Music-Machine | VICTOR DA ROSA
When participating in one of the auditions of the project “Máquina Orchestra”, at the UFMG Conservatory of Music, in Belo Horizonte, it was impossible not to remember John Cage and his famous essay published in 1974, exactly forty years ago, “The future of music.” In its opening pages, Cage curiously addresses the past rather than the future, at least in a strict sense: he recalls Varèse and his first piece for percussion, Iosination (1930 ) , and also the inclusion, in modern music, of those “formally considered out of tune sounds”, which are “now called microtones.” A bit ironically, as typical in his interventions, Cage says that “strictly musical issues are not serious issues anymore,” therefore supporting a lack of distinction between “musical sounds and noises “, which is the widest horizon of his reflection.”People distinguish between musical sounds and noises. I followed Varèse and fought for noises”, tells the musician.
Máquina Orquestra is a meeting of four visual artists, and that also makes it an essentially musical project, thinking once again accordingly to Cage, for whom ” the social nature of music, the practice of using a certain number of people doing different things to accomplish it, is what distinguishes it from the visual arts , it makes it move towards drama. Joining themselves to the duo “O Grivo”, composed more than twenty years ago by Nelson Soares and Marcos Moreira, Roberto Freitas and Marcelo Comparini also participated in the orchestra, both in the creation of objects , mostly of which being of musical nature , as in the execution of the concert itself ,that is, also in the creation of the procedures. In their own paths, the four artists share a common interest in building contraptions that , on their turn , generate strange and often inconsequential actions, unusual sounds or even quite simple projections, and it is precisely such common interest which is in the center of the Máquina Orquestra meeting.
In the specific case of O Grivo duo, although the visual impact of their machines could not be overlooked, not even remotely, it is definitely the music (or perhaps even better, the sound) that serves as the purpose of their research. “When we use an old can, it is not because we find it visually appealing, but because the sound of the can is interesting, although we might be seeking for a balanced visuality,” say the artists in an interview with José Augusto Ribeiro, on the occasion of the 28th edition of Bienal de São Paulo. Then, references to the sound appear both in the objects that are appropriated and changed (record players , metronomes, recorders, string instruments) as, more specifically, in the outcome of the installations, as well as in the very formation of the two members, who began their careers creating music for other artists and still compose soundtracks for movies, for example. If we think of an object, such as the exquisite “Octeto de radiolas”, 2009, Cage’s influence becomes clear once again: it is a prepared radiogram , resembling the American musician’s changed piano.
In the case of Máquina Orquestra, a project that is also treated as an “audiovisual performance “, the installation could be seen as a great “prepared player-piano”, once the player-piano is also remembered through the perforated paper rolls which during the execution of the pieces, feeding these executions in their own way, move in a monotonous rhythm until they disappear. The orchestra only ends for real when the rolls are entirely consumed, what, by the way, makes them in fact the central part of the installation, that is, the power from which all other forces are activated, as in a musical score. According to Roberto Freitas, it is from the reading of printed data in paper rolls, and in the processing of such data into “binary electrical pulses” that other small machines of the concert may work, producing several sounds. This is only possible, finally, due to the mediation of a hardware that performs the conversion of the signals into sound, what also makes one think of an intense relation between advanced technologies and more precarious ways of producing music, which is also a relation between acoustic and electronic music.
In the previously mentioned interview, Nelson Soares and Marcos Moreira also said that the research made by the collective is characterized by the attempt to “find a way of musical action at each new piece”, an interesting testimony for more than one reason . Simply put , the attempt consists of the finding of new processes, not just new products. In this case, O Grivo seems to be praying the avant-garde booklet, since great Dadaists did not develop great works, so to speak, but invented procedures so that the works could be performed by themselves – and so they used to happen in a expressionless way or, sometimes, through unintentional expressiveness. Much of the duo’s machines are made as to work without human control, that is, they feed themselves and perform their own music without the need for external control, a system that could be called autopoiesis. On the other hand, nothing has a more handmade look than the exhibitions of the artists, and it is that paradox that makes Máquina Orquestra a complex experience, with no limits. Finally, there is another aspect echoing through the pages of Cage’s essay: the preference for processes, rather than for the objects themselves, what does not mean lack of interest in objects. “There is sometime already I prefer processes rather than objects just for this reason: processes do not exclude objects,” said the musician.
Besides the fact that the orchestra itself is a great installation, there are also video images around the stage running while the pieces are performed. More than that, the videos show in real time the pieces themselves being performed. In that case, when showing the very process of implementing the orchestra, the videos also suggest such auto-exposure of the system, establishing a circular and, thus, demoniac relation with the time. Cage called that relation a nowmoment, formulated through the words “we are when we are.” Maquina Orquestra, therefore, although being an orchestra in fact, is not just any orchestra. However, it is, perhaps, if we want to play with the words, any orchestra in the sense that in it anyone can be a musician, including machines.The duplicity of the title, resembling Derrida’s Paper Machine, becomes another way of saying that music’s future has arrived. And, going from silence to groove, from the simplest changes to complex processes, and bringing forth the very meaning of “grivar”, it makes us tremble as a sailboat that sails surrounded by the wind.