Behind the piano: Rui Ribeiro

Behind the piano: Rui Ribeiro

A couple of months back I wrote about the track Falkenberger Straße by the Portuguese composer and piano player Rui Ribeiro. And since it’s Thursday; why not learn more about his history!

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I was born in Lisbon, Portugal. I currently live in a little town hidden in the middle of the woods, north of Portugal.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing the piano for around 25 years now but I started to play the organ earlier when I was 7, so I think it’s fair to say I play keyboard instruments for more than 30 years now. Besides keyboard instruments I played the drums, the trumpet, and the violin (not very well though!) 

Tell us about how you started playing music. 
My father was taking driving lessons when I was a kid, and the time for those lessons was after school. So he’d pick me up from school, and take me with him to those lessons (I was sitting in the back seat of the driving school car while he was learning how to drive). The driving instructor was a rude and unprofessional lady that frequently ordered my father to stop the car in front of her house so she could take some groceries in or whatever. Coincidentally, right next to her house there was a music school with a huge window. While me and my dad were waiting for the instructor in the car, I could see and listen to kids like me playing all sorts of instruments, and that just sounded and looked like a magical world to me. I was fascinated by that and my father was keen to notice it. I eventually enrolled in that school and that’s how it all started.

How long have you been making piano music?
This is a hard question to answer because I started to improvise music in the piano right away, even before I learned any music theory or technique at all. Even today, after all the music education I had (conservatory, college), I still sit at the piano and the first thing I play is an improvisation (that sometimes ends up growing into a piece). So I can’t really pinpoint the exact time when I started to make piano music. However, I only decided to make some of this music public as late as 2015.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
Well, as I said before, it was always very natural for me to create music out of nothing, so there wasn’t really an “aha” moment for me. I remember, though, the first time I wrote a piece to offer to someone: I was in high school and was in love with a girl; because I was too shy, I thought that offering her a song showing my feelings would be better. It didn’t work very well, but I realized more clearly in that moment that I could do it!

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I end up not having favourite artists in this contemporary composer/pianist genre because I like to find new ones and realize how different they can be. It’s really beautiful to witness their different personalities and ideas. I must also confess that I don’t listen that much to fellow pianist/composers of today (I should probably invest more time on that), and most of the time I listen to the classical repertoire instead.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
Not really. Every time I sit down by the piano I mostly start to improvise. Unless, of course, it’s a concert and then I’ll play my music!

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I think that rules are definitely made to be broken, but I believe they’re usually broken in different times and ways. For instance, it’s very clear that nowadays the “standard piano sound rules” in recordings are being broken: long gone are the days that all recordings sounded the same, with their Steinway Ds, decca trees, similar studio sound engineering and so on. People are now recording with different pitches, prepared pianos, felt pianos, and looking for a more unique sound identity. I think that each era has its innovations and it’s very important not to stagnate in the same processes. I don’t know what rules need to be broken, but I do know that it’s important to think freely and not to get too attached to any music rules.

How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
I always record it and produce it myself, but studio wise It all depends on the final result I’m after. My first two solo piano albums were recorded in big studios, with top gear. The first one on a Steinway D, the second on a Yamaha S7. It sounds very standard, and it was what I was after to serve those pieces. However, my whole third album (to be released in September) was recorded in a friend’s garage, on his Yamaha U3 semi-abandoned upright piano, using unusual gear and techniques. I was looking for a different type of sound, and that worked for me. My next EP I’m already working on, is being currently recorded right here in my home studio, with the windows opened and featuring bird sounds… it all depends on the result I’m searching for.

What’s your take on sampled instruments?
I produced and composed mainstream for many years before dedicating myself to my own piano music, and during those times I extensively used sampled instruments for a vast number of reasons. I witnessed the unbelievable development of these virtual instruments over the past decade, and I must confess that sometimes I got lazy and instead of going to choose the right piano for a recording, set all the microphones, call in the piano tuner and so on, I would just pick a virtual sampled piano from the list I had, and went for it. It’s easy, sounds great, and it’s much faster than recording a real piano. However, there’s a very serious downside of all this: everything starts to sound the same, and a lot of the sound identity and imperfection of music making starts to disappear. That’s why I decided at some point to use sampled instruments much less than before. I do recognize, however, that these can be immensely helpful in many situations but, at least at this point, I’m happier working with real instruments.

The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 

That is a very interesting question that I already made myself before (little kids always make interesting questions!)… but I still can’t answer it. There was a friend of mine, a singer and songwriter, that once said her song ideas are floating in the air, and sometimes she can grab some of them, other times she can’t. Truth is, I have no idea where my pieces come from. I could say that they come from my intellect or compositional abilities, but I feel that’s not true. The composer skill is in deed what makes the development of an idea into a full piece possible… but the initial idea itself, that little seed, it doesn’t really come from my technical skills. I have no idea where it comes from…

Thank you very much for your participation Rui!

For more information, please check out the following links:
Instagram / Website / Spotify