Luís TINOCO (b. 1969)
Short Cuts (F), for percussion quartet (1964) [8:41]
Mind the Gap, for solo marimba (2000) [9:04]
Genetically Modified Fados, for percussion quartet and pre-recorded sounds (2018) [11:37]
Zoom in – Zoom Out, for percussion trio (2010) [7:16]
Ends Meet, for marimba and string quartet (2002) [11:24]
Archipelago, for vibraphone and wah-wah tubes (2019) [9:29]
Steel Factory, for steel drum ensemble (2006) [10:40]
Drumming Group de Percussão/Miquel Bernat
Quarteto de Matosinhos
rec. 2018/2019, Monasteiro de S. Bento da Vitória, Porto, Portugal.
All première recordings, except Mind The Gap.
ODRADEK ODRCD398 [68:19]
The release of this disc late in 2019 can be understood as celebrating two anniversaries. The composer’s fiftieth birthday on July 16th of that year, and the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Portuguese ensemble Drumming Group de Percussão (‘Drumming Gp’, for short), by its director Miquel Bernat in 1999. ‘Drumming Gp’ has commissioned and premiered works by many contemporary composers, including two significant Spanish composers, Jesús Rueda (b.1961) and Jesús Torres (b.1965). A few months ago, I was very impressed by the part they played on the splendid recording of Daniel Bernardes’ Liturgy of the Birds – in memoriam Olivier Messiaen (Clean Feed, 2019), a disc I heard courtesy of a friend, on which they collaborated with the Portuguese jazz pianist Daniel Bernardes (b. 1986).
Tinoco and the Drumming Group de Percussão have worked together intermittently for a number of years (since at least 2003) – indeed, three of the works on this disc, Steel Factory, Zoom in – Zoom Out and Genetically Modified Fados were commissioned by the percussion ensemble. Luís Tinoco has established himself as one of Portugal’s leading contemporary composers. Born in Porto, he is a graduate of Lisbon’s Escola Superior de Música, going on to gain a Master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music (where he studied composition with Paul Patterson) and a PhD from the University of York (working with Nicola LeFanu). He has written orchestral and chamber works of distinction (and distinctiveness). Reviewing an earlier disc of orchestral works also released on Odradek (ODRCD365), Richard Hanlon wrote “I am especially impressed with Tinoco’s disciplined approach to his art – his melodic and rhythmic invention never seems to flag while he certainly knows how to move a piece forward without extravagant repetition.”
Short Cuts forms a witty and mildly hypnotic opening to the disc. It was originally commissioned by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet and premiered in 2004. The Apollo Quartet recorded the piece on their CD Short Cuts (Quartz Music QTZ2012). Since then Luís Tinoco has made several other versions of Short Cuts for different combinations of instruments. Here we have version (F), for two vibraphones and two marimbas, played by André Dias, João Tiago Dias, Miquel Bernat and Pedro Góis. Compared to the original, there is a little less timbral variety in this version, but the complex rhythmic patterns emerge yet more clearly. An interesting and entertaining piece.
André Dias plays Mind the Gap. The work is in four short movements: ‘Keep Left’, ‘Next Train Approaching’, ‘Currently Out of Order’ and ‘Keep Right’. This, surely was written, or at least conceived, during Tinoco’s time as a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy. In his booklet note on the work, Tinoco observes (not altogether humourously), “Mind the Gap is a piece about London […] observing people who have been conditioned to obey traffic lights or signs […] ideally we should all be able to keep walking freely and continuously – as opposed to a stop-walk-stop motion – and, if possible, pick a few apples from trees on our way”. Though we are all familiar with signs such as ‘Keep Left’ or ‘Keep Right’, here these are also instructions to the soloist, so that ‘Keep Left’ requires the player to make use of the left side of the instrument, with the score insisting on a return to that side of the marimba whenever there might seem to be a natural opportunity to move further across the instrument. In performance the illusion can be created of a musician (or indeed a walker) trying to disobey the sign/instructions but being ‘forced’ back. The same applies, in reverse in ‘Keep Right’. In between these two pieces are two which imply a reference to travelling on the London Underground. The opening bars of ‘Next Train Approaching’ mimic the approach and arrival of a train and there follows an ‘account’ of a journey on it, at night (according to Tinoco’s note). In ‘Currently Out of Order’ busy patterns of sound are interrupted as the train, it seems, stops for technical reasons. Once again, Tinoco’s wit is evident here.
Genetically Modified Fados consists of a set of three pieces – ‘Your Eyes’, ‘Come Back’ and ‘Camelias’. In each case Tinoco prepared a tape using excerpts from the work of important earlier singers of fado as preserved in the sound archive of the Museu do Fado in Lisbon. The recordings used have been edited, “changing their structure, editing fragments, creating loops, and highlighting some of the individual words and short phrases” (quoted from Tinoco’s notes on his Fados genéticamente nodificados). In ‘‘Your Eyes’ (‘Os teus olhos’) the main voice sampled is that of Alexandre de Resenda (1886-1953), in ‘Come Back’ (‘Volta’) that of the superb Berta Cardoso (1911-1997) – though she can’t be heard very clearly – and in ‘Camelias’ that of Corina Freire (1897-1975). On all three tracks there are also shorter extracts from the work of other fadistas. Tinoco uses the percussion quartet (made up, on this occasion, of João Tiago Dias, Miquel Bernat, Pedro Oliveira and Rui Rodrigues) to create a dialogue between old and new, especially in terms of adding a much greater degree of rhythmic complexity, from which the voice of a passionate fadista repeatedly emerges. I am not sure that the process does much to enhance the impact of the original performances or, indeed, to produce something fully satisfying in itself. Genetically Modified Fados was written, says Tinoco, when Drumming Group de Percussão “challenged me to create a piece that could establish a direct link with Fado”. I don’t think that this proved one of the more profitable compositional challenges that Tinoco has taken up.
I am more impressed by Zoom in – Zoom out, also commissioned by Drumming Group de Percussão and written for vibraphone, two marimbas and two bass drums, played by André Dias, João Tiago Dias and Pedro Góis. Here the point of reference is not fado, but bossa nova. It was written as part of a project, Deconstructing the Bossa, created by Drumming Group de Percussão. At no point (so far as I can hear) does any already existing piece of bossa nova appear in the music Tinoco has written, though there are certainly hints (and more) of rhythmic units that might have come from a bossa. Describing Zoom in – Zoom out as an analysis or even a deconstruction of the bossa runs the risk of making it sound less fun than it actually is, as diminuendos and crescendos zoom in and then withdraw. This has the intelligence and, in the serious sense of the word, the wit, that one learns to expect from most of Tinoco’s music.
Ends Meet is, in the words of the composer, “structured in four movements in a series of circles that share material between them. The music does not follow a structure that develops in the traditional sense of the term, and keeps returning to its point of origin, a place where both ends meet”. It deploys a string quartet, the Quarteto de Matosinhos (the piece was commissioned by Matosinhos municipal council – Matasinhos being a coastal city a few miles north of Porto) and a marimba (played by Miquel Bernat). The first movement (Tempo giusto, quasi mecanico) has some insistent rhythms; at times the patterning might almost be described as minimalist. But towards the close of the movement the conversation between the strings and the marimba is very far from being mecanico. The second and third movements of Ends Meet are everything that their titles/markings promise (I. Libero e delicato; II. Libero e tranquillo) and are both delightful, their delicacy and tranquility rich in emotional possibilities. Both have, to a degree, the feeling of a miniature concerto for marimba and string quartet. After these two ‘slow’ movements, the last movement (Vivo) has far more obvious energy, dominated by the marimba, and completing an attractive and well-made work full of contrasts amongst its four movements and full of subtle instrumental combinations and intriguing timbres.
Archipelago, the most recently composed of the works on this disc, is dedicated to Miquel Bernat and he plays the solo marimba in the piece, joined by eight tuned wah-wah tubes (aluminium tubular bells of various sizes which are struck with a mallet and on which a wah-wah effect can be produced by covering and uncovering a small hole near one end of the tube). Archipelago is an evocative work, with a considerable sense of space, a space that sometimes sounds ‘haunted’ by the wah-wah tube(s). Much of the piece has a spacious and bright fluidity (for me, suggestive of an expanse of sea) with, at intervals, what Tinoco describes as “small musical islands which present us with a diverse set of timbres and colours, produced using different types of mallet, double-bass bows, or the hands of the musicians”. The whole has a suggestive poetry of a kind one doesn’t often encounter in works written for percussion ensemble. This is the piece to which I have returned with the greatest frequency in listening to this CD. It has a remarkable and unusual beauty.
So, too, does Steel Factory. As its title suggests this work (again commissioned by Drumming Group de Percussão) uses an ensemble of steel drums, supplemented by a set of bongos and some steel bars. Four members of the ensemble are involved here (though, of course, one or more of them may well play more than one instrument in the course of the piece). The steel drums clearly have a range of pitches, like those used in, say, a Caribbean Steel Band. It should, though, be remembered that when one talks of ‘pitch’ in relation to steel drums, the sounds which the instruments produce will, in terms of western tempered tuning, seem ‘imperfect’. But, of course, it is in that supposed ‘imperfection’ that their specific richness and value lies, as part of the timbral palette available to a composer writing for percussion. Some of the sounds to be heard on Tinoco’s Steel Factory sound almost otherworldly, like sounds picked up from outer space or, at other times, echoic of the industrial world beyond which we seem now to be moving. Not for the first time in discussing the music on this disc I find myself having recourse to the word ‘poetry’, as I try to communicate the way in which the nature of Tinoco’s writing (and the skills of the Drumming Group de Percussão) create a language of energy and emotion, of rhythm, suggestion and echo, which speaks to the senses and the unconscious more than to the faculty of reason. Another absorbing and rewarding work.
Over the years I have met more than a few people who are all too ready to dismiss (often unheard) music written for percussion ensemble as, of necessity, a crude matter of ‘banging and clattering’. Here, though, throughout Archipelago is work of which the most striking qualities are subtlety, precision and poetry.