The Intensity & Calmness of Camila Nebbia

I was a little late to the table when it comes to Camila Nebbia’s incredible body of work, but when I heard her collaborative album with Patrick Shiroishi from earlier this year, I was instantly transfixed. Her saxophone playing is beguiling, always full of power even as she gracefully moves from idea to idea, and I can immediately tell it’s her because her voice and style are so distinct. 

Her solo album, De este lado, is remarkable, an all-encompassing experience. The saxophone pieces are gut punches, such as the slow-moving scrawl of “Además.” When Nebbia bends and twists the sax tones through effects, they become haunted, spinning webs in the darkest corners, devolving into nothingness before her voice rises from the haze. The album, like much of her work, is filled with redolent textures that showcase the way she connects disparate ideas into something so engaging, so moving that it can’t be ignored.

I chatted with Camila through email in September and October. She can be reached through her website.

What are some of your earliest memories of music and sound? Are there any specific memories that have stuck with you through the years, or favorite sounds you often return to?

My earliest memory of music is the music I heard in my family. My brother and sisters listened to a lot of rock music, so I guess I inherited the love of it from them. My parents listened to many different kinds of music. They had some jazz albums around and I remember the curiosity they produced in me. Also, my mother listens to a lot of mantras and chants, and that has been also a big influence.

About sound, I think it’s the sound of Buenos Aires. I have always lived in very central areas with a lot of chaos around, and that intensity and noise is something I relate to feeling at home. I also feel the necessity to return and evoke that chaos in music. Recently I have been listening to the sounds of nature a lot because I have been living for 8 months near a forest, and that has changed me a lot.

What first motivated you to start learning to play an instrument? Did you begin on saxophone or did you come to that later?

It’s funny, I started with the saxophone when I was a kid, around 8 or 9 years old. I saw somebody play the saxophone on TV and ran to my mother and asked if I could take lessons. I started with saxophone, but then I had a period of playing electric bass when I was a teenager. I listened to and played a lot of punk music. I love it! 

That’s awesome that you were really into punk in your teen years and played too. I relate to that quite a bit as I also played in punk bands and was super into it back then. I sometimes want to start a new punk band – ha! Anyway, how do you think that interest and experience have helped shape and influence the music you do now?

I think the most present way that has shaped me and influenced me is in the energy, that intensity that music made me and makes me feel I have always found ways to express it in the music I do, and also as a part of being music that expresses political ideas.

Was there something in particular that you wanted to create or ideas you had that you wanted to translate into sound?

I’m always seeking new ways and forms to create and express ideas, not as a way of imposing them, but as a way of sharing them. And trying that my sound or sounds are always an honest reflection of myself and what I believe in.

One thing that really strikes me about your work is how you can shift between a restrained approach, where your playing feels very warm and contemplative, and then, next thing you know, you are flying… how does your mindset and approach shift as you play in these different styles? Is there always some common thread that is important for you to follow, no matter how you play?

I try to be as present as possible to connect with the moment and the music and how it is affecting also time and space. It’s never the same because every experience is different. Depending on if I’m solo or playing with a band, that also changes everything. 

I think how I play mirrors my way of living. I love intensity and I also love calmness, and I think that’s the common thread to it all.

Along those same lines, you do such diverse work from the nonet recordings on Aura to your amazing solo album, De este lado, and, of course, the recent collaboration with Patrick Shiroishi. What is it like, for you, when composing for a group, like on Aura, compared to your solo works?

The ideas that I had for those albums were totally different between them, but they both had in common that they were challenging in some way. 

With Aura, it was all about imagining the band and what I wanted to express and explore with it. I wanted to create compositions where I could delve into the relationship between written material and free improvised music, and I could explore the sound of the band. I believe it’s important to take this kind of risk in music and life, and I was really jumping into unknown territory with this album. It is crazy to be in charge of a large ensemble. I am lucky that they are not only amazing musicians but they are also outstanding human beings… So it was such a joyful experience to put together the music, play, and record it. 

With De este lado, the experience was different because it was all by myself, and although there are many things I had been exploring for a while before the recording, the general essence of this album is that it is totally free improvised music with poetry and effects. Before this, I had released an album with a sextet of my music and I guess I wanted to create something that could contrast to it, and give me space to work on the relationship between poetry, saxophones, gongs, pedal effects, and some other percussive instruments. 

Both albums have in common that they have a lot of conceptual thinking that came at the same time I was creating the compositions/improvisations.

De este lado is an album with so many layers, so much to hear and take in. Can you talk a little about how the idea to include spoken word came to mind and what your motivations were? The PDF/book included is awesome. Did you make any physical editions of those?

Yes, I did a few physical editions mostly to give away to friends and family. I was very happy to be able to put together some poems that I had been writing for the last year before the release with the design of Paula Maneyro. My main motivation for the album and fanzine was to be able to explore different sounds and have the space to play and interact with them. I was doing it a lot by myself and wanted to do a record that way. 

About spoken word, I think I have always felt a connection when improvising in using my voice whenever I feel I can. It is so connected to my instrument that it feels natural to me. Also, the idea of releasing a fanzine instead of a physical album was a way to try different possibilities and forms of releasing music.   

How long have you been writing poetry and how did you first start?

Poetry is something that has been with me for a long time, I don’t even know when I started. I have some early memories as a kid writing some poems in a book, but I don’t remember exactly when. 

It has accompanied me for a long time and it comes and goes. I can have very long periods of not writing anything and then some periods where I do it more often. I also love reading poetry, my favorite poets are Alejandra Pizarnik, Alfonsina Storni, Olga Orozco, Oliverio Girondo…

I really like this statement about sharing ideas, not imposing them, and thinking about that idea especially in the realm of collaboration. What do you like most about collaborating with other artists and how do those projects and sessions challenge you differently than when working alone?

I love the idea of sharing, of always being in a process of expansion and learning from each other. I love collaborating because you learn a lot from each other, from the collaborator, and also from yourself because something new always appears when the stimulus is different. The biggest challenge is to find a meeting point or a way to make both worlds (or more than two) live together. Sometimes this appears very fast, and sometimes it takes more time.

How is improvisation important to your artistic practice?

It is very important in my artistic practice. Even when I’m composing or creating films, it is always present. It’s always present not only in my artistic practice but also as a way of living.

Can you tell me a little bit about the album with Patrick Shiroishi and how that came about and what the experience was like working together? It’s really become one of my favorite pieces of music from this year.

It was such a beautiful experience and journey to create it! Patrick contacted me to create a remote collaboration and the whole process was very inspiring and deep, even at a distance. We would always exchange thoughts and feelings together with music, and that for me it was so valuable! It was a big support during the lockdown to have this project going. I was still in Argentina when we started the project, and when we finished it I was already in Sweden, so in a way, it also accompanied a big movement in my life. 

Can you tell me a little bit about Mingunos and how that project came about? Do you have a personal favorite Mingus piece?

It has been a very beautiful experience to be part of that group. We are all very close friends, and every time we got together it was such a joy to play together. The idea of the project started just to play Mingus’s music but with other perspectives and our own arrangements. It was also to grow as an ensemble. I really love “Duke Ellington’s Sounds of Love!” But I have many other favorites too…

What are you working on now and what’s next?

I have some more album releases that I am looking forward to before the year ends, like my second solo album Presencias on the record label Sound Holes from Scotland. There are some albums of free improvisation with different musicians, too. Then, as soon as next year starts our second album with the trio, Burka, Claustrofobia, on the record label Cacophonous Revival from the United States, will come out. Also, I will be touring and playing a lot of improvised music around Europe, with multimedia projects and performances, collaborating with different artists. At the same time, I started writing new music, so hopefully I can record it sometime next year.

If you like what Foxy Digitalis does, please consider supporting us on Patreon.