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This is Dito e Feito, a Teatro do Bairro Alto podcast where talking is a way of doing and vice-versa. It is not published on a regular basis and has different formats. It sometimes closely follows the programme; at times not so much; and at other times not at all.
My name is Diana Combo, and I curate music and sound arts at TBA. In this episode, we talk to Adriana Sá, Ricardo Jacinto and Yaw Tembe apropos Coral Furtivo, a musical piece specially composed to Teatro do Bairro Alto’s hall that will be presented on November 21.
Diana Combo Hi. Thank you for accepting this invitation, Adriana, Ricardo, Yaw, not only to present your performance at Teatro do Bairro Alto, but also to talk about your project, your purpose and your methodology. I’d just like to introduce the idea behind this concert, so that our audience also knows about it. I remember contacting you a year ago, Adriana, and telling you I’d like to offer you the chance to present the first concert in the main hall of Teatro do Bairro Alto. And I remember proposing someone for you to work with, and that someone was Ricardo Jacinto. Then, I explained to you that you two could—and it was also our desire—think about including someone else and propose a trio, but that we would leave open the choice of a third element, who could very well arrive later [compared with] your first meetings, when you, Ricardo and Ariana, would start to define the project between the two of you. That person, that third element, could be the answer to some desire or idea already on the table. So I’d like to ask you, also because I’m not aware of everything, how did Yaw come along.
Adriana Sá First of all, I was naturally super honoured by the invitation to open the programme of concerts at TBA, also because I know most of the team. It was interesting that you suggested that I worked with Ricardo Jacinto, with whom I worked a lot some years ago. You didn’t know about that, so I figure you were interested in seeing how the two paths could cross, given that we both do music linked to sight and space. Aside from sound, we both have concerns about the way the musical journey is experienced. It was a rather interesting situation. It enabled me to assume a number of things. I as aware of the way Ricardo worked, I was aware of his sensitivity, he was aware of mine. Although many years had gone by, there were some issues we knew we could explore in advance. We went to visit TBA while still under construction, and we spoke about who could play with us for the first time. I knew Yaw, I’ve always liked his work, but I didn’t know him in intimately, nor had I ever worked with him. Ricardo had already worked with him in other contexts. It was Ricardo’s idea. “What about Yaw Tembe?” And my immediate, intuitive answer was: “Trumpet with strings?!” [laughter] I have to elaborate on this reasoning, or spontaneous reaction. The trumpet is a very assertive instrument (it is not by chance that it is used by the military [laughter]), and the sound, the timbre of the zither (the instrument I play) is characterised by very subtle nuances. When I told Ricardo, “A trumpet with us?!”, I added to the exclamation, to the question, the fact that the trumpet tends to really stand out. And Ricardo immediately replied: “No. Not Yaw’s.” [laughter] And I said: “Right. That’s true.” [laughter]
Yaw Tembe There are plenty of trumpets.
AS And then he also told me about the masks Yaw created and wears, which change the timbre of the trumpet. That also added something I didn’t know beforehand: Yaw also has a degree in fine arts, just like the two of us, and he believes music entails more than sound.
DC It’s interesting that we are talking about these almost coincidences now. First, me having thought about Ricardo. You being familiar with him after all, and all of a sudden feeling Yaw was the only element able to join the trio, since I can’t at the moment much to my regret. [laughter] When I suggested a third element, I wished you had said, “Can it be you, Diana?”, but no. [laughter]
AS It crossed my mind. [laughter]
DC It did. But I remember—and it has a lot to do with our talks during the rehearsals for the concert at Teatro Maria Matos with you, with Johnny, with Tiago (I was in charge of percussion, and at the time you said: “Percussion may impose itself too much”. Just as you say: “The voice may impose itself too much”)—the reason I wanted to name this episode Somos Todos Ouvidos [We Are All Ears]. I believe that when we are all ears any instrument may be played in a way that is only imposing if it has to, because that is what we want. You’re also open to introduce instruments that don’t seem to be of interest to you in the first place.
DC You’ve just had a gig…
AS With voice. [laughter]
DC … very well described by…
AS Rui Eduardo Pais
DC … Rui Eduardo Pais, yes, with voice.
AS Exactly. I’m glad you mention that, because that experience with you—you called it percussion, because those were the techniques you used, but you were actually playing the drums, that was the instrument—went very well. At the time, we talked about the way the drums could sound discordant without cancelling the other instruments, and that in fact helped me. Naturally I have played with more imposing instruments before, but that experience in particular made me realise the great potential of playing with Yaw’s trumpet, which is able to surface and sink in the music. I have a personal interest in trance-like musical forms, in which sometimes one can’t tell one instrument from another, and then they go in different directions. Yaw has that natural innate. He had it; it wasn’t something he got from this project. And so did Ricardo and myself.
DC It was a year of get-togethers, and I know you started working shortly after our proposal, after taking you, Ricardo, and Adriana to visit the place at Teatro do Bairro Alto. And I kept following. I didn’t show up for the rehearsals, but Adriana called me several times to explain how things were going. I’d like to understand how things evolved and developed from the early get-togethers until now, and without giving away too much, because the idea is to whet the audience’s appetite to be there on the 21st, I’d at least like us to be able to describe your proposal.
YT The starting point for this work possibly has a lot to what with the issue you were just mentioning: how to manage to level all three instruments. We started with small exercises, integrating the sound of another instrument in the way we play. For instance (I don’t want to give away too much), in the case of Adriana, she’s using a piece of software together with the zither, and she has several trumpet and cello samples built-in. Ricardo, for example, is also using a feedback system with the cello, and it also led me to want to grab old ideas and explore them—the issue of harmonics. I feel it is also very related to the feedback Ricardo has been exploring. Even the slide Adriana uses: I ended up building a trumpet able to cover all those micro tones, a hybrid between a trumpet and a trombone. I believe all of this were attempts at finding a common language, and from then on each of us being able to explore on his/her own from that point. From what I remember, I think that was one of our first common interests and starting points.
Ricardo Jacinto Yes. And I believe the examples Yaw is giving somehow have to do with a sort of early period of sounding out how each one of us approached his/her instrument and its extensions—electronics-wise, while preparing the instruments, or in the way the instruments are also a part of the scenic space, of the scenery. How all that fits together. That was also an important starting point. Every one of us (like Adriana mentioned right at the start) has that understanding of what a musical ritual can be, of what the relation with the audience and a given space can be, of how sound and music also emerge from the creation of that space. That, in conjunction with this other issue of the way instruments are also able to interweave (an image Adriana also used) and dilute into one another from the point of view of timbre, from the point of view of vocabulary itself, I believe those (as they were saying and I reiterate) were the two most relevant starting points. Then, I believe the way we approached the uniqueness of each of us, the specific nature of the instruments, based on our choices and on our input in this project, was slightly different, but gradually adjusted. I believe it also had to do with the talks we had later. I had worked with Adriana many years ago. Then, we didn’t collaborate for a long time, and this rekindled a series of relations we had established. It was also interesting to watch where what we already had in those early moments, in those early collaborations, both in her approach and in mine, after all these years, where it arrived, where it ended up. It was very interesting to articulate that once again. Let me just finish. Then, in this concert in particular it was very funny for me to look at the instruments and to everyone’s options as a kind of place that I was going to inhabit with the vocabulary I’ve been building, with the system I’ve been building. So, the main idea was to understand the coordinates of Adriana’s place—so to speak, we’re not exactly discussing territories here, rather places, which may be a more fluid and open concept—and the same for Yaw. So there’s also a sort of specific answer to this context, which I believe worked. I mean, right now, I’m extremely pleased. I think there was something interesting along the process: at a given time, not least because of these issues, the idea of each of us composing a part of the concert was introduced. This happened, and from that point on a series of dialogues were established also from a very different point of view: how are Adriana’s guidelines reflected in my answers or in Yaw’s and vice-versa. How are we also capable of giving substance to Yaw’s ideas or them to mine. The process ended up being quite fruitful.
AS Actually I have something to add, which might be worth mentioning, that is the fact that our sound dramaturgy, our decisions as far as composition goes didn’t entirely come before or after the development and calibration of our instruments. Also in regard to the development and tuning, so to speak, of the instruments, and to the compositional work and decisions, it all changed as we played and tried out. I would change my samples, Yaw would change his resounding objects, Ricardo would change his feedback system. There’s also something I think it’s interesting to mention, to continue what Ricardo said: when we decided that each of us was in charge of one third of the composition, we all used our own system of graphic notation to visualise it, to represent it. When you join the three systems, what comes out? What do the notes Yaw found important to give, and which include metrics, for instance…? How can I interpret that if I don’t work with clock times? This was part of a process that I also found very interesting. Ricardo came with a score and Yaw with another one, and it led me to also cut my score and change it. So it was an interactive process.
DC I was asked recently why I suggested this trio. I didn’t actually suggest the trio, not specifically, but I opened the way. I’m not sure I answered so thoroughly, but the truth is that question made me think really well, in concrete terms, and people—and thus musicians—have certain qualities that I find interesting, especially when they’ve established a path on their own (when I say “on their own”… in a sort of solo work or solo career, as we can call [it]), which have a lot to do with generosity and the ability to enter new processes. The desire, combined with that ability, to let themselves be contaminated and grow. Because I think it’s easy, when one has experience, to feel that one already knows something, that it is like that. And sometimes it is not so easy to let other people and other energies in, or to let those energies change us, even if that change isn’t about total dilution. I’m having goose bumps [laughter], because an invitation is one thing, but if these ideas, what’s behind, which I possibly hadn’t told you, but which nurtured… In this talk, I feel like it happened.
AS You were right. [laughter]
DC [laughter] The invitation was addressed to you, but there’s no hierarchy. There’s just the desire to let these energies flow through one another, and that energy changes and lets itself be changed. So I feel that throughout the year you also kept changing (as Ricardo was saying) your answers and your places. It seems like I’m stating, but the question may be: Is what’s going to happen on the 21st already something different from what you could’ve imagined, even if it still meets some of those principles?
AS Oh boy. I think each of us could answer that question on his/her own separately. [laughter]
DC I at least am starting to see a rider that has changed to the point that there’s an instrument that wasn’t there at the start. So I feel that there is in fact change. It’s not a detour; it’s something you introduce, because it makes sense along the way.
AS In my case in particular I didn’t picture anything. I faced this work as a process of discovery of what this trio is creating together and [of] how we can explore what brings us together and what sets us apart in an interesting way for us (and for the audience, I hope).
YT Yes. What I truly found rather interesting in this process was experimentation. I had played with Ricardo, Ricardo and Adriana had played together, but I don’t believe it immediately worked the first time we played. Interesting things came up, on which we wanted to work, but I really think it was the time we invested in the project that allowed for things to take shape. I believe that sometimes there’s a certain risk when things immediately work.
DC You may think it works.
YT Right. You arrive at formulas very quickly, and at formulas often rather enclosed. This process really owes to insistence, and it is also good when that happens, because you gradually get to know the frailties, and I feel we’re also building something more coherent and unique, not crystallised and also not enclosed in that formula at which we’re arriving.
DC It also makes me think about the sense this kind of proposal may make. When we think about music, sound arts, compared to what happens with theatre or other performing arts, the artists from those disciplines are more used to having time—time to develop a presentation. When there’s funding, there’s funding for that production time, and when it comes to music it’s not so much like that. What we present on stage, or what we watch on a concert hall, is often something already on tour. It is never a repetition, but I think you understand what this means in this context. I’m not sure to what extent other musicians would be willing to embrace a process like this under the right conditions—meaning time. Okay, we have a concert, and it’s a year from now; we can work on it. At the same time, being in other projects, it’s not only that, but that time, those hiatuses to reflect, meditate, integrate: things are slowly absorbed. It may make sense to talk about the way you, the ones making music, perceive the nationwide panorama, about the way is affects your lives, your creative possibilities. I’m already almost saying that there aren’t so many of these possibilities—commissioning, asking musicians to develop and to take into consideration that the space where they’ll be presenting the project is more than a space open to the music they have to play. They can make use of a whole range of other elements and human resources that broaden the sense of the presentation.
YT I don’t know if I can take a step back?
DC But, then… Yes, of course you can.
YT Before answering that question about the conditions given, I believe it also has a lot to do with the kind of music we’re talking about. As far as the three of us are concerned, written composition was always an important component. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it, but in fact in the last rehearsal I also thought: “Now we already have three scores, and everyone is trying to translate the others’ scores”. Up to that point, we always played favouring improvisation, despite already having a very determined direction. I don’t think we’ve ever discussed whether this is still improvisation, how we stand in that regard. Just trying to make a connection to what you were saying. We’re interested in that. We were interested in composing, and that always implies time, but in this milieu experimental music, whatever it may be, is also often mistaken for improvised music, and sometimes it isn’t improvised, real time composition. In this particular case, I believe we’re somewhat in-between the two. In fact, it also always happens with music we end up calling non-improvised: there is always an interpretation of what’s written. But sometimes the time you mentioned—how can I say this?—it seems not to be a problem when discussing improvised music. I believe that’s the problem. When you don’t question that, one assumes you don’t need time. Before moving on to the entire institutional issue, the lack of support, sometimes [the issue] is the way musicians look at the music they play.
DC That’s why I introduce the topic (or the question, or the analysis), because I stand between those making music, but now also those programming it. Since musicians want to keep on doing what they do, those processes often have to be very, very adjusted to the proposal they’re given, in the sense that if we only have this time to rehearse and present, then it’s with this time that we’ll work on this proposal. I don’t know whether I’m making myself clear?
DC So that sense of adjustment… Sometimes it’s almost as if we took for granted that musicians, artists have to adjust to those time restrictions, which sometimes are not even enough to…
AS Sound checks. [laughter]
DC [laughter] They’re sound checks, that’s true.
RJ I’d just like to say in regard to what you were saying that it really creates the conditions needed to work more slowly and to somehow finance that time. Because I really feel that’s what’s missing. Aside from understanding what it means, which is more or less common. I’m familiar with part of the Portuguese reality, but I have the impression that cultural matters are really very underappreciated, and especially disciplines as ours. Most importantly, one of the main issues institutions or theatres (or any programming institution) face is, on the one hand, finding the necessary financial conditions to provide the musicians with time and the chance to develop work over time. Provide the right amount of time. It is rare to make an invitation one year in advance, because it’s always for next month or always for I don’t know what. I’m talking about music and the milieu we inhabit. Then there’s something very important and that I see very little, which is not expecting an outcome. Not expecting a certain outcome. Those who programme or those who make the invitation not expecting in advance those musicians or that project to have a certain output, or to go in a certain direction, in terms of reaching goals that often go far beyond music or what musical and artistic creation are. I think that’s a really big difference. Of course there are places able to finance certain projects, but they often expect a certain outcome. I don’t think that was the case here. These uncertainties… You can say the rider wasn’t closed five months before. I know you don’t [laughter], but in the sense of not being closed five months before when we had a year. In other fields… I work in other contexts where that understanding really is already more clear. In other words, you’re not expecting a certain outcome, you’re expecting to create the necessary conditions for that group of people (or that person) to be able to carry out a work that is specific for that context, and not to be constrained by issues beyond their creativity and creative process.
AS To reiterate that issue, I believe that when we talk about time, the time a programming institution provides, were usually referring to the time people need to set up an existing performance. I believe it was very generous of you and TBA in general to invite us to create. We’re talking about creative time versus (or plus) assembly time. Although these things are deeply connected, I also believe one can establish a distinction, a difference. For instance, we rehearsed, there’s rehearsal work, but then we’re going to need several days at TBA to work on lighting (not only for the sound check, despite already having the score), set up the sound system, set up the instruments, etc., etc. Since it involves a lot of equipment and human resources, of course we made those decisions before getting there. But the fact that we put so much dedication (recalling what Yaw said just now) into figuring out what we’re doing, and the way it can blossom and be explored—and mind you, we were able of such dedication, because we had the necessary financial, material conditions to do so—allows us to get there with a relatively ready plan. Relatively. [laughter]
DC Then we’d also have to talk about the time given to music—compared to other performing arts—on the space itself, to assemble and make happen, which I also think is not very present.
AS Lighting design, for example. We have a music score, but we still haven’t got the lighting score.
DC It is also my intention to raise awareness, because we can’t just want things done, we want to think about the way to include the time at the presentation venue. To keep it short, I’m going to thank you again for being here, and for accepting this challenge. I remember that part of my answer when asked why [was]: “I also want to be surprised”. It agrees with what you said, Ricardo. I don’t want to know everything. I also want to be a member of the audience and let myself be carried away by the magic of things I ignore. Part of me understands the responsibility of overseeing the project. I believe inviting is part of it, but also wanting to keep track. Not wanting to close, wanting to keep track. That’s why I want to especially thank you for the way you took my work (that has just started) seriously by giving feedback, by getting your phone calls, Adriana, about the excitement in the air, or the rehearsals or the recordings. That’s also why I feel this challenge is in good hands and will be in good hands and good ears. I want to invite our audience to show up on November 21. Thank you again.
Dito e Feito is a Teatro do Bairro Alto podcast. Fisga Studio did the recording and Sara Morais the editing. The music is by Raw Forest. Follow TBA on social media and at teatrodobairroalto.pt.