Bart Van Meulebroeck is already active for years now in the Belgian electro fields. He got involved with very different projects such as the electro-pop duo Propulsion, released one album together with the body/tech/trance formation Nebula-H, experimented with dark-electronics as Ex.Es, got also involved with an 80s cover project ao. But the latest experiment is driven by ambient influences and called Nevel. The first official (double)-album “The Hageland” released by Wool-E Discs is a conceptual release inspired by the Hageland, which is a Flemish region in Belgium where the artist is living. Bart Van Meulebroeck give me more details about his work.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: You’ve been involved with numerous projects and different music styles so how did you get the idea to start Nevel, which is mixing electro-ambient and more danceable stuff?
Bart: With the NEVEL project I keep on collaborating with other artists and as I have just started my own digital label ARTIFICIAL NIGHT, I am able to release new tracks whenever I want to. These tracks will be available as streams or downloads via various digital platforms. Also I am glad to deliver an EX.ES (dark electro) track/remix every now and then. Various labels such as Alfa Matrix, Infacted Recordings, Körperschall records and UpScene have released either tracks or remixes. PROPULSION (synth-pop) has been on hold for a few years now and we (Ben, who initially started PROPULSION) stopped performing live with our electronic 80s cover band MEN VERSUS MACHINE. Regarding NEBULA-H (EBM), there are no future plans.
Meanwhile I started an electro pop project with a female singer mainly focusing on indie/danceable tracks. So far we are still working behind the scenes, a full album in the future is our goal though. But let’s get back to NEVEL. The general idea was to stop making music for a while, to focus on other things. As I became a father of two children there was less time to be creative in my home studio. But blood is thicker than water. During walks with my kids I started recording environmental sounds with a small field recorder. As I got inspired by these captures I came up with the idea to produce some ambient tracks. I didn’t aim to release this material at all. At a certain moment I got triggered by an advert of a local exhibition inviting regional artists to expose and perform. My application was approved and a few months later I performed a few of my tracks live during this exhibition
I accompanied these ambient tracks with a slide show of pictures I took during my nature walks. I was surprised to get more bookings and performed live a few more times. I uploaded my tracks to Soundcloud because some people asked for it. I got a reaction from Dimitri Idunno (Wool-E Discs) and we kept in touch during the years. In 2019 a record deal was settled.
Q: Your album “The Hageland” is a kind of conceptual work. What is the concept all about and how did you finally proceed to compose the songs?
Bart: The Hageland is a real existing region situated between the Belgian cities of Leuven and Diest. It’s a particularly attractive hilly landscape. Hiking in this region will surprise you with many varied landscapes, such as plains, hills and lush forests. All tracks are named after streets and places in The Hageland. As stated before, I started composing ambient tracks, but as I am a big The Orb fan, I wanted to create my own Orb track, without being a clone of course. The result was the track “Schoonbergen”. In the end not really an Orby-track. During the process of composing this track I imported the captured field recordings into various samplers and synthesizers (Padshop Pro from Steinberg is one my favorites) and I discovered I could use these nature sounds as pads and leads to create melodies.
During the years I collected a whole library of field recordings which I used in every track. Most of the time you can’t even recognize the original sounds, the real power of sampling at its best.
Q: “The Hageland” features a selection of previously self-released songs, which have been reworked and remastered. Tell us a bit more about the origin of these songs and the release of a double disc?
Bart:The self-released tracks were only available during the live performances. A very limited CD-R edition though. As a matter of fact I started this project in 2011. Most of the tracks were produced on an old pc, using Cubase SX. “Dunberg”, “Tafelbos” and “Stort” are the most recent tracks. I realized if I really wanted to reach that higher level of producing I had to improve my recording and producing skills. As I watched and read a lot of tutorials online I got confused several times because of conflicting explanations. Finally I decided to update my studio. I bought a new PC, new software and I registered for a training course ‘mixing and mastering’ in Leuven. This lead into mixing and mastering my DCD “The Hageland”.
As I met Dimitri a few times during concerts he asked me to compile a CD with my best tracks. I forwarded him two CD’s instead of one: a more up tempo, 4/4 kick driven CD and the ambient/experimental oriented one, stating I couldn’t choose which CD was the most interesting one to release. I was totally flabbergasted when Dimitri told me he wanted to release a double CD. I am even more startled about the fact a few artists got in touch with me to mix and master their album as well, which is a nice bonus of course.
Q: “The Hageland” indeed features two different parts. I must say that the first disc entitled “The Hike” is not totally fitting with the conceptual series of Wool-E Discs (cf. “Belgian NeuMusik”) which is mainly focalized on ‘ambient’ music. Can you give us more details about it?
Bart: I’ve never made music to fit into the “Belgian NeuMusik”-series, this was Dimitri’s choice. Actually I think I do fit with this series because of my ambient CD “The Cooldown”, but also because of the Kraut and experimental elements in the uptempo CD “The Hike”. On top of that, every track holds field recordings, natural sounds which have surrounded me during the years. And without wanting to be a critic, the word ‘ambient’ is derived from the Latin ‘ambire’, which means ‘surround’, ‘circulate’… So, yeah, I am really pleased to be part of the “Belgian NeuMusik”-series.
Q: I’m fascinated by such a concept, but I’m wondering how people living in the Hageland might recognize the streets, places and hills you’ve been inspired with? What’s the importance/impact of the visual artwork to fully understand the concept and goal of the work?
Bart: Just listening to the music, people won’t recognize the streets and places at all. During live performances I tell the audience about the origins of the tracks while projecting pictures. I also talk about the way I create my own sounds by using field recordings. I also sample and manipulate found objects (such as stones, branches and leaves) which I use as live instruments during these gigs. The combination of all these elements make the NEVEL concept quite clear. Some locals even consider my music as ‘road music’ because they like listening to it while cruising in our region. For the artwork of the album I worked together with a local photographer called Rudi Wuyts. I am really happy with this collaboration. Rudi succeeded in collecting together all the NEVEL elements in one, naturally manipulated picture: of course the trees and mist. Above that, this picture captures the whole mood of the album which is slightly dark, melancholic and mysterious. As a bonus, inside the CD, you can discover a few more pictures which beautifully illustrate the charm of the region where I live.
Q: The visual aspect of the work brings me to the live performances of Nevel, which I think are in constant evolution. How do you look back at your live experiences so far and what might we expect from further live performances and new songs?
Bart: So far I have performed in totally dark settings to let the visuals reach their full benefit. I have worked together with a guitarist. All these gigs were quite ambient oriented. Now I am ready to hit the road with a total electronic, both ambient and danceable live set up, using ABLETON LIVE, a live controller and synths, supported by new visuals. The visuals will be a combination of pictures illustrating the Hageland surroundings combined with trippy and hypnotizing effects. The first upcoming performance will be 31st October 2019, somewhere in The Hageland. It will be a Halloween night totally hosted by NEVEL: a live performance and a DJ set afterwards. A rather small, but very cozy venue booked me.
There is already some interest from a Scandinavian promoter to book me for another gig. More info if I will get a final confirmation of course. Hopefully some other promoters will show some interest too now. NEVEL’s music is constantly evolving. At the moment I am producing some very melancholic, danceable, organic deep house tunes. A couple tracks from my album are being remixed by some interesting Belgian artists (upcoming release later this year) and a NEVEL tech-house remix of “Holleweg” will be released digitally somewhere in October.