Now in its eighth yr, Portugal’s Semibreve competition is a spotlight of Europe’s experimental music circuit. The 2018 version featured performances from Sarah Davachi, Actress, Grouper and Caterina Barbieri; FACT’s April Clare Welsh was on the bottom to research additional.
There’s quite a bit to be stated for switching off your cellphone and relinquishing your senses totally to an hour or so of music. Last weekend, Portugal’s Semibreve competition felt extra like a retreat than a music competition, wrapping festival-goers in blankets of ambient music, drone and different exploratory sounds that made the skin world really feel suitably faraway. As information of tragedies from Jakarta and Pittsburgh to Brazil and Leicester stuffed our information feeds, we discovered solace contained in the pitch-black chamber of the grand theatre Teatro Circo – the competition’s primary venue – lapping up aural moments of womb-like immersion that demanded our full consideration.
Semibreve’s minimal programming forgoes the chaos of many metropolis weekenders to create a relaxed, laid-back environment that leaves loads of house to ruminate on the performances. Featuring arts installations in addition to music, the handpicked, adventurous lineup additionally makes time every day for a leisurely lunch or an amble across the church-strewn city of Braga, which boasts a small however fertile arts scene with ties to Porto and Lisbon. This yr, Semibreve felt decidedly autumnal, with church bells, fog and a biting glacial wind including gothic overtones to the temper.
The competition’s opening efficiency on the Friday night time positioned Portuguese experimental music within the highlight, with homegrown ‘80s trailblazers Telectu – comprising duo Vitor Rua and António Duarte (changing the late Jorge Lima Barreto) – tripping over tightly-wound psychedelic soundscapes that melded widescreen, repetitious guitar with drum machine and cosmic synths.
Performed to a mind-melting backdrop of flying cats and spinning patterns, the band’s specially-commissioned present, in partnership with Lisbon’s Teatro Maria Matos, was a paean to nostalgia, reviving the dwell exhibits of the band’s recently-reissued 1982 album Belzebu with unique projections, scores and devices. Also enjoying within the theatre on Friday, William Basinski – or “the Iggy Pop of ambient” as a fellow attendee lovingly described the Disintegration Loops grasp – maintained a stoic, inflexible composure on stage that just about appeared to belie his glittery, expressive apparel. Filling the cavernous room with kaleidoscopic atmosphere, from deep bass rumbles to serene synth washes and esoteric noises, Basinski’s efficiency was fascinating, however I spent the set wishing I used to be sat nearer for an much more immersive expertise.
Later that night time, Actress – who had stepped in to interchange Jlin – reworked the tempo of the competition at Braga’s gnration venue, effortlessly teasing out a set of scrambled rave and lo-fi summary beats. Following Actress, RP Boo kicked the occasion absolutely into gear with a frenzied, dizzying set of supersonic-spun footwork magic. Fixing a smile firmly on his face all through, the Chicago visionary could have reached realizing ranges of parody, however even clipped vocal samples of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ had been joyously obtained.
Icy winds tore into us as we hurriedly walked over to Caterina Barbieri’s efficiency at a neighborhood monastery the next afternoon. The Italian composer was initially booked to play inside a church however was compelled to swap venues last-minute apparently as a result of her music was thought-about “too satanic” by the church priest. Whether or not Barbieri managed to summon demons stays to be seen, however she actually took our senses on a journey of biblical proportions. As arpeggiated synths melted and rippled like waves and ear-splitting reverb rattled across the room, Barbieri’s minimalist patterns flitted between vibrant euphoria and high-drama. The satan does have the most effective tunes, as they are saying.
Appearing as a ghostly apparition flickering out and in of concentrate on a stage that threatened to swallow her complete, Grouper’s spectral presence on the Saturday night time appeared to chime completely with the spirit of Halloween. In spite of this, the set was intimate, devastating and fascinating, whereas the sparseness of Liz Harris’s barely-there folks made room for introspection. Harris carried out tracks from her current piano-led album Grid of Points and the maintain pedal resonated superbly contained in the theatre, whereas her whispered vocal harmonies had been so mollifying that they introduced me to tears. The full stillness of the auditorium actually helped draw out the emotion of the efficiency. A number of hours later, DJ Stingray closed the Saturday night time with a body-popping set of breakneck electro, cementing his standing because the grasp of his craft (and preserving the group dancing till the early hours).
Sunday was left open to self-reflection, with simply two early night performances from Keith Fullerton Whitman and visible artist Pierce Warnecke and Robin Fox that helped deter the end-of-festival ennui from setting in. Beginning with minimalist electronics that progressively swelled right into a balloon of harsh, juddering noise, the collaborative A/V efficiency was brawny and unrelenting and positively did wonders to that blow away the weekend’s cobwebs.
Closing the competition with Robin Fox’s technicolor laser extravaganza, in the meantime, was satisfying, terrifying and suitably transferring. According to Fox, “the efficiency is designed to resemble a synesthetic expertise the place what you hear can be what you see”, with fluorescent inexperienced, pink and purple rays taking pictures out into the group, whereas sound frequencies morphed from high-pitched oscillations to static drone, later weaving in summary area recordings just like the sound of popping sweet. It was essentially the most high-octane efficiency of the competition and one which ensured Semibreve 2018 went out with a bang.
April Clare Welsh is a contract author based mostly in Lisbon. Find her on Twitter.