In the 10 years since its inception as a spin-off from founder and principal programmer Eufrasio Prates’s doctorate research in 2012, the Brasilia Laptop Orquestra has become both a regular institution on the Brasiliense experimental and electronic scene, and an uncompromising and challenging pioneer of new compositional ideas and technologies.
The orchestra itself is a loose, ever changing collective that, over the years, has attracted a variety of musicians – trained and amateur, electronic and acoustic, experimental or just curious and open-minded – to participate in a range of performances and collaborations.
Many of these musicians have appeared under other identities on Dionysian Industrial Complex in recent years. Eufrasio himself has exorcised his heavy metal identity as euFräktus, and collaborated as part of Bioborgs and within a larger supergroup on Enantiodromia.
Nevertheless, it is BSBLOrk that represents and showcases the full extent of Eufrasio’s commitment to an avant-garde strategy: his ambition to push both musicians and audiences beyond the rules and conventions they already know, and to explore new systems of music making.
The first feature of note, BSBLOrk is a live configuration for performance, where each member has their own speaker and is their own source of sound. The totality is mixed “in the air”, with all the acoustic qualities (and sometimes weaknesses) of the performance space; and every listener hears a subtly different version of the event depending on their position relative to the musicians. In some performances the orchestra is scattered throughout or even encircles the public.
This obviously makes preserving and archiving the music a challenge. Until the COVID pandemic obliged BSBLOrk to adapt to a new kind of online performance, most of the recordings were snapshots from specific locations within an acoustic space. Often caught on mobile phones. On some pieces here, you will hear fragments of audience conversation or extraneous noise.
Nevertheless what IS captured, is the essential situated embodiedness of the orchestra. Neither electronic music, nor experimentalism should be taken to imply that this music is an abstract, cerebral exercise, detached from the world. Quite the opposite. BSBLOrk is embedded within the world and embraces all aspects of it fully.
This is particularly clear when considering three concerns that have cut across many works of the orchestra, throughout its 10 year history: physicality, play and political engagement.
The most visible fact of BSBLOrk’s performance is the heavy use of camera as input and control device for its musical software. The players, either sitting or standing, are always in motion in front of their cameras. Whether through subtle hand manoeuvres or grand sweeps of the arm, there is a necessary physicality to performing these tracks. At the same time, Eufrasio’s software, with its fractal and chaotic nature, introduces resistance to the intentions of the players, forcing them to fight against it. The physical world is not so amenable to human attempts to order it, and the instability inherent in the software creates and reveals this physical dynamism in both musician and music. Furthermore, the cameras are often turned on the audience, inviting or pulling in their presence and movement as further input and evidence of the chaos of the world.
This intersects BSBLOrk’s second dimension of concern: playfulness. Many scores are improvised through the enactment of, or ludic desecration of, game rules. In the “Pulses” scores (exemplified on this album with Pulsos Impromptu (2014)), players roll comically large dice to generate a sequence of random numbers that determine microscopic changes of frequency and rhythm in a field of drones and pings. (These dice have been used repeatedly in BSBLOrk’s history, to direct both musicians and collaborating dancers.)
Playfulness is what mediates between rules and rule-breaking in Eufrasio’s work. Every BSBLOrk score starts with some kind of rule-system. But often spontaneous opportunities to subvert those same rules are enthusiastically seized upon. In fact, the release of this album on Dionysian Industrial Complex, is itself a subversion. To the extent that DIC has “rules”, it is that the music should be “composed” and “chosen” rather than a mere record of an improvisation. And yet, here we are with an album that is, in essence, a record of improvisations.
The final dimension of BSBLOrk’s embrace of the world, is a political and social engagement: its music ranges from political satire, through environmental lament and on to eschatological role-play and theatre. This music is intended to mean something beyond the mere pleasures and pains of the listening experience.
Again, the ludic sensibility is invoked to mediate between apparent opposites and sometimes to make horrors almost bearable. From the first track in this compilation, which was once performed live in a squatter camp of the MTST homeless workers movement, where children danced joyfully in front of the cameras, delighted at the absurd noise they created (the version here is different); to the final track, where the musicians are engaged in a fictional game of Mutually Assured Destruction, hurling virtual nuclear missiles at each other. The voices of politicians are transmuted into insects on Insetos Impromptu #4. On the Impromptu Lis Marina, accompanying the installation of the artist of the same name, musicians role-playing branches of dysfunctional government, wheel and deal, and even encourage the audience to bribe them to change their musical policies. In 2020, when the world obsessed with Covid-19, BSBLOrk sought to find beauty in converting its newly sequenced DNA to MIDI
In other words, BSBLOrk’s music is never comfortable or easy. It is always ABOUT something real. And reality can be both ugly and beautiful. BSBLOrk’s music is unpredictable and uncontrollable by design. It rejects and insults musical conventions. (In Holofractal Impromptu #20, performed at the Understanding Visual Music conference, trumpeter Ricardo Borgman is thrown into one-man battle against an array of randomized samples of classical music) Even its own members are sometimes frustrated by Eufrasio’s stern refusal of anything resembling rhythm and melody.
But it continually throws down a challenge to its own members and the wider experimental music community. Demanding we resist the temptation to do what is easy or predictable. BSBLOrk shows that you can have the courage to continue to explore beyond the frontiers, that you can embrace both rules and rule-breaking, and investigate new kinds of order and new kinds of chaos, and ultimately find extraordinary sonic worlds there. Which are also your own world, heard in a new way.
This album, which has appeared in appropriate physical CD format thanks to the encouragement and support of Bryan Day’s Public Eyesore records is a welcome documentation and celebration of BSBLOrk’s first 10 years. It reminds us of what the orchestra has achieved so far, but also gives us a tiny glimpse of possibilities waiting to be explored in the next 10.