September 22, 2015

Experimental Music in the Azores

In addition to researching Azorean folk music, I also wanted to find out what has been done in a more contemporary, experimental vein in the islands. I found a few things, but I suspect there is more out there. If there's anything I missed, please tell me!

The first thing I learned about was the project O Experimentar Na M'Incomoda, introduced to me by my friend Eugénio Viana at CASA tea house and bar in Horta, Faial. Founding member Pedro Lucas of Faial works with venerable (and maybe related?) vocalists Carlos Medeiros and José "Zeca" Medeiros and a team of other musicians to create a mash-up of traditional Azorean songs (foliões, whaler songs, chamarrita) with techno-influenced musical backing. Possibly inspired by projects like David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, they often blur the line between documentary recordings and studio wizardry. I would love to know more about their working methods. It's hard to tell how much they sample or re-purpose old archival recordings, or if they record the singers a capella and then match that to their own music, or if they work with the singers in the studio from the beginning. Or perhaps it's a combination of all of those? You can stream their first album here and their second album here.

And speaking of Zeca Medeiros… While I would not exactly call his music "experimental," he definitely does some adventurous things working within a variety of more popular forms such as fado, cabaret, ballads, folk, jazz, and rock (including this totally over-the-top version of Roxanne by the Police). Medeiros' distinctively gravelly voice can rival Tom Waits. He's a ubiquitous polymath, working not only as a singer and composer, but as a writer and director of theater, film, and television. He was born on São Miguel, but I believe he's currently based in Lisbon.

Violinist/violist, composer, and improviser Ernesto Rodrigues lives in Lisbon but also has a house on Pico and runs the Creative Sources label, which appears to be a great entry point into current Portuguese improvised music. I first encountered him in a video by artist Emanuel Albergaria, improvising with Gianna de Toni, an Italian guitarist and bassist living in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, where she teaches guitar in the conservatory. She's involved in various musical activities, playing classical guitar, in symphonies and jazz groups, and in a contemporary folk group with Rafael Carvalho (she's also featured in the version of Roxanne mentioned above). Rodrigues and de Toni can be heard together on the CD Trees, an album of beautiful free improvisations with cellist Guilherme Rodrigues, soprano saxophonist Christophe Berthet, and electric bassist Raphael Ortis. Here is a live recording of Rodrigues in a quartet with Guilherme Rodrigues, Jassem Hindi, and Tisha Mukarji.

I feel the need to mention Gianna de Toni's partner, Biagio Verdolini, who is a fantastic vocalist, instrument builder, and visual artist, and probably more that I don't know about. I saw him improvise with a 12-year-old cellist at a party one night and he was amazing. I can't find much of anything about him on the web — links, anyone? Here he is singing with Gianna and Rafael Carvalho, but this is a pretty straight forward folk piece and barely hints at what he is capable of.

Angela da Ponte is a young composer from São Miguel. She's spent the last few years living in the UK, working on a PhD at University of Birmingham. Now she is back in mainland Portugal, living in Porto. Coming from the contemporary classical tradition, she makes very interesting orchestral, chamber, and electroacoustic music. Recently she acquired a viola da terra and has been making pieces with it using extensive electronic treatments. Her music can be heard on her SoundCloud page and her YouTube channel. 21KHz is her electroacoustic duo with Dimitris Andrikopoulos:

Angela told me about Nuno Estrela, another Azorean composer currently living in the UK and working on a PhD at the Univeristy of Bristol. He composes contemporary classical music for acoustic ensembles as well as electronic music.

She also told me about another contemporary composer from Terceira, Duarte P. Dinis Silva, who now lives and teaches in Castelo Branco on the mainland.

What is significant about these younger composers is that none of them still live in the Azores. It is a beautiful place, but small, without much money, and lacking in opportunities. For these and other reasons there is a long history of emigration from the islands, and it continues to this day, with creative people leaving to do their work elsewhere. But this is really not much different than anywhere else. If you grow up in any small town or faceless suburb in the US, you will probably have to leave to find work and other like-minded people.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I suspect there are more people doing interesting and experimental contemporary music in (or from) the Azores who I don't know about, and I would love to hear them. I encourage anyone who wants to educate me to send me some links and I will add them to this post.