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Interview with Luís Antero

img  Tobias Fischer

You particularly stress „oral traditions“ and collective sonic memory.
All this goes back to my childhood, to tales once told by the fire in a rural environment. Later, as an adult, I came to experience them with my grandfather and the elders in the village of Alvoco das Várzeas. This village, in particular, is full of stories about witches and werewolves and has thankfully never lost this knowledge. But it isn't only stories that come from here: The roots of popular music and their connection to the traditions and customs mark and define the identity of a people. This is why I use the term "collective memory of sound“, because it defines a set of sounds and knowledge passed down from generation to another.

The field recordings scene frequently has a tendency towards exoticism. You, however, are particularly interested in what immediately surrounds you. How come?
Once I start travelling, you can be sure that I'll eventually also succumb to this trend (laughs). Speaking seriously, however, when I listen to the area I'm living in, I feel alive and realise its full acoustic potential. If my work leads to getting more people to discover their own surrounding and to really listen to it, then I'm contributing, even in a utopian way, to their enrichment. There is still plenty to explore.

Tell me about what inspired you to start your work.
The central region of Portugal, namely in the Beira Serra, where I live, is a rural area. It is marked by social and economic difficulties similar to many inland areas, but it also has a cultural, natural, environmental and a unique ethnography of its own. It's a great place to live, you're constantly in touch with nature and develop a feeling of respect for her. Despite this, there are also areas with strong desertification, where people are leaving for the big cities or for abroad, leaving villages depopulated, with negative repercussions for the architectural heritage. Already, there are only few water mills left here, for example. Most importantly, however, the region is very rich in intangible heritage sound and has an enormous acoustic potential, since it is crossed by the parks of Serra da Estrela and Serra do Açor. Many of these expressions, however, are now disappearing. I always felt I belonged to this land, these mountains and these people, but never had looked at this area from the point of view of sound. When my two sons, Isaac and Samuel, were born, I felt, also because of them, that I had to start documenting this landscape. It is obviously destined to forever remain an unfinished job, a constant work in progress.
Then, in artistic terms, there was a meeting with two key works, which definitely influenced me for this project of sound recordings in the field: The movie Soundwalkers by Raquel Castro and Chris Watson's Weather Report album. I must also emphasize the careful help of Rafael Toral, whose valuable suggestions for buying audio recorders and important clues to the universe of field recording were very important in this whole initiation process.

How did you go from early experiments to the proficient acoustic panoramas of your current releases?
I started developing my sound collection in the Fall of 2008, on the outskirts of Oliveira do Hospital, the small town where I live. As I had no field recording experience whatsoever, I was experimenting with various acoustic scenarios and themes, from collections of oral tradition, which I'd recorded in local greenlands or in the pine forests surrounding the city. The excitement was huge and I recorded almost everything I was offered (laughs). Of course, many of these recordings did not pay off, either because they were poorly scored or lacked the sociological angle they were intended to convey. But I was taking the first steps into this fantastic universe, which was good in itself.
During these early days, I was getting support from friends, family and other sound artists and this gave me confidence to continue exploring this universe, always from the point of view of being self-taught. Even today, I operate according to this view. The release of my EP of water recordings on the Bypass Label constituted an important milestone in this regard.

What kind of equipment are you using for your field recordings?

Ever since 2008, I've been using the same Zoom H4. Never had another (laughs). Last year, I also got myself a homemade hydrophone. I always go with the Zoom H4, it joins me day and night. I've set myself a goal: Collecting the immaterial sound of the Beira Serra region. This is my only plan – but it's a massive plan (laughs). Whenever I go out to record, this is what I have in mind. I can spend an entire day in one place, documenting its soundscape by wandering around various sites, recording its unique sound properties as well as nearby sound sources, which allows me to produce narratives, using results from  different places. I will, for example, walk around the various villages in this area and discover that there are points of contact, such as the noise level, which can be very interesting. For example, the sonic textures of the agricultural work or the water that flows abundantly in these parts, are a constant. On the other hand, I appreciate a conceptual angle and working with a certain theme in mind. The Water Recordings series is a good example, but also the Big Wheel EP, Watermill and Amphibia Symphony or the latest Alvoco Soundscape and Music Factory. Designing the artwork for these releases is always a big issue and in itself constitutes a very exciting artistic challenge.

You've emphasised the importance of „pure field recordings“. What exactly does the term mean to you?
That the work conforms to the scenery and the identity of the place where the sound was recorded. There is no manipulation or treatment other than normalising tracks. Nor could there be, in fact, since my technical skills at audio production are fairly rudimentary. I try to compensate for this with my sensitivity - either in auditory terms or through my belonging to this area. I consider this a very important factor. I've always lived here, I know the people, their lives and their ways and this is reflected in my work. For me it's simple and natural to grab my recorder, go anywhere I want to document and engage in conversations with people, inviting them to add their contribution. The people are the soul of this area and this is what my work is intended to reflect.

When speaking to your colleague Mark Peter Wright recently, he mentioned he was particularly interested in capturing the „spirit of a particular place“. Is that something you can relate to, then?
Yes, I agree with Mark. In fact, to collect sounds, we have to go on the road. It can be for sites that I do not know at all - or to others I may already know, but which have by now gained even greater acoustic importance. I am particularly interested in endangered places, where the subject of my exploration could, for example, consist of a depopulated village or a water mill. I think that in the latter case, I managed to capture the spirit that Mark spoke about on my EP Watermill, released on the Bypass Label in 2009. In the latest Music Factory, published on the Wandering Ear netlabel, I can say that it is also present. In fact, these sites have a very special musical quality and sound, which deserve careful attention.

He also told me about the moments when, as a field recorder, you become completely one with your environment.
What Mark tells is fascinating, but I particularly emphasise the "spirit of a place" and often look for the inspiration needed to perform my job there. I like to go with the imagery of a particular place and seek to reconcile this with the sound. I will shoot a lot of pictures when I'm in the process of documenting sound, not only because I like photography, but also because it helps me in the writing process. It bring home the imagery of a place, which in spiritual terms, helps me a lot. I like to think it is important to the feeling of belonging to the place you want to document.

What does that term folklore still mean in the new Millennium?
What I try to capture with my field recordings is the identity of a place and its people. In this sense, the term folklore is connected to the oral tradition and its dissemination. I feel that both my generation and younger generations, with few exceptions, are not interested in oral tradition. I am trying to reverse this situation with this collection of life stories, the litany of original folk songs and so forth. The Alvoco Soundscape EP, recently released by Portuguese netlabel Mimi Records, reflects this reality, using the example of a village from the Alvoco floodplain. I believe in the value of transmission by tradition and that we can contribute to it as individuals. From an artistic point of view,  tradition is like a huge file and a stimulating point of departure for exploration and work. One can use it to build entirely new things.

Is there a political aspect to what you do?
Sometimes I feel I am exercising a kind of public service. Someone has to do it. Collective memory is important and must not be erased. As one shepherd told me, it is seminal to capture it in sound. Most shepherds, for example, have absolutely unique life stories. A life so difficult, full of work, sometimes with harrowing moments, should be recorded for future generations, as an example for those that succeed us. There are biographies on famous political and cultural personalities, so why not do it with anonymous people, too ... And these mountains are full of them. I wish I had more time for my documentation.

By Tobias Fischer

Luís Antero Discography:
Life (Audio Gourmet) 2011
Water Recordings III (Just Not Normal) 2011
O Colecionador de Sons, Vol. 1 (Electronic Musik) 2011
Factory Music (Wandering Ear) 2011
Alvoco Soundscape # 1 (MiMi) 2011
Radio Yuri (Impulsive Habitat) 2010
Website Story (Just Not Normal) 2010
Sound Narratives, Vol.3 (MiMi) 2010
Sound Narratives, Vol. 4 (Bypass) 2010
Water Recordings II (Electronic Musik) 2009
Rural Sound Narratives (Wandering Ear) 2009
Sinfonia Amphibia (You Are Not Stealing) 2009
Watermill (Bypass) 2009
Big Wheel (Konkretourist) 2009
Sound Narratives, Vol. 6 (MiMi) 2009
Collected Works (self-released) 2009
Stall/ w. Marcus Küerten (Bypass) 2009
Sound Narratives, Vol. 5 (Enough) 2009
Sound Narratives, Vol. 2 (Electro Rucini) 2009
Sound Narratives, Vol. 1 (Bypass) 2009
Water Recordings (Bypass) 2008

Luís Antero

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