Music from Serralves

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Two long concert tracks by important women creators on the vinyl LP Presença Series 001Pauline Oliveros plays her accordion on ‘Land Escaping’, an excerpt from a 2001 concert, while Zeena Parkins plays her harp for 21 mins on ‘Once’, in an excerpt from a 2004 concert. Both were recorded at the Serralves Foundation in Portugal, an arts foundation which has a museum, a park, a cinema, a permanent collection…an education programme and a library, and more besides. They also had a series of concerts which is identified here as an “experimental sound program” and is regarded as “one of the most expansive in Europe”.

Pauline Oliveros was recorded at the program called “Machine For Entangling Landscapes”, which may have something to do with a series of paintings by the Portuguese artist Rui Moreira; at any rate her title indicates that she did all she could to escape that entangling. I could never reconcile myself to the profound change in Oliveros’ music; I liked the burbling-analogue swamp baths she used to concoct in the 1960s, and the idea of her “Deep Listening” aesthetic has always intrigued me, and I’m in favour of any artist who tries to scale up a simple human dimension – in this case, the act of breathing – into something monumental. But her accordion work usually fails to engage me for some reason. This performance has much to enjoy though, the drone sounds she makes are very “clean” and pure tones emanate at all times, though I’m less enamoured of the scale-riffing up and down the keyboard that tends to interrupt the mood. Even so, it’d be a ninny who could deny the spiritual calm and peace that exudes from this cut. There’s also a lot of humanity and compassion in her work, making her one of the more empathetic feminists; the potted biography printed here overlooks all that, in favour of stressing her historic importance, her pioneer status, and the awards she’s won.

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Zeena Parkins brought her harp to a performing art progam called ‘As Meninas’ in 2004. Her ‘Once’ is pretty bonkers stuff, and I’ll admit to being superficial and declare it’s more exciting to me right now than the Oliveros side. The playing is agitated, dynamic, strange. But maybe she’s too restless, compared to the stability and grandeur of La Oliveros. I assume there’s a fair amount of treatments, loop pedals and delay effects that allow her to accompany herself and sound like two or three instruments playing at once; plus the very sound of the strings has been doctored heavily for most of the time, creating muffled blorps and dissonant twangs, occasionally producing near-hilarious effects as though she were playing a comedy harp strung with rubber ropes. She’s far more like a one-woman avant-rock guitar show than the serene Oliveros, and with my current Ted Nugent fixation this is the sort of music that satisfies my baser urges just now. I must reinvestigate Zeena’s plucks on the strength of this semi-dementoid beanfest…not sure I have much of her documented work to hand, apart from the odd collaboration with Chris Cutler, who probably worshipped her.

This release may be the first in a series of recordings we’ll hear from the archive of the Fundação de Serralves, and it was compiled by the curator Pedro Rocha with the help of Alejandra and Aeron. The latter used to be extremely welcome here at Sound Projector with their Lucky Kitchen label, an enterprise they stopped running some ten years ago. But they’ve brought the imprint back to life for this project. From 11 May 2015.

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