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Joana Sá's Interior Monologue

On the Portuguese contemporary music scene the multidisciplinary projects of Joana Sá – pianist, improviser and composer – constitute, undoubtedly, some of the most original and coherent examples of joining various aesthetics. Her latest project, “In Praise of Disorder” (“Elógio da Desordem”), a monologue, built upon various texts by Gonçalo M. Tavares, for semi-prepared piano, installation of bells and sirens, toy piano, noise boxes and mini amps, harmonium and flexible tubes, has already been presented a couple of times in Lisbon – at the Belém Arts Centre during the Música Viva 2011 Festival (premiere performance) and this year on October 4 at the Maria Matos Theatre (an extended version with video projections by Daniel Costa Neves and Pedro Diniz Reis). Recently this project has also been released on a “handmade” CD edition by the Shhpuma Records / Trem Azul.

Joana Sá has made herself known to Portuguese and international audiences in solo projects, such as “through this looking glass” inspired by Lewis Carroll’s imaginary universe, or in duo with Luís José Martins (one of her partners from the Power Trio) within the project “Almost a Song”, also released by the Shhpuma Records, in which the performers’ more avant-garde attitude joins the intention to “please the ear”. Perhaps this affirmation is one of the keys for understanding Joana Sá’s artistic success and aesthetics. It is indeed possible to assign to her music different influences, let us say, form John Cage’s experiments to Björk’s “alternative pop”. Nevertheless, all of them, when filtered by the artist’s creative temperament, gain an unmistakable voice, in which the abstraction of avant-garde music achieves a quite personal and “human” dimension.

“In Praise of Disorder” is a 45-minute work, developed in 7 parts: “Overture”, “Hierarchy on Insanity”, “Weakness of Solids”, “All That Is Light Has a Dark Part (Lullaby)”, “Praise of Disorder”, “Reality, Imagination (A Method Not to Go Insane)”, “The Elegant Fall”. Gonçalo M. Tavares’ texts interpreted by Rosinda Costa, come from the author’s various works written between 2009 and 2013 (“animalescos”, “O Senhor Swedenborg e as investigações geométricas” and “Uma viagem à Índia”). Their organization in a kind of narrative defines the music’s formal construction and constitutes the departure point for this sound monologue, whose strength is contained in the ambiguity and the incapacity to give vulgar and obvious answers.

Certainly the key role in this trialogue, text – music – video, belongs to the pianist who alone on stage, however, surrounded by different sound emitting devices constructed by Luís José Martins (bells and sirens) and André Castro (noise boxes), conducts before the audience her monologue, with sound gestures interpreting, deforming, filtering and emphasising Gonçalo M. Tavares’s words: “There’s a madman on the piano and he plays like a trained animal, they give him medication from time to time, for the piano playing animal is very violent…” Joana Sá’s sound imagination is composed of contrasts – on the one hand we find here concentrated, restrained ephemeral and almost “liquid” moments, as if reminiscences of John Cage’s cycle, “Sonatas and Interludes” for prepared piano, or of the composer’s ingenuous “Suite for Toy Piano”. On the other hand there are other moments, like in the 5th part (by the way entitled “In Praise of Disorder”), in which the energy is released through obsessive repetition of rhythms, abrupt gestures, clusters, noises, sounds of bells and sirens, accumulating into a kind of dance out of balance, into an apotheosis of disorder and insanity.
What is particularly relevant in Joana Sá's language is the combination of various components, which contribute to the creation of a coherent and penetrating sound universe – of the semi-prepared piano, to which the pianist adapts the technique of putting magnets onto the instrument’s strings, which was introduced for the first time by the Brazilian performer and composer, Michelle Agnès; of the “distorted” and noise character of the electronics realized by Hélder Nelson; and of the already mentioned installations of bells, sirens and noise boxes – a kind of “primitive music”. All these ingredients contribute to the exceptional sound richness of “In Praise of Disorder”, making that it is possible to see, read and listen to it from different angles, particularly when taking into consideration the texts and the visual component. During the live performance the latter combines particularly well with the musical layer not only for its abstract and monochromatic character but also for the geometries, which seem to be residues of a grim reality from the post-video era.

Joana Sá's new project is a kind of artistic manual, in which disorder is presented in its various aspects, mental, spiritual or physical. Its artistic success certainly resides in the capacity of transmitting subcutaneously the emotions and ideas on the threshold of their definition, of moving between the abstract and concrete, through the simultaneity of the text, music and video. From a more symbolic point of view “In Praise of Disorder” seems to speak about artistic liberty as opposed to social, cultural and aesthetic limitations, or simply to the preponderant common sense, which suffocates creativity. Perhaps the more restrained and ephemeral fragments of music, in opposition to the already mentioned violent and exorbitant dance of insanity constitute a (non) expression of the grim ideas and intense emotions, which as result of an introvert reaction, never come to materialize their splendour in daylight. “…in him, in the madman, they have found the right position between medication and the world so that no rage nor violence nor disorder nor misalignment spill outside, but simply the do re mi, which is excellent.”

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