic way of sharing the whole album making process with people and I would certainly do it again. A huge thanks to everyone who pledged too, including yourself Nicole!

 Any plans for a second album?

I have recently thought that it would be nice to do an album based on opera. There are many compositions, usually theme and variations, particularly from the 19th century by composers such as Mertz, Sor and Regondi, which are heavily inspired by opera, particularly by Rossini. There’s the well-known Variations on a Theme by Mozart that I’ve been playing for a while now. There’s also a nice Fantasia from Verdi’s La Traviata that has many well-known themes and melodies presented in an exciting and virtuosic way.

What’s up next for you and in the next 12 months?

In early August I’ll be heading to New Zealand to do some concerts and further promote the album and you can check out my website for details about that and other concerts and happenings I might be doing – http://www.danielnistico.com. After that I’ll be heading to Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York to do a Doctor of Musical Arts. That’ll keep me busy for around 3 years.



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