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Quasar 31:00


Live recording by André Silva and Pedro Serrano on November 29th 2016 at St. George's Church, Lisbon.
Mixed and mastered by Ernesto Rodrigues & Nuno Morão.
Photography by Nuno Martins.
Graphic design by Carlos Santos.
Production by Ernesto Rodrigues.
Out on Creative Sources Rec.


The Variable Geometry Orchestra is a large electroacoustic ensemble with a fluid, international membership spanning three generations. For this release, recorded in November 2015 at St. George’s Church in Lisbon, Portugal, the group was made up of forty-six members. The thirty-one minute performance was conducted by VGO leader Ernesto Rodrigues.
Maneuvering a heterogeneous ensemble of this size in a way that maintains cohesion, a sense of movement and textural variety without undue clutter is a significant challenge. Rodrigues succeeds on these counts—helped in no small part by the accomplished improvisers he conducts—and the result is an integrated performance that nevertheless is constantly in flux.
The theory behind the ensemble’s process seems to be to improvise an overall architecture by arranging complexes of sounds moving in relation to each other. In practice this means modulating the dynamics and density of the background to allow different instruments or instrumental combinations to shift to the foreground. One may, for example, hear reeds skittering over the top of quiet chords underscored by a rich foundation of low strings; pizzicato double basses and guitars outlining the upper and lower boundaries of the ensemble’s aggregate compass; or brass exclamations over a simmering and thickening bed of soft-edged timbres. The collective sound is always engaging, as this version of the VGO benefits from a very rich palette of sound colors and a wide range running from double bass—no less than five of them—to flute. Daniel Barbiero (Avant Music News)

Boasting a forty-six member orchestra, the Variable Geometry Orchestra is one of the larger free-jazz ensembles I’ve listened to, and I can’t say I’m not a little surprised. First of all, the piece itself stretches to a mere thirty-one minutes; with such a colossal group at his disposal, one could easily forgive the VGO’s leader Ernesto Rodrigues for any indulgences - before seeing the run-time, I could have imagined the piece going on for three, even four hours. The fact that Rodrigues reins the Orchestra in and caps them at half an hour is impressive enough! The question that must be asked is this: does thirty minutes provide ample time for exploring the possibilities of the Orchestra? Can each individual voice get an opportunity to contribute to the roiling, rolling whole? The answer is: probably not. And that’s not really the point. Quasar is a journey through the textures such a group can construct, not necessarily the interlocking melodies or instances of counterpoint. In fact, there are no “solos” here, nor is there anything resembling a traditional melody. The piece could be described as one, continuous undercurrent - an uninterrupted series of shifting shapes that, occasionally, swells up to engulf the listener.
The name of the piece is “Apparent Magnitude,” which references how we measure the brightness of celestial objects from the Earth. If the opening of “Apparent Magnitude” could be quantified, it would register as the faintest of glows. It begins with murmurous undulations - rumblings that issue from indistinct locations, and the tentative susurrations of some percussionist (there are five listed). At some point, burbling electronics rise from the softly-churning mass, only to become submerged again. After ten minutes, when some brass instruments emit a short series of clipped, discordant tones, it comes as a minor shock - Rodrigues is so good at guiding the Orchestra through the murky and muted topography of this sound-world that it feels as if they will never break through the canopy. Those bursts are only short detours, however. The piece quickly returns to where it seems most comfortable: hushed textures, creaking strings, and Maria Radich’s possessed voice sounding like the whispered prognostications of an ancient oracle. Despite the seeming “eventlessness” of “Apparent Magnitude,” it’s to the Orchestra’s credit that things breeze right along - because of the large number of players, and because of the lack of any set structures to capture the attention, your ear latches on to whatever it can: a stray bellow here, a short snatch of subdued strumming there, and the occasional sigh of a saxophone. If you approach this recording as a document of the distinct, unrepeatable sounds that occurred at a church in Lisbon in the fall of 2015, you will be rewarded. It strikes me as a set of field recordings that extraterrestrial beings might make and be perplexed by for centuries: listening intently, but never quite able to work out just what is going on. In the final minute, when the Orchestra releases all of the pent-up energy that has been bubbling beneath the muted surface, you can finally see the blinding Quasar of the title - but far from casting any light, it leaves you even more puzzled: What just happened? And why do I want to hear it again? Derek Stone (The Free Jazz Collective)

The Variable Geometry Orchestra — 46 instrumentalists for this release — is just one among the innumerable projects engendered by the hyperactivity of Creative Sources boss Ernesto Rodrigues. In a respectable large improvising ensemble, the role of the conductor (Rodrigues himself in this case) is essential to make such a massive accumulation of instrumental nuances wander along genre-dissolving borders. If individualities are practically forgotten in the name of so-called "collective vibe", a potential risk exists on the listener's side to get knocked senseless by a jumble of spontaneous spurts that may not necessarily imply genuine art. Luckily this does not occur in Quasar, although we're not reporting about the second coming of Septober Energy.
The lone 31-minute piece (titled "Apparent Magnitude") might be depicted as a sort of primordial soup in which embryos of contrapuntal intuition try to morph into extemporaneous scores, their stratification occasionally generating an unsuspected raw beauty. The musicians appear to be seriously tripping inside a constant dynamic flexibility; this notwithstanding, the sonic geology reveals a balance in the acoustic ground that is never rendered precarious by the inborn timbral qualities of the preponderant sub-groups. Whispered pulses can be followed by rumbling crescendos; mysterious clusters are subjected to glissando-induced liquefaction; major blasts do happen, one of them concluding the album. In selected segments, a pregnant micro-activity gives some room for sparse instruments to express a modicum of phrasing, as if a bit of chatter between the players were needed to recharge batteries while waiting for the next surges.
I strongly recommend to listen to this record more than once, and in diverse settings. Unexpected shades, charged reverberations (courtesy of St. George's Church) and liberating outbursts are exalted by a quiet space, whereas if you want to catch a few glimpses of the myriads of diminutive suggestions — in addition to inhaling the refreshing sincerity of the performers — then headphones are definitely required. Either way, thumbs up without second thoughts or wishes of aesthetic improvement. In this orchestra, everyone's humble voice translates into One Voice. Massimo Ricci (The Squid’s Ear)

Przygoda druga – Wielkość Pozorna
Czas i miejsce zdarzenia: 29 listopada 2015, St.George Church, Lizbona.
Ludzie i przedmioty: Emídio Buchinho & Flak – gitary akustyczne, Nuno Torres – saksofon altowy, Guilherme Carmelo – gitara barytonowa, Luiz Rocha, Paulo Galão & Ricardo Ribeiro – klarnety basowe, Guilherme Rodrigues & Miguel Mira – wiolonczele, Bruno Parrinha – klarnet, klarnet altowy, Ernesto Rodrigues – harfa, dyrygent, Adam Pultz Melbye, Adriano Orrù, Alvaro Rosso, Hernâni Faustino & João Madeira – kontrabasy, Nuno Morão – perkusja, António Chaparreiro, Paulo Duarte, Stephan Sieben – gitary elektryczne, Abdul Moimême – gitara elektryczna (także preparowana), Paulo Curado – flet, Silvia Corda – melodica, Paulo Chagas – obój, Manuel Guimarães – organy, André Hencleeday, Carlos Godinho, Håkon Berre, Monsieur Trinité & Pedro Castello Lopes – perkusjonalia, Albert Cirera – saksofon tenorowy i sopranowy, Carlos Santos & João Silva – syntezatory, Armando Pereira – toy piano, Eduardo Chagas, Fernando Simões & Fala Mariam – puzony, Luís Vicente, Yaw Tembe & Sei Miguel – trąbki, Nuno Moita – turntables, Miguel Ivo Cruz – viola da gamba, Maria do Mar – altówka, Emanuela Lioy & Maria da Rocha – skrzypce, Maria Radich – głos.
Co gramy: dyrygowana muzyka improwizowana.
Efekt finalny: utwór Apparent Magnitude, trwający 31 minut, wydany na płycie Quasar (Creative Sources, 2016)
Przebieg wydarzeń/ subiektywne wrażenia:
Gigantyczny ansambl (blisko pięćdziesięciu muzyków) startuje do lotu w oparach wyjątkowo gęstej elektroakustyki. Zapach London Improvisers Orchestra, podniesionej do trzeciej potęgi. Na scenie (kościelnej!) dzieje się niezwykle dużo. Muzyka wisi w powietrzu i pętli się z byle powodu. Dominuje frakcja akustyczna, a opozycja elektroniczna jedynie tli się ciepłym płomieniem w oddali (nie ma zbytnich aspiracji, bo jest personalnie w zdecydowanej mniejszości). Dużo indywidualnych i zwartych ekspozycji. Tym razem nie doświadczamy płynnej, dronowej narracji. Tylko smakowite ekscesy! Muzyka nabiera tempa, wigoru, rytmu, baa! nawet delikatnie swinguje (sic!). Elektrycy też już dają do wiwatu. Wygaszenie jest nagłe, ale dramaturgicznie uzasadnione – urywane głosy, akustyczne pląsy gitar, wsparte wewnętrznym hałasem elektroakustycznego otoczenia. Ta wielkość nie jest jednak pozorna!
Kościelne organy mają swoje parędziesiąt sekund i nie zasypują gruszek w popiele. Przewrotnie, najwięcej zrozumienia mają w facecie od kabli (turntables!), także tym od toy piano i innych histerycznych instrumentów (sekcja percussions jest sześcioosobowa). Ci ostatni eskalują poziom dźwięku i chytrze przejmują inicjatywę wykonawczą. What a mess! Nagle dopada nas zupełnie zaskakujący pasaż czysto brzmiącego oboju! Wprowadza ład i porządek, który delikatnie podszczypywany jest nieinwazyjną elektroniką, głosami i gitarowym plumkaniem. Cały pozornie wielki ansambl uroczo kołysze się i być może, swoją wyuzdaną egzaltacją, kusi złe moce i rozdrapuje skrywane tajemnice. Ta armia muzykantów aż pali się do gry.
Znów korekty w sposobie i kierunku narracji. Pasaże blach i drewniaków, które na ogół zwiastują nadejście iście szekspirowskiej burzy, kontrapunktowane są smykami wprost z ciepłych gryfów strunowców. Te drugie, jakby plotły romantyczną historię miłosną. Na happy end nie pozwala jednak zabłąkany trębacz, który dmie złowieszczo. Kilku klarnecistów jest podobnego zdania. Słowo do słowa i narracja dramatyzuje się (akustyczne niebo w uszach zachwyconego recenzenta, który w ferworze koncertu zagubił gdzieś swój kajet). Mnogość mikroeskalacji puentowana jest kontrapunktującymi ochłapami elektroakustycznej ciszy…. Dwa kwadranse i koniec. (Trybuna Muzyki Spontanicznej)

As estratégias seguidas por “Quasar”, também da VGO, são muito semelhantes, mas com uma muito maior densidade (e incluindo o órgão da St. George’s Church, onde o CD foi gravado), pois são 46 os músicos envolvidos, alguns deles com actividade nas áreas do jazz criativo (Albert Cirera, Sei Miguel, Paulo Curado, Miguel Mira, Hernâni Faustino, Luís Vicente), da música erudita (Miguel Ivo Cruz com a sua viola da gamba), da electrónica experimental (Nuno Moita em gira-discos) e do rock (Flak, dos extintos Rádio Macau, numa das guitarras de caixa). Densidade, aqui, significa coesão, quando tudo à partida (a inexistência de pautas) prometia o contrário, tendo em conta, inclusive, que a condução de Ernesto Rodrigues nunca é determinística. As nebulosas de som que vão ocorrendo relacionam-se umas com as outras sem se obliterarem, criando contrastes e complementos que depressa ganham um sentido global. Nada nos remete para o contraponto de Bach, mas é o princípio organizacional dessa técnica, em estado magmático, bruto, que está em causa. Cada voz e cada naipe encontram um lugar no todo – podemos não conseguir discernir quem faz o quê (não são os indivíduos que aqui importam, mas o colectivo), mas se lá não estivesse os resultados seriam outros. Rui Eduardo Paes (Jazz.pt)

A 46-member orchestra of electroacoustic improvisers performing live at St. George's Church in Lisbon in 2015, for an extended and dynamic tapestry of sound conducted by leader Ernesto Rodrigues, with an impressive list of artists familiar to those following the CS label. (Squidco)


released December 6, 2018

Ernesto Rodrigues - Conduction & Harp
Maria da Rocha - Violin
Emanuela Lioy - Violin
Maria do Mar - Viola
Guilherme Rodrigues - Cello
Miguel Mira - Cello
Alvaro Rosso - Double Bass
Adam Pultz Melbye - Double Bass
Hernâni Faustino - Double Bass
Adriano Orrú - Double Bass
João Madeira - Double Bass
Miguel Ivo Cruz - Viola da Gamba
Emídio Buchinho - Acoustic Guitar
Flak - Acoustic Guitar
Abdul Moimême - Electric Guitar
Paulo Duarte - Electric Guitar
António Chaparreiro - Electric Guitar
Stephan Sieben - Electric Guitar
Guilherme Carmelo - Baritone Guitar
Maria Radich - Voice
Paulo Curado - Flute
Paulo Chagas - Oboe
Bruno Parrinha - Clarinet & Alto Clarinet
Ricardo Ribeiro - Bass Clarinet
Paulo Galão - Bass Clarinet
Luiz Rocha - Bass Clarinet
Albert Cirera - Soprano & Tenor Saxophone
Nuno Torres - Alto Saxophone
Sei Miguel - Pocket Trumpet
Yaw Tembe - Trumpet
Luís Vicente - Trumpet
Fala Mariam - Alto Trombone
Eduardo Chagas - Trombone
Fernando Simões - Trombone
Carlos Santos - Electronics
João Silva - Electronics
Nuno Moita - Turntable
Armando Pereira - Toy Piano
Manuel Guimarães - Church Organ
Silvia Corda - Melodica
Nuno Morão - Drums
Monsieur Trinité - Percussion
Carlos Godinho - Percussion
Håkon Berre - Percussion
André Hencleeday - Percussion
Pedro Castello Lopes - Percussion


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Guilherme Rodrigues Berlin, Germany

Guilherme Rodrigues is a cellist, improviser and composer from Lisboa, Portugal.
He was born in 1988 in Lisboa and started to learn cello and trumpet when he was seven at Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa and later in Conservatório Nacional de Música de Lisboa to study classical and music theory until his twenty-three. With an intuitive approach to improvisation and exploration of the timbres... ... more

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