How the hidden costs of climate change drove a guitarist to record on the peak of one of Catalonia’s tallest mountains
Soul Mountain guitarist Jordi Mestre Lopez has won fans around the world by scaling majestic landscapes to record music inspired by his surroundings, but his latest and most difficult expedition yet was undertaken to raise awareness of a serious environmental issue caused by rising temperatures.
Jordi Mestre Lopez recording the latest Soul Mountain track, The Change atop Besiberri Nord (Image: Jordi Rulló)
In a world where recording your music has never been easier or more accessible, it says something that Catalan guitarist Jordi Mestre Lopez has gone out of the way to make life hard for himself – but with spectacular results. We first encountered Jordi back in 2020, shortly after he had undertaken his first Soul Mountain expedition. In it, the guitarist, with the help of his cameraman and video producer Jordi Rulló and high mountain guide Roger Lopez de Haro, scaled the Tuc de Mulleres – a 3,010m peak located in the Pyrenees of Lleida in Catalonia – with a guitar strapped to his back, and at the top of the mountain recorded an instrumental track inspired by its majesty.
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Jordi undertook a second expedition in spring 2021, but in the autumn of last year, he undertook his most challenging and ambitious ascent yet – scaling the 3,009-metre Besiberri Nord in Vall de Boí on the edge of the Pyrenees. But more than just an artistic project, Soul Mountain’s third expedition was done with a deeper purpose – to raise awareness of a hidden impact of the climate crisis that is gripping the world, that could change the nature of these majestic mountains forever.
We caught up with Jordi to find out more about this latest adventure, the challenges of recording an acoustic at 3,000 metres above sea level, and why he needed to upgrade his gigbag to make the ascent.
Is there any special significance to when and where you made this third expedition?
“This third recording took place in Vall de Boí, inside the only national park in Catalonia and one of the best kept in Europe, Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici national park. We chose one of its tallest and most famous peaks, Besiberri Nord. As opposed to the previous recordings, which were shot in spring and featured plenty of snow, this one was recorded in autumn and has a higher predominance of rocky landscapes.”
“The new song, The Change, has introspective moments that contrast with rhythmic parts and sudden changes. We needed a place with a varying environment to reflect this, a beautiful but challenging setting that would allow us to make a slower ascent at times, but also with more technical sections.”
“Besiberri Nord fit all these requirements that the song demanded and allowed us to emphasise on the climate change issues we wanted to bring forward, which have a huge impact especially in the fragile high mountain environment.”
Can you explain a little more about these issues and what made Besiberri Nord a good fit to raise awareness of them?
“It has a huge rock glacier, an area where ice is kept under a whole mess of rocks. People can only see the rocks on the surface, but they are kept together by large chunks of ice underneath. As opposed to the more widely known glaciers where ice layers are visible, rock glaciers don’t experience any growth and are currently receding faster and faster.
“Global warming is making this glacial rock subjection system disappear, which can cause severely dangerous landslides. On top of that, rock glaciers are an important water reserve in dry seasons, so their recession also has an impact on the high mountain ecosystem.”
You’ve upgraded and altered your equipment since we last spoke – can you explain a little about what that has entailed?
“Our previous recordings featured the electric guitar, and we used an acoustic for this one. The most noticeable improvement was not having to haul an amplifier all the way up!
“However, an acoustic guitar meant having to carry a voluminous guitar case on my back. My Mono Vertigo was obviously bigger than the one I used when I played the Yamaha Pacifica Mike Stern Signature on previous occasions.”
“This presented quite a challenge, since we had to go through narrow, rocky sections. Acoustic guitars are also typically more fragile than electric ones, so I had to rely on the protection of this new Mono case more than ever before. I must say that it really exceeded expectations again and the guitar made it back home without a scratch.”
“Another improvement would be that we recorded the line signal directly. This time we used a Radial Engineering JDI Passive direct box, which allowed us to have a clean, high-quality sound. We also used a T.Bone Ovid System CC 100 microphone to capture the acoustics, which gave us surprisingly positive results given its relatively cheap price.”
What are the challenges of recording an acoustic versus in an extreme environment?
“This was our most difficult recording to date. Not carrying an amplifier was great, but ultimately was a problem when recording time came. On the previous songs we could set the amp in a place where it was safe from wind, put a microphone right in front of it and save us from capturing any ambient noise.”
“This time, however, and even though we had the line signal from the DI box, we really needed to capture the acoustic sound with a microphone next to the guitar body, which made the recording more exposed to ambient noise. We couldn’t completely avoid the wind, since it is rarely calm at 3,000m heights, but luckily our expert sound technician was able to restrain it in the mix. Ultimately this gave the song a unique feature and a certain personality.”
“The recording also took place on a cold day, the coldest we’ve had so far. This may look strange as we were surrounded by snow on previous occasions, but that’s the way it was. It took us nearly two hours until we finally nailed down a good take.
“Can you imagine playing an acoustic guitar at 3,000m altitude for almost two hours? I thought it was impossible, but we managed to pull through, even though acoustic guitars are more sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. I had to adjust tuning constantly, since wind gusts were strong and cold enough to drop tuning down half a step on some strings.”
How do you hope that the video you’ve made of the expedition raises awareness about these little known impacts of climate change on this beautiful part of the world?
“One of the biggest challenges for Soul Mountain is to capture and show the beauty of high mountain environments, as we underline their rivers, lakes and glaciers as one of the main life sources in our planet. Nothing can be conceived without their preservation.”
“We try to add a touch of sensitivity to it with music, aiming to awaken feelings in our viewers and listeners. We try to make them aware of the need for natural preservation and culture as two of the necessary pillars for a better future.”
“I also think we have a very varied audience. We try to attract music lovers, but also people that are into adventure sports and hiking, that may not have this sensitivity towards music. When you are passionate about something and you put effort, sensitivity and dedication into making it, it’s likely to make people think.”
You’re also raising money for the Kilian Jornet Foundation with a guitar giveaway, can you tell us a little more about this charity and why you’re supporting it?
“The Foundation was created by one of the most important mountain athletes ever, Kilian Jornet. After a long career in which he won all the most important mountain races in the world, managing to beat astounding ascension records on each continent, he decided it was time to do something for the mountains in return.”
“The foundation works with and finances several projects dedicated to studying, preserving, and raising awareness about high mountain environments. Working with entities like the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) to observe one of the most visible impacts of climate change: glacier recession. Studying this process is key to develop preservation projects of these glacial masses which accumulate 60-80 per cent of the world’s freshwater reserves.”
“Thanks to our collaboration with the prestigious Fanatic Guitars we’ve been able to get D’Angelico Guitars to give away an awesome D’Angelo Excel Tammany acoustic just like the one I used in this recording. We’ve organised a nationwide draw where a minimum €5 donation to the Kilian Jornet Foundation gets you a chance to win it.”
“All funds raised will be transferred to WGMS to support their initiatives, such as the acquisition of measuring equipment for researchers or the development of educational programs for schools among other things.”
Finally then, what’s next for Soul Mountain – more ambitious expeditions?
“I think Soul Mountain has just begun. I am a very active person and my head is constantly on the look for new goals and challenges. Right now, I have to rest for a long while due to an injury I’ve suffered in the mountains, but I am already thinking about our destinations for 2023.”
“I want to make the most of this period of recovery by writing new songs for Soul Mountain. I am thinking about climbing Aneto, which is the highest peak in the Pyrenees (3,404m). I will most likely put my skis on and pick the electric guitar up again to take Soul Mountain higher than ever before.”
“I also want to cross the Maladeta glacier, the biggest ice mass in Spain, in order to keep flagging the devastating effects of global warming, since rising temperatures in high mountain environments are threatening to make it disappear within 25 years.”