Síria’s “Boa-Língua” reviewed by Fluid Sonic Fluctuations

Welcome to review number 113 on Fluid Sonic Fluctuations in which today I’m featuring the fairly recently released album by Síria titled Boa-Língua. I received this album as a review copy linking to a Bandcamp download code from the Crónica label. Crónica is the label which actually inspired me to start this blog and over the last two years I’ve often featured and reviewed various Crónica releases both new and old on this blog. Just like I did with Quantum Natives I’ll give a bit of a description of Crónica both for people who haven’t checked out the previous reviews as well as keeping in line with my now even more expanded review style. Crónica is a Portuguese mixed media label founded by a group of sound artists, experimental musicians and audiovisual artists that include Miguel Carvalhais (who’s most in charge of the label nowadays and has mastered and designed many of its releases), Pedro Tudela, who both form the duo @c, an immersive sound art and abstract experimental music project that often utilises field recordings and collaged abstract musical and non-musical sounds to create immersive cinematic experiences based on a philosophical attitude to sound as well as deep listening into various sonic environments. I’ve reviewed various @c works on this blog before. Other founding members of Crónica include experimental musician Pedro Almeida (Pal) and visual artist Lia who uses custom programming to create her moving and captured abstract visuals. Quite matching in spirit to @c’s sound works Crónica’s releases form an ever-continuing chronology of sound, music and noise on various formats including cassette tape, free download, CD and limited edition vinyl releases. Crónica’s discography is a mixture of Sound Art pieces, often conceptual and free-spirited experimental music and Electro-Acoustic Improvisation as well as inventive and often enjoyable forays into composed field recordings and the more arty side of Noise. Now let’s have a look at the contents of the review copy of Boa-Língua by Síria that I received. The download I received includes the album cover artwork in good resolution, the 9 album tracks in 24-bit/44.1kHz high resolution audio as well as a PDF file that contains the album’s tracklist, credits, release description and liner notes. The liner notes by Síria herself give a good impression of the concept and sonic approach Síria used when she recorded the 9 pieces that feature on the album with improvisation that goes beyond simply performing and an element of deep introspection being key elements to this album’s development. A nice short text that you can read alongside checking out the music. What is of interest for now is the background of Síria and the other artists who contributed to the music or whose music Síria sampled / manipulated to create her music. First of all, Síria herself, is a solo project by Portuguese sound artist and experimental musician Diana Combo. As also introduced by the PDF files, Síria is an extension of Diana’s other music project EOSIN, a project that mixes Turntable Music style experimentation, field recordings and other sound sources to create at times eerie and mysterious abstract sonic images, Síria mixes this approach with Diana’s vocals which in the case of Boa-Língua she doesn’t manipulate that much but mostly works as a main thread carrying the pieces of music, often using (traditional) Folk songs or as in some pieces on this album rather expressive (wordless) vocals sometimes using an invented language. Under the name Síria Diana has released two albums on Crónica, has appeared on compilations on Tropical Twista Records and Discrepant and has created a remix for Sontag Shogun released on Youngbloods. Tiago Martins has done “post-production” of the album at his own Fisgastudio, which as I could hear it on the album consists of the connecting the songs together as well as nicely balancing out Síria’s vocals with the instrumentation of her pieces. Miguel Carvalhais did the mastering for this album, which like other masters he did for releases I previously reviewed is rather crisp and clear sounding, a notch compressed in this case perhaps though, but it does keep the vocals quite on the foreground and it’s not reducing the balance of the instrumentation of the music too much and indeed Miguel also created the artwork for this release which features photos by Síria herself of this subtly painted statue of a nude woman which is not quite matching my own interpretation of the music as you will soon notice but does form nice striking imagery that does encompass the general surreal ambience of the album quite well. Amongst the sources of songwriting, samples and recordings Síria used in her pieces we find that first song Canção do Gato is a version of a song that Tiago Pereira recorded for his continuing project A Música Portuguesa a Gostar Dela Própria which documents Portuguese folk songs as sung by local citizens through his audio and video recordings. Nos Montes was remixed by @c who have released albums on labels like Variz, Crónica, Fuga Discos and Grain Of Sound, have been featured on albums and compilation released by labels like Loop, AntmanuvMicro and Variz and are also credited on releases on Dead Motion Records, Ilse and a free Edition Der Standard release. Senhora dos Remédios is a version of a song sang by Portuguese singer Catarina Chitas and features a sample from Portuguese mixed media artist Maile Colbert. Belgian Shepherd is a remix of a track of the same title by Portuguese experimental music artist Rui P. Andrade of his 2017 album All Lovers Go To Heaven, originally released on ACR. Rui has released albums using his own name on labels such as BRØQN, Etched Traumas, Haze and Colectivo Casa Amarela, has appeared on releases on Darker Days Ahead, a compilation by Indie Rock Mag, a split EP on Enough Records. Rui’s credits includes musical work on releases on Zigur Artists, Pale Blue and Warm Winters Ltd. Rui nowadays makes music under his alias Canadian Rifles which he mostly releases on his own Eastern Nurseries tape label. Through Síria’s remix (originally released on the Island Fever compilation by Portuguese experimental music label Colectivo Casa Amarela) I’ve already caught some glimpses of Rui’s sound work and based on the strong bassy resonant noisy drone elements I heard I can tell his solo works and label output will definitely be worth checking out too. Ay Işığında is a version of a song as originally sung by Azerbaijani singer Nərminə Məmmədova. Finally, For Ghédalia and Boa-Lingua feature recordings made by Los Niños Muertos which is a duo made up of Portuguese electric guitar improviser and experimentalist André Tasso (who’s also part of the big Ensemble MIA, an international collective of experimental musicians and improvisers who participated in the Encontro de Música Improvisada de Atouguia da Baleia organised in May 2016) and Bruno Humberto (a conceptual artist in a wide array of fields in contemporary arts whose works often use the location of the installation or performance as part of the artwork and who also utilised absurdism in interesting manners as part of the Gazpacho Unlimited theatre group). Now let’s dive into Boa-Língua’s music and sonic imagery.

Boa-Língua starts with the piece Canção do Gato which quite perfectly introduces the sonic imagery that this album conjured up in my mind which is that of a wandering soul on a mysterious journey who encounters all kinds of strange rituals and at times dystopian Industrial environments. The piece feels like we’re inside a circle watching an eerie entrancing ritual happen, with Síria’s vocals working as if they’re the chant forming the ritual itself, combined with the gong like percussion which emits a bassy and resonant but also quite wavy continuous droning and helps to create that nocturnal mysterious atmosphere. The song itself sounds more uplifting than the eerie gong drones suggests which makes for a great intriguing juxtaposition of musical elements and the filtered walkie-talkie noise like rhythm in the first half of the piece adds a bit of surrealism to the piece as it feels quite like a small undefined cloud drifting by, momentarily obscuring the ritual. Síria’s vocal performance itself also got some great details in it too, as she holds the notes of each repeated melodic phrase as if they’re looped and also giving the song a bit of sharp resonant edge, very nice to hear. Afterwards we travel into darker, more dystopian territory with Nos Montes which features Síria’s wordless vocals and various layers of (field recording) manipulations, loose percussion, warbled pitch adjusted vinyl records as well as eerie glassy crystallised textured and choppy fluttering bits of Noise swirling around in the centre of the stereo image as well as as between the left and right channels in a subtle manner. Our aforementioned wandering soul has now arrived in an Industrial landscape in which alien machinery seems to be ever whirring, squeaking and clicking, with the workers in this factory or perhaps even simply a workshop appear to be processing glimmering minerals which radiate vivid blue-tinted rainbows. Warbled voices and strangely dropping tones feel like the wandering soul is slowly getting both frightened and confused by her surroundings, her wordless singing feeling like a soft lullaby like song she sings to comfort herself. Her voice distorts and repeats as the environment changes and while the music follows more of a slow evolution of texture rather than reaching a real climax, the various details and new sounds fading in through the layers of Industrial sound make the immersive sonic experiments that much richer. Like many of the pieces on this album, Nos Montes is connected quite directly to its following piece with the jester like tambourine pattern at the end smoothly moving into the beginning of the following track Senhora dos Remédios. @c’s (remix) contribution to Nos Montes sounds a bit more metallic than I heard before from the Portuguese duo and is a bit more subtle in this case with many of the sonic layers sounding like directly from Síria herself. The depth, panning and immersive acoustic effects definitely make me think of @c’s work in a more direct manner, but I can say that this mixture of contributions to one piece of music definitely works quite seamless instead of being a piece where you can clearly hear “another artist joined as a collaborator” so excellent work in here indeed. Following track Senhora dos Remédios uses a sample by Maile Colbert (possibly a field recording) sounding like hissy wind and we can hear the return of the gong percussion from Canção do Gato at the start of the piece, blending with jester tambourine rhythm. This piece feels quite like our wandering soul has reached a more quiet part of the factory / workshop where we can only hear the hiss of pipes leading to the machinery in the main hall. Síria’s way of singing the song makes it sound quite ghostly and a bit like a lament, the stereo panned delay effect also adds this feeling of being inside the mind of the wandering soul. The second voice in the song feels like the wandering soul is imagining this second voice as a memory from a time long ago. A sweet introspective piece of music which does retain that nice Industrial edge the album has in a great manner. Belgian Shepherd then follows, a quite minimalist piece in which Síria’s vocals feature in a more subtle manner than other the other tracks on Boa-Língua. Now it feels like the wandering soul has moved to another spot in the factory, one in which distant sounds of machinery can be heard. Featuring distorted rhythmic glitch bass, a scraping mechanical resonant metallic drone, as well as burst of dust-laden steam and distant clanging metal poles and racks the Industrial landscape where our wandering soul finds herself has become a bit less archaic and morphed into a more efficient, cold and high-tech sci fi type of gears. Additional excellent details to the piece are the entrance in which high pitched glitched tones as well as a metallic violin like glassy screeches seem to introduce the wandering soul’s desperation as she’s trying to find a way out of this dark landscape, her warm wordless vocals being both cries for help and again a means to try to calm herself down and focus. A great mixture of contemporary minimalist Glitch elements and classic Industrial textures from what I can hear in the piece, Rui P. Andrade’s original version of this piece of which we’re now hearing Síria’s remix must be a fine entrancing piece of Drone / Noise work as all the textures as well as rich manipulations of the elements suggest the source material (which Síria also added on in this remix, which should be noted) definitely has some great creativity and an inspired personal touch to it too. Great work. Afterwards in Yarın the wandering soul has finally got out of the factory and returned to the mysterious ritual we saw before which has now progressed. Featuring long long resonating and decaying cymbal droning which is rich in many eerie and filtered sounding overtones as well as an additional layer of low (synth) frequencies which create a brooding rumbling foundation of the piece the ritual like nature of this piece is much darker. Yet Síria’s vocals are quite uplifting and positive sounding, with her voice overtaking the darkness more in this case than becoming encompassed within it. The double tracking of her vocals does create these curious sonic phenomena however, like her voice detaches itself from her as a separate second “out of body” entity and swirls around within the diffuse flowing liquid tonal mass of the ritual music. A few rays of sunlight are shining through the clouds of the morning to come for the wandering soul but the water drops at the end of the piece predict that the ominous events she encounters aren’t over yet, with the room acoustic of the field recording suggesting a narrow hollow space she soon finds herself in, perhaps a dungeon. Danse Macabre, the piece that follows is quite self-explanatory based on the titled. Indeed the piece feels quite like the sonic depiction of ghosts dancing around in a circle in the dark night. In this case however, it’s obviously the wandering soul who’s growing more and more confused and frightened by feelings that she can’t escape this strange world of mysterious ancient rituals and dystopian cold Industry all that easily. The piece feels quite “classic” in that it has a mostly pure Ritual Ambient sound with a lot of eerie resonant slow percussion rhythms, droning vocals and strange mouth sounds with which she creates strange laughing and screeching noises and spooky wails. However there are also little bits of crackling Noise hidden in the background as well with which Síria does underline her signature sound in this piece, they’re equally eerie in that they’re so “light” in the sonic imagery that you might even mistake them for rustling leaves or tree branches outside your house (this is especially the case on headphones). Further details that are particularly great about this piece are the highly resonant droning overtones mixed with the hollow water drops in the beginning of the piece creating some extra eerie gloom as well as the way Síria’s vocals form their own texture and intensely droning tone at the end of the piece, a very immersive listening experience once again. Ay Işığında follows with a similar kind of Ritual Ambient kind of ambience fading through the water drop sounds into nicely rising and falling waves of gong resonances backed by tinkling cymbals. Our wandering soul appears to have escaped her gloom and is now walking towards a beach with the aforementioned gong resonances feeling like the eerie gloom still surrounding her until the point that some lovely hollow, wooden like turntable needle and mechanism manipulations enter sounding a bit like rowing pans for that nice notch of surrealism in the mix. Síria performs the song Ay Işığında (as originally sung by Nərminə Məmmədova) with much positive emotion and there’s some lovely spacey delay effect on her vocals again but what I like even more about this piece is the way the piece’s subtly moving drone moves into sonic imagery involving soft “caressing” vinyl crackles and the sound of the sea, the swirling waves of water carrying our wandering soul to what appears to be an exit of the fever dream like landscapes she find herself in. The vinyl crackles also appear to hint at the subconscious meaning of “this is all just memories, you’re not actually experiencing this in real life”. Very intriguing. For Ghédalia then is a piece which is a bit more abrasive for its first half featuring screechy high pitched feedback tones but does flow into a more subtle kind of ambience afterwards. Dedicated to the cult Avant-Garde Folk experimentalist Ghédalia Tazartes the piece does indeed recall the curious kind of mixture of Noise, Folk and Tribal like elements I remember from listening to one of his albums a long time ago. This is also a piece which does move a bit out of the flow of the pieces that came before it as it features some more abstract experimentation within it. Síria is performing ornamental wordless vocals in this piece mixed with additional filtered vocal drones making for curious swirling drone around her. She also creates clicky bass drum like percussion using her mouth (though this seems to be more like a layering of two elements in fact). Curious are also the organ like tones in the first half of the piece. Whilst moving into a different kind of textural style, I can still apply my imagined imagery of the wandering soul to this piece as being a ritual she created and is performing on her own. This piece uses recordings by André Tasso and Bruno Humberto and I can definitely say that based on what I found about André, the guitar Noise elements are created by him and add some great rawness in terms of texture to the piece, very nice. Final piece Boa-Língua puts more focus on the recordings of guitar feedback manipulation as well as some sweet woodblock / stick percussion courtesy of André Tasso and Bruno Humberto in terms of instrumentation with Síria’s vocals being more like chanted mantras. The instrumental backing has a great physical touch to it in terms of texture, with the guitar also sounding a bit like an alarm; Síria’s calm vocals give the impression of our wandering soul slowly waking up in her bed in the morning with her thoughts still going through a bit of a confusing haze (the feedback instrumentation) and her wake up alarm having an oddly harsh sound to her ears. Still, she’s safe and sound and thereby we also come to our listening journey of Síria’s excellent Boa-Língua. I awards Boa-Língua a Polar Vision at the frequency of a wandering soul travelling through possibly imagined landscapes full of mysterious rituals, dystopian Industrial landscapes and a surreal experience of past memories. The album’s consistent flow of often vocal lead pieces of rich experimental music make for a great listening experience in Síria’s personal, inspired sonic world that blends “physical” Noise experimentation, Ritual Ambient influences, an inventive approach to using her voice in her music and a great feel for the cinematic side of Sound Art and texture based ambiences. This is a great recommended listen for fans of the more musical side of Sound Art, experimental approaches to Ritual Ambient, Turntable Music as well as a more varied approach to using Noise and Free Improvisation in more subtle manners. Síria’s song based approach also makes the music more accessible for listeners who aren’t very familiar with experimental music in general. Definitely get this album.

You can order Boa-Língua by Síria as a limited edition cassette tape and download from the Crónica Bandcamp page here: https://cronica.bandcamp.com/album/boa-l-ngua

via Fluid Sonic Fluctuations