Fate, chance and happenstance have put a lot of experimental and improvised music from Brazilian artists and labels in my inbox in the last couple of years – resulting in regular features in the Daily Tunes series, and some notable favourites in the aJN end of year lists.
I’m not going to pretend that what follows is any kind of definitive statement re: the ‘Brazilian scene’ (I doubt there’s only one!) but more of a chance to dip your toe (ear?) into a selection of free music and experimental sounds from Brazilian or Brazil-connected artists and/or labels. Trust me (if you can) it’s worth it.
First, a quick look at some of the Brazilian labels putting this music out into the world…
“Brazilian independent label for radical, experimental and unusual music.”
Wide range of ‘out there’ sounds with little interest in melody or rhythm – from Marcus Neves’ Drone Sessions, to Duas árvores’ spooky synth landscapes, to Renê Freire’s burned and semi-destroyed piano… (not to mention the Luca Totti and Verjault albums in the list of albums below). For me, the key is immersive sounds and a focus on tiny significant sonic details. Add in the black’n’white aesthetics and Música Insólita is a very cool label.
“Independent label from Brazil focused on experimental music, including electroacoustic, noise, electronica, free improvisation, conceptual and bizarre productions.”
Which pretty much sums Seminal up nicely. Expectations blur and dissolve into improvised soundscapes (see “argon”, “Quem Indica?”, “O Desaparecimento” and “99%” in the list below). Instruments do not sound like themselves, the often-subtle sounds are shaped from first principles without being hostage to the past.
A broader remit here, covering electroacoustic sound design pieces (see “SO(Ñ)AR” below), Burroughs-inspired virus commentary, electronica, harsher noise-based aural surgery, and also albums with actual songs (none of which sound particularly ‘conventional’!)
A sub-label of Nada Nada Discos, this is a reissue outlet focused on underground Brazilian albums, including 80s post-rock experimentalism, 70s acid-bossa-psych-folk, and synthetic percussion (plus the “Persona” and Jocy de Oliveira releases mentioned below).
Indefinable acousmatics, high-concept compositions (e.g. what sounds occur after a piece ends?), experiments in electronica…plus acoustic free improvisation (see “C-Agardh” below). Not too many releases so far (and the most recent is January 2021) but each is distinct and compelling.
Again, no releases since 2021 but Sê-lo! is a cornucopia of Brazilian-flavoured sonic adventure; still experimental but maybe hewing a little closer to song formats and sounds that are more ‘recognisably Brazilian’ to European types like myself. The compilation “The Big Brazilian Disaster” is an obvious entry point but things get ever more interesting the deeper you delve: the candomblé-inspired/influenced Invisible Orchestra, the noise-fuelled guitar and turntablism of “Tangente”, Radio Diaspora’s African heritage-inspired avant-danceable sounds, the cinematic circus of Sweet Desastre … the deeper you go…
Not all of the following suggestions are from the above labels (though most are) but they all feature Brazilian and/or Brazil-resident musicians/artists/composers/soundmakers…
#1. Various – “The Big Brazilian Disaster” (2020)
Tuzé de Abreu’s sinuously hesitant percussion, flute and guitar is an accessible beginning. But this collection proceeds through raindrop synths & jazz sax, wiry atonal free-improv guitar, threatening brass, subterranean soundtracks, and electronics (minimal and otherwise) – a vibrant and entrancing collection and a good place to start.
#2. Renê Freire & Thelmo Cristovam – “C-Agardh” (2020)
A 12-minute album (barely an EP, really) that stands out from a lot of the electronically-manipulated sounds on this list for being just acoustic piano and saxophone. Free-blowing/hammering improvised goodness – real fire music with more tranquil passages and brief lacunae blended in.
#3. Marina Cyrino, Henrique Iwao, Matthias Koole, Marco Scarassatti – “Disputa e Guerra no Terreiro de Roça de Casa de Avó” (2020)
On aJazzNoise’s favourites of 2020 list, this quietly cacophonous conversation in two parts rasps and abrades the ears. If music is defined as “interesting sounds” then this is a glorious, lo-fi symphony.
With synths, bass and drums, and an often huge sound, Rakta fuse the directness of post-punk to the scale and ambition of prog rock in their unpredictable, genre-less pieces. This recording of a collaboration with DEAFKIDS, São Paulo’s noise-rock experimentalists, is pure cathartic, live sound ritual.
#5. Jocy de Oliveira – “Raga na Amazônia” (2021)
Jocy de Oliveira began as a concert pianist prodigy, collaborator with the likes of Stravinsky, Messien, Cage, Xenakis, and Stockhausen, and subsequently followed a path into synthesizers, multimedia and (subverted) opera (and much more). This album includes pieces from two electroacoustic operas, recorded in the late 80s to early 90s. Organ-like tones, electric violin, oboe, plus lesser-known instruments (to my ears, anyway) such as the Korean piri and the Indian mukha veena, are tied together by electronics for a gorgeous and contemporary-sounding whole.
#6. Persona – “Som” (2021)
Beginning with an installation from the XII Bienal de São Paulo (1973), this famous recording is a soundtrack inspired by Roberto Campadello’s I Ching-powered ‘intronautical journeys’ through the mirror, using optical effects to product new perspectives. After the evocative spoken word intro, we seemingly traverse the decades, touching on electronica, psychedelic wah guitar, conga rhythms, woozy dreamscapes, field recordings, and folky 60s-isms. A piece of history, reissued.
#7. Vitor Çó – “99%” (2021)
To be honest, not sure how often I’ll listen to this but I am so glad that it exists. A numbing-hypnotic mix of jerky soundwaves and pure white noise, the liner notes even give the precise proportions of the ingredients:
5.927% white noise
Yes, that’s four-fifths comprising beautiful nothing. And no, I don’t know where the remaining 0.002% went.
#8. Bella, Amanda Irarrázabal & Inés Terra – “SO(Ñ)AR” (2022
Three Latin American women artists collaborate on dream-inspired composition via graphic scores. The result is indeed dreamlike – the consciousness flitting, butterfly-style, from one sonic vignette to the next. By the end, you’re not sure whose head you’re in.
#9. Felipe Vaz – “The Well Frozen Piano” (2022)
(Difficult Art and Music)
Longform drone inspired by and engaging with La Monte Young’s “The Well-Tuned Piano” – glacial, blissful, hypnotic, inevitable… (On aJN’s Picks of 2022 list)
#10. Lucca Totti – “Terramuda” (2022)
Musique concrete/experimental, using field recordings and sound processing techniques only. The effect is an artificial (fictional?) environment laid over the real. There’s a warmth to these two pieces (no doubt helped by the cicada drone) and embedded in that warmth are details that gently but inexorably seize the attention.
#11. Verjault – “BASS” (2022)
Verjault’s recordings are legion (the Bandcamp page will occupy you for weeks) but this was my point of entry and still a favourite (it’s another on aJN’s Picks of 2022 list). Twitchy and anxious before slipping into fuzzed-out white noise draped over and increasingly urgent and complex framework. Decalibrated transmissions from another planet. Heavy.
#12. Marina Cyrino – “argon” (2022)
Amplified piccolo and bass flute tell the story of a fly somehow trapped between the panes of a double-glazed window. Unnerving, tense and incredibly tactile. In its intense restriction of sound palette and deep exploration, a companion to Cyrino’s “ofíciorifício” (amplified alto flute).
#13. Henrique Iwao, Matthias Koole, Natacha Maurer, Ariane Stolfi – “Quem Indica?” (2022)
Two improvised live sessions – phantasmagoric soundscapes, electronically shaped, acoustically evolved. Flutes, guitars and amplified objects rub up against computer electronics and field recordings.
#14. Valério Fiel da Costa – “O Desaparecimento” (2022)
Longform sound installation pieces tying environmental recordings (from the installation site) together with often-eerie cello drone – place and performance blur and meld.
#15. M. Takara & Carla Boregas – “Grande Massa D’Agua” (2023)
(Hive Mind Records)
Two-thirds of Rakta, M. Takara and Carla Boregas treat percussion as landscape and synths as water – precipitation, rivers, deltas, oceans. Shaping and directing each other, sometimes motorik-like rhythms support splashes, tides and steady downpours… others altogether more drip-drop erosion causes sudden slides and shifts in the terrain. Tracks change like the weather and the seasons, one moment you’re entranced, the next you’re on the beach being washed out to sea.
#16. Institute For Certified Nomadic Illicit Sonic Practices – “Calisthenics” (2023)
Marina Cyrino and Matthias Koole are inspired by illustrations in the Handbook of Calisthenics and Gymnastics: A Complete Drill-book with Music to Accompany the Exercises (1864). The A-side is a series of short, often-abrasive, sound sketches that combine electronic, acoustic and electrified sounds (if you’ve ever wanted to live inside a flute, this is what it sounds like). Then the B-side is a single, agitated ‘suite’. The intimacy and immediacy of the sound lifts this far above the usual ‘soundscape’ recording.
Plenty to listen to, but also plenty more to find. Have fun…