Microtons

My inspiration for building alternative instruments comes from composer and violoncellist Anton Walter Smetak, who moved to Brazil during the 2nd World War and dedicated most of his Brazilian life to researching and making microtonal instruments until his last days.

Info: http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Walter_Smetak

It was only after Crac! met composer Paulo Barnabe (Patife band) that I got to know the work of Smetak. In 1991, we were invited to perform live on a well-known TV show in Brazil (Materia Prima TV Cultura). As they didn’t cover the travel expenses, I had to sell my bicycle to by the coach return ticket to Sao Paulo. There, we managed to perform in a few other places such as Madame Sata, and the pub Persona, at the Italian neighbourwood called “Bexiga”. There, in the middle of the public, was Paulo Barnabe watching us. After the show he came to us and said:

-You know Smetak, don’t you? (we didn’t)

-You came from Salvador., You played that sound  and you don’t know Smetak?

Well, the first thing we did after arriving back to Salvador was to find out about the tip.

 

Researching the composer, we found out that most of the 150 microtonal instruments and sound sculptures he had invented and built through out his life was abandoned in an empty room at the Federeal University. The room had the windows broken and wind sun and rain had already destroyed some manuscripts and instruments. Shocked with the situation, the members of ‘Crac!’ decided to protest/perform on streets and report the fact to the press. We invented the “Manifesto Smetak”

During this process, we befriended influent people in the arts, including a few former students of Smetak such as the composers Tuze de Abreu and Sergio Souto. Also Smetak’s daughter, Barbara, became a good friend of ours. Indeed, they were all happy in sharing our concerns. This movement brought up Smetak’s work back to public and ‘resurrected’ the ‘Association of Friends of Smetak’.

 

Eventually, we became part in the ensemble allowed to play his instruments and compositions in events such as the release of the second edition of his second book- Simbologia dos Instrumentos.

 

THE INFLUENCE

From his great collection of instruments, the ones he named ‘cretinos’ were my favorites. The name suggests their lack of nobility in sounds. A single instrument, in special, had transformed my musical life – The Piston Cretino, which consisted of a water pipe, a funnel and a trumpet mouthpiece. Although Smetak didn’t find much use for it, I decided to adapt the piece to my own skills and aesthetics. I named my version – the Saxcretino. It had a water pipe with same length, an alto saxophone mouthpiece and a half plastic pet bottle instead of a funnel. Soon I realised that the saxophone mouthpiece enable the instrument to produce an enormous variety of sounds, distinct not only in pitch but also in timbre. I then took the path of practicing and learning its possibilities, as well as finding ways to control them.

   

A few years after we started our research, we had 3 different situations running simultaneously:

Crac! making use of Smetak instruments and other variations in its own music and recording a never released album produced by Paulo Barnabe.( You can hear a few tracks in the page dedicated to the band).

Members of ‘Crac!’ as individuals, helping in the maintenance of Smetak’s collection;

Members of ‘Crac!‘ forming another band, this time, purely working with microtonal instruments created or adapted by us.

In 1995, Neio Mustafa, the bass player and co-funder of the band, was graduating in Fine Arts at the Federal University. We performed our microtonal instruments for the first time during his degree show. The performance and the group were called ‘Conjunto de Cretinos’.

O BrocoFrom that moment on, we became a popular performing group usually invited to perform in ecological events and improvisational dance sessions. In the following year, we performed for the Ecodrama project at the National Theatre in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

 

A couple of years later, after Neio left the band, we decided to end the Conjunto de Microtons and start a new group – ‘O Broco’

Our first work, called Super-Pop, transposes classic rock songs into microtonal acoustic sounds. We carried on the performatic microtonal group 2000.

 

A little of the sound:  O Broco- Hatamahata

After the end of the group, I carried on playing the saxcretino and a few other microtonal instruments in more convencional bands I joined later (Zambotronic BR/ In Cases UK) . In the UK, I have being using them for dance performance of Anna Psenitsnikova and my own performances.

 

My latest microtonal sound sculpture/performance (Communication-Tell Me) was part in the collective ‘ Here&Now’ exhibition at the South Gallery in Brighton. Here is my statement for the exhibition:

“Communication- Tell Me” is a critique to the impotency of the Leaders of all Nations. Making serious decisions that affect the whole structure of our “globalized” civilization and, at the same time, having their own specific commitments, the delegates of our societies won’t do more than remain superficial on such issues.

This interactive sound sculpture is a microtonal sonic experiment brought to life to resolve such political problems. Five members from five different cultures or even continents can discuss any issue through the sounds of the pipes. No matter the differences between them, all sounds will be forced to unify their individualities into a single sound mass that reverberates in a single acoustic bowl.

 

One side of the wall:

The Bowl – made of paper mâché, it is a build-up of a mix of chosen articles and headlines about international relations on newspapers from different countries and colourful adverts to make it aesthetically attractive. Its function is to unify whatever sounds come from its pipes.

 

The other side of the wall:

The Pipes – using drains that interconnect our private lives and breathing tubes that keep individuals alive in extreme situations, all sounds are channelled through a wall into the acoustic place where they are combined, amplified and projected to the world. From very low to very high frequencies that are played in a variety of durations, the diversity of sounds represents different opinions and postures for global issues and their combination represents the agreement on such issues.

  

Communication-Tell Me on Vimeo:

http://vimeo.com/25814145

A few youtube videos related to this page’s subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZrCFjaQ004

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru4IVXAkN-M&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYltBsre9Ak&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPVrS2RXtQY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAGdnecCE8A&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1r2wLVAR1c