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Artist: V/A

Album: Antologia de Musica Electronica Portuguesa

Label: Tomlab

Review date: Nov. 8, 2004


It is not a coincidence that the newly released Antologia de Musica Electronica Portuguesa represents a bulk of material from the mid-70s. This music, in many ways, is a direct outpouring of the Carnation Revolution of 1974 that brought Portugal out of nearly 50 years of dictatorship under the conservative Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. The music on this disc is presented in a way that is nearly inseparable from Portugal's large-scale changes over the past three decades. It is music with a newfound ideological freedom, an inventive use of new technologies, and all of it is linked to a reshaping of national Portuguese identity.

Rafael Toral and Plancton Music did an excellent job of compiling 30 years of experimental electronic music. In 60 minutes, themes and concerns recur consistently, in the form of a wide array of Portuguese artists from any number of backgrounds. There is work here constructed at SUNY Stony Brook, work conceived of in the famed Parisian GRM studios, and work privately recorded onto a Fostex 8-track. It is a clear-cut demonstration of Portuguese diaspora on one hand, but in the same token, is remarkable for the consistency that plays out over the disc.

A preoccupation with the texture and mythology of water crops up on numerous occasions. Candido Lima's "Oceaons" being the most literal example, though Carlos Zingaro, Nuno Rebelo, and Joao Pedro Oliveira's pieces all seem to infer music submerged deeply underwater, perhaps due to palettes that enlist bubbling, random tone generation, or flanger and reverb-drenched sounds. Directly related to this, however, is the most prevalent theme on the Antologia a shared proclivity towards nave and primitive musicality. It might be a slight exaggeration to suggest that these pieces somehow explain Nuno Canavarro's miraculous Plux Quba, one of if not the most innocent and unassuming albums of electronic music to date. Yet there is a common trait on the Antologia of musicians approaching their music with experimental curiosity and wonder that often eluded the academic "sophisticate" pioneers of American, French, and German electronic music.

Rebelo's piece constructed from amplifier feedback is far more playful and melodic than its technical description conveys. In the short excerpt included on this disc, rotund blots of feedback manage to navigate away from normally dark and noisy territory. Like Canavarro's Plux Quba, though less pronounced, there is a sense of ethnomusicological voyeurism applied to a vernacular of synthetic sounds. The structure, playfulness, and willed accessibility suggest a long-forgotten indigenous culture; the electronics appear more to be forgotten instruments than technological achievements.

Rene Bertholo's "Africa Aqui" is a more astringent example. High-pitched sine wave tones and a sputtering synthesizer are mixed with a taut, percussive sound and an intermittent, low-bitrate sample of a bleating sheep. Both the Anar Band and Telectu approach electronics with a playful, hands-on intuition, as does Carlos Zingaro's aforementioned piece. Toral, who's work might be considered a synthesis of the disparate threads presented on this compilation, contributes a No Noise Reduction track that similarly communicates an alien anthropology, full of the trademarked squiggles and aural games that define this working method.

However, the most revelatory, in this regard, is saved for last. A 1988 track by Antonio Ferreira released on the same label as Canavarro's Plux Quba shows an unheralded spiritual companion to Canavarro's masterpiece. Though produced in almost completely opposite circumstances (Ferreira was studying Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in the Haugue, utilizing complex computer generated improvisation systems, while Canavarro was limited to an 8-track and an 8-bit sampler), the piece is similarly unexplainable, familiar and foreign, and extraordinarily beautiful. It is slightly less fragmented than Plux Quba, sounding like a more melancholy Hosono Haruomi, yet the similarities are striking.

It is clear that Toral and Plancton Music want to emphasize Canavarro's importance in this compilation. Canavarro certainly seems to be one of the most lasting influences in contemporary electronic music, even as his obscure 1988 release was only reissued in the States six years ago, and is already out-of-print. To commemorate this further, several short outtake snippets from the Plux Quba sessions are spread throughout this compilation. Unfortunately, the decision to include these tracks as "hidden" bonuses in the negative time elapsed before several pieces is disruptive, rather than unifying. Another notable flaw is that this compilation includes predominantly excerpted tracks. While it whets the listener's appetite for a cache of music that has yet to become available, it is often at the cost of not giving a sense of the full breadth of the music contained.

Also, the anthology only gives small, paragraph-sized glimpses of biographical information on each artist, never really treating the artists with the comprehensive rigor that they deserve. There is no discussion of Ama Romanta and the other independent Portuguese labels that concurrently cropped up with the new wave of experimental music. There is very little written history here, which is a shame considering the depth and quality of the music represented.

Despite this, the good far outweighs the bad. This record isn't merely about the unsung heroes of electronic music, it's not a fetishistic collector's object geared towards allowing obsessive listeners to gain an expert knowledge in their field of interest. The Antologia de Musica Electronica Portuguesa is the work of inquisitive artists rebuilding a culture after the fall of a long dictatorship, and it is a declaration of a musical culture largely unheard by the rest of the world. Like the Arctic Hysteria compilation of Finnish experimental music on Love Records, the Antologia de Musica Electronica Portuguesa is living proof of the experimental music that has laid just outside of our scope for so many years.

By Matt Wellins

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