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Interview: HHY On Tunnel Vision And Semibreve Festival
Mat Colegate , October 25th, 2016 10:24

This forthoming weekend, as part of the ever excellent Semibreve Fetival in Braga, Portugal, one of the country's leading experimental musicians, Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, will be performing a live soundtrack to Tunnel Vision his collaborative film with director Raz Mesinai. Best know for his work with his band HHY and The Macumbas and duo Fujako , Jonathan is also a part of the Portugese art and music platform SOOPA, and has a film of his own in the pipeline. We asked Jonathan some questions about his upcoming performance, Portugal's experimental music scene and the mysterious 'Skull-Cave-Echo Effect'.

How did the idea of scoring Raz Mesinai's Tunnel Vision come about?

From the moment we became good friends, we have recurrent themes of conversation: sub frequencies, Eastern and Asian music, science fiction, dub and tunnels. We share a synesthesic way of listening to sounds that tends to focus on a visceral level. Some of these conversations about resonant tunnels and sub bass eventually evolved into some sort of home made science fiction narratives and, in its own time, into the need of making film/video/music with these ideas. Tunnels became one giant stone organism breathing underneath the surface, a sound system for the fundamental vibrations that inhale through underground spaces.

We went to places that were very special and raw, tunnels and caves in and around Porto, like a deep Roman mine where we listened to the deepest tones and became mesmerised by the unfathomed figures they would project in our body and mind.  These places became so important that I made some of the recording sessions for the soundtrack/album there; recording musicians and playing back the sounds and tones I recorded over and over back into the tunnel, getting everything contaminated by the acoustic body of those cavities, making the spaces talk through sound.

These kind of places became our sensory lexicon, a “cosmology of the cavity”, a set of body/skin experiences with temperature, pressure and vibration imprinted in the soundtrack and in film.

What do you have planned for your performance at Semibreve? Anything special or site specific?

For Semibreve I will perform a live dub of the sounds that inhabit the tunnel vision album, the site specific dimension is engraved into them not in the place of performance this time, even if I'm very much interested in working with the space proprieties. The sounds will be routed through my mixing board as if electric ghosts, bringing a distinct arquitecture to the space of performance. I will also include elements of my recent work, bringing unbodied voices and choir pieces into the mix.

You've done quite a different range of stuff. How does composing a soundtrack differ from what you do in HHY and the Macumbas, for example?

In terms of form, they are quite different, however, they're intrinsically connected as all these projects share common ground. They're both efforts on building a sonic world that has its own set of relations, a valid cosmology.

I have a long standing work relationship with a particular set of musicians, with whom I develop my specific interests on wind, percussion and voice. Whether I'm working with HHY & The Macumbas or with other projects, there are diagonal lines that continue to connect these different surfaces and layers.

For Tunnel Vision, I planed a series of recording sessions in different acoustic places, where I could explore some of recording techniques that I found relevant for capturing the ghosts trapped in the folds and cracks between the spaces and the sonic color of the instruments. I worked with a group of people/musicians that were a clear influence on this soundtrack and that have triggered many options. Gustavo Costa and João Pais on percussion, Jessika Kenney, Catarina Miranda and Mike Ladd on the voice, Álvaro Almeida on horns and Rui Leal on bass.

Tell me about the recording process and the Skull-Cave-Echo effect. The name reminds me of the 'Holophonic' process that Psychic TV used to record Force The Hand Of Chance. Any relation?

There is not a direct relation with this, but I can see a resonant methodology.

The process places its focus on the psycho-acoustic effect and the protocols that unchain sound from its formal ambuscades and lets it remain a savage entity, vibrating through perception and finding a connection with the listener through the bones and flesh.

Skull-Cave-Echo is mostly a methodology, a process for triggering resonant manifolds, an end in itself. A filter/resonance method where sounds are embodied by a distinct acoustic cavity, and rooted through a mixer in a feedback system (a black box for input and output operations). Resonant brutalist architectures, animal/human skulls, tunnels and the inside of cavities were used as multidimensional echo chambers.

These sorts of audio-visual shows are becoming increasingly common the UK. Is there a strong scene for this kind of audio-visual collaboration in Portugal?

It seems inevitable to see this kind of collaboration grow in number, maybe as a consequence of the use of screens for mediating almost all aspects of modern life, and from the fact that the technological mediums have became more accessible. In my work, I'm interested in disjointed relations, like a radio piece superimposed to a silent movie, leaving space for a third rhythm to emerge. I tend to expand this method beyond audio-visual relations, including gestures, light, space and pre-language.

Can you explain a little about SOOPA. It started as a record label I believe, but the website now is promoting stuff from a whole range of different disciplines – dance, film, radio. How did SOOPA begin and does it have any particular aims?

SOOPA came to existence as a necessity 17 years ago in Porto. At that time, it was harder to have access to more exploratory ways of working with music and performance. We were based in a city at the edge of Europe, confronted by the sea and with a political restraint and a insularity that kept a cleavage with what was going on in other places.

I started SOOPA with a group of people that was eager to go outside of the current local formats, a collective of artists curating shows intensively from 1999 until 2012, releasing records from this community and also from musicians passing by with whom we felt a strong artistic connection. Since then, SOOPA has become a structure for the production of work that expands the initial drive into different boundaries, intersecting them into hybrid constructions.

What's the situation like in Portugal for this kind of radical, boundary crossing art?

For sure, there are far more programmers and festivals with a potential interest in these kinds of hybrid objects. I'm not sure if i have the tools to have a clear vision of what it means, maybe i need time and geographical distance to understand.

You've worked with a diverse range of artists on many different projects. What is it about the act of collaborating with others that appeals?

Certain fundamental visions of what to do within an idea or project bring a necessity of embodiment, and this defines the work method and output. It also brings different angles to the equation, the problem becomes multidimensional. It's like the wall of Jericho... if you want to bring down a stone wall with sound, you will need many trumpets. 

You've making your own film as well. Eco Da Visera is scheduled for release next year. Can you tell us a little about this project?

It's long process and it's definitely taking its time...

Eco da Víscera is a film made out of distinct episodes depicting a group of people inhabiting different places through an a-chronological montage of a particular kind of catastrophe – the loss of voice. The film builds up as an organisational and temporal structure developed in bureaucratic spaces, contemporary ruins, cavities and fake jungles. In convergent movements of people, buildings and an impetus assembled to reenact the invisible.

This film crops out of a flux which began in 2014, with the sonic and scenic piece Sancta Viscera Tua, a live spectacle/scenic piece constructed with voice, gesture, sound and light. Conceived as a dramaturgical play based on the archetypes present in human mass gathering, inhuman violence, the mediation between matter and anima, and perceived as an attempt to intersect gesture with pre-language.

The piece was an amazing experience, with ten performers, an 100 people choir and an ensemble of musicians comprising harp, double bass, percussion and electronics. It was one of the foundations for the all the other choir/voice work that I'm currently developing.

Jonathan performs on 29th October in Theatro Circo. Tickets are available here