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Orchestra Machine
Roberto Freitas - Marcelo Comparini - O Grivo 



by 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.

Acoustic Rigmarole

A conversation about the Orchestra Machine by Kamilla Nunes and Lucila Vilela 

Conceived by the artists O Grivo (Nelson Soares and Marcos Moreira), Marcelo Comparini and Roberto Freitas, the Orchestra Machine resulted from a collaboration in which the artists’ individual studies gave way to an investigation that took the form of a performative installation. In this interview, which took place after one of the performances at the Museu de Arte de Santa Catarina, in May 2017, the artists give some insight into the technical and conceptual aspects of this process, as well as the specifics of the artist-in-residency experience offered through the 10th edition of the Programa Rede Funarte Artes Visuais and the Elisabete Anderle Prize 2014. 

Kamilla Nunes and Lucila Vilela – The Orchestra Machine emerged from a meeting between yourselves, we imagine down to the fact that your individual artworks are closely related in terms of the language they employ. We would like to know at what point did you decide to develop a project together? Why an orchestra machine? 

Roberto Freitas – I think we decided to work together when we got to know each other’s works. I particularly really wanted to work with O Grivo and with Marcelo, that desire became a project to seek the funding for a residency where we could live and work together and discover points where our works intersect. My work, just like that of the other participants, flirts with multimedia. In my case, music, painting, animation and electronics are all essential. This meeting was the opportunity to consider my work from a more collaborative, more generous perspective, and that really expanded my vision of the possibilities of production within art. I can say that I gained a lot from the process and was very pleased with the result, which is neither my work, nor Marcelo’s, nor O Grivo’s, but something in between, that could not exist outside this space. 

KN and LV - From what we could follow of the creation process for Orchestra Machine, all the constituent elements are made by yourselves: the design, the creation of circuits, the development of the scores, the carpentry and the instruments/contraptions which are manipulated during the performance. Is it fundamental for the project for you to be directly involved in all these stages of creation/construction? 

Marcos Moreira (O Grivo) – Making with your own hands is stamping your fingerprint on the objects. It creates a certain unity, so it has more identity. The instruments possess a fluttering, unconcerned, enjoyable, fun and not very dense aspect to them. Not too bad, a handmade solution. 

Marcelo Comparini – This situation of being involved is the one that, for us, allows for greater attainment of the machine-like potential of the machine, I also mean the mega-machine with which we are related. They are operational, empirical, hermeneutical processes that would be executed with another expression if delegated to third parties. These mentioned elements (creation of circuits, carpentry, composition of the scores, design, etc.) are the thresholds on which we stand when working throughout the time determined by the project (in the sense of the institutional commitment that intermediates and supports our encounter). On another time scale, for example, we might be able to follow the growth of the tree from which we would use the wood, perhaps guiding the branches to grow in a certain way that interested us more, but we bought the wood already cut in straight angles because that is how it is offered on the market and this is also expressed. I think that likewise we are in relation with what is sound (I don’t say musical) or with what is work (I don’t say art) in the field of culture, with the legacies with which we speak in the setting of the Orchestra Machine. The creation, in fact, is small. It is as if we compose in this machine nature, it is an arrangement of the virtualities that the filter of our meeting updates. 

RF – We built everything without any executive project, the making is the project, we could not exist any other way. These are not precise machines, they are the materialization of thoughts that resulted from discussions we had. Making the objects is a way of talking about the very nature of what we are doing. Then there are the instruments created for the performances, they were made individually for the live conversation, for the improvisation we perform in front of the public. But even they are a dialogue with that which we created beforehand in partnership. So, from my point of view, it is like the manufacture of these instruments were a moment of individual reflection for us to return to already established conversations. 

KN and LV - The Orchestra Machine installation at the Museu de Arte de Santa Catarina, in May 2017, opened with six presentations, each of which involved a performative action. But, for the first time, the installation has remained at the museum for a thirty-day period, switched on by a controller that determines its operating time. Can you comment on this transition? 

MM – The installation functions alone, without any musicians. All the machines obey the decisions of the conductors. The conductors send orders to the control box. The control box controls the speed of the motors and to which of the groups of instruments the signal is sent: to the propellers or to the single-stringed instruments. The Radinha also receives a signal from the scores, and the video cameras alternate also in function of the signal from the scores. We, the musicians, makes interventions and change the landscape of the orchestra, transforming and configuring the acoustic setting. Furthermore, we also receive the signal from the conductors and their graph paper scores. And, finally, we play instruments, improvising from the sounds of the orchestra, thus changing, recomposing and reshaping the whole acoustic texture of the installation. 

MC – It is a natural landscape, we built the installation like a product-that-produces- and-is-produced, this old sculpture type thing that moves and does something, which sometimes is nothing. On this journey, since the first presentation at the UFMG auditorium to the exhibition at MASC, we have established conversations within the installation whereby it is transformed, becoming more consistent and giving it more autonomy. The biological elements that we vulgarly call human bodies become a bit more dispensable in the composition of the installation performance. 


KN and LV – Which instruments were created and added to the Orchestra Machine during the residency in Florianópolis through the Elisabete Anderle Prize? 

MC – We created a new version of an instrument that we call the “Radinha”. It already worked in different ways, but before telling you its “evolution”, I am going to go back to talk a bit about the general functioning of the installation to put into context how it is engaged within this “taxonomic system”. The holes in the loops of perforated paper of the pianolas close electrical circuits emitting pulses, the duration of which depend on their size and on the speed of the motor that transports the paper. These pulses generated by the holes in the paper of any of the three pianolas go through a splitter that multiplies the connections without mixing the signals and has two different destinations: a box that converts these electrical signals into MIDI (Musical Interface Digital Instruments) signals and another box that amplifies these pulses so that they have the power to move the electric motors. The relations between the relays, power source voltages, electromagnetic fields generated by the radinha coils, electrical refluxes and other factors led us to cause two outbreaks of fire during endless days of work and frustration after which we decided to change tactics. So now this radinha receives electrical signals from the pianolas on an electronic circuit similar to an arduino board, which translates these inputs into PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) output values of equal duration and frequency, which we assigned to each coil or set of coils in test and response listening sessions. 

KN and LV – Each time an instrument goes “kaput”, you create a new solution so that it remains in operation, thus making third-party maintenance difficult. How do you cope with that situation? 

MC – It’s a vital characteristic of the machine, to go “kaput”! We know that they only work not working, a moving sculpture has the vocation of breaking, self- destructing. One of the richest aesthetic drivers of the work comes about from this. Outsourcing the maintenance is not on the horizon of my concerns. In such situations, I remember that my grandfather used to say something like “fatto, disfatto, tutto lavorato” despite the fact that neither he nor I spoke Italian. 

KN and LV – What are the main artistic (and non-artistic) references in the creation of the Orchestra Machine? 

MM - Colon Nancarrow, an American musician and composer for the pianola, who lived in Mexico. 

RF – The fantastical erotic-musical machine of Durand Durand in the film Barbarella, by Roger Vadim, which screened in the 1960s; the machine from the museum that appears in Emídio Greco’s film (1976) adapted from the book “The Invention of Morel”, by Adolfo Bioy Casares, first published in 1940; Clinamen, the painting machine invented by Alfred Jarry in the late 19th century; the electric chair developed by Harold P. Brown which was used to kill someone for the first time in the 1890s; Frankenstein; all the machines of Júles Verne and Raymond Roussel; the trompe-l’oeil, or, why not, anamorphosis.