Researcher, teacher, electronic experimentalist, sound, and visual artist, graduated in sound and film directing with a PHD in computer music based in Setúbal (Portugal), Vitor Joaquim is the brain behind or in front of the curtains of an impressively high number of collaborations, projects, and releases (I warmly recommend browsing over his artistic path). We decided to reach him on the occasion of the listening of “Quietude”, a piece now taking the shape of a CD, begun as a curated commission by Sekoia Artes Performativas with a specific purpose: to create a piece from an extended stay at the Casa do Paço in Vila Me, a space that inspired Agustina Bessa-Lus in several literary fictions and around which part of the family history told in the book “A Sibila” (“The Sibyl”,1954). Let’s know its wise author better and let’s understand this release by his own words.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Vitor! How are you doing?
Vitor Joaquim: I’m pretty ok, thank you! Always in peace, waking up every day in love with the warm feel of the bed, but also ready for a new day!
Chain D.L.K.: I think you don’t really need introductions to most of our readers. My ears also met many releases forged by your talent. I remember that maybe your official biography describes you as a laptop experimentalist. How can you describe this role? Did this role change over the last years?
Vitor Joaquim: The role is simple, I use the laptop as a tool to generate, record, process, mix, and master sound, and music. Over the years, the computational capacity has changed so much that we can do true miracles with it, in-studio and in live environments. Nevertheless, my studio environment is full of hardware that I keep using since my early days. A laptop is basically a machine that can have all that inside (approx. 40 x 220V sockets) and weighs only a few kilograms with all the complements.
The second part of the question touches on one of the major problems that are dealing with the image of myself. Myself to myself and, fundamentally, myself to the others. Boring and uninteresting subjects that we all need to address once it’s impossible to have an artistic output without having a face to present and a few lines describing us. Saying that, because I’m a laptoper, the expression “laptop experimentalist” is a possible way, open enough I hope, to say something without saying anything special. It requests exploration and digging. Sometimes I use electronic experimentalist…
Chain D.L.K.: Is the decision of making self-released production a sort of response to any specific artistic need?
Vitor Joaquim: Yes, absolutely. My energy is focused to create and produce musical concepts poured into audible material that should go out and be exposed to audiences. By default, I do that very intensely. Only one album every year is already a great constraint for me. No, doing it would kill me inside. That’s my need and that’s what I’m responding to when I’m releasing material on my own. I don’t send demos to labels. My concept of what a label should be is profoundly connected with a sense of curational drive in the traditional meaning of what an editor role should be: someone who has an ethical/aesthetic direction that is constantly searching for authors who are walking that same path.
So, I must accept the fact that what I do is not enough for a label to the point of addressing me an invitation. Labels are super requested with tons of demos from all over the world, and each artist is only a grain of sand.
Chain D.L.K.: One of the aspects I really liked of Portuguese experimental artists is the fact that there’s always some memory of their roots in spite of new media, new tools, and new language. Would you say that this “memory” is still alive in your artistic path?
Vitor Joaquim: Thanks for the compliment! I guess memory is what makes us what we are, beings anchored between the past and the future, juggling memories and expectations like little kids in a kindergarten. Emotional memory is a big drive for me, I think almost everything I do is tied up by emotional content. Sounds from the past are constantly emerging on my albums, and they are as precious as the air I breathe. Sometimes sounds are like memory tools, they can create time travel very fast and that is a very powerful trigger for emotions.
Chain D.L.K.: Regarding new media and also considering we’re close to Christmas, a release by yourself popped out into my mind. I’m referring to “Impermanence”, in particular to the title track quoting Christmas in the tape letter from Tommy G to Maria P. What’s the reference on it? Any word on that astonishing release?
Vitor Joaquim: Very often I’m driven by the emotional content of someone saying something. Sometimes, I don’t even care too much about the message. But this case is special because it gathers emotional content and message on the same body. It was a real k7-letter sent to Maria P (mother of a friend, Pedro P) from a friend living in the US. Pedro gave me the k7 more than 30 years ago, and I treasured it with the greatest of devotions, not only for all the implied reasons but also because I created a piece with it by that time, end of the 80s, that never saw the light of the day (included on my plans to release as Early Recordings).
So, yes, it’s a very touching piece of human depth, a piece that resonates many problems and vicissitudes of the human condition: loneliness, the relationship with the proximity of death, but at the same time with the friendship and deep understanding that unites people, however distant they may be from each other. It has an intangible value to me.
Chain D.L.K.: In another relatively recent release of yours, “The Construction of Time”, you chiseled an awesome reflection on time, inner worlds, perception… I remember that quote by Carlo Rovelli to introduce it. Any word about that? Would you say the music of that release – I vividly remember the Truffaz-like trumpet of the entrancing “No End”! – as a specific function within that reflection?
Vitor Joaquim: The whole project was a big journey for me, not only from the research and intellectual point of view but also in terms of path and model of production. Initially, the album was conceived and made without João Silva. In fact, when I meet João for the first time, in a friend’s encounter, the album was mostly concluded. But because we quickly realized that we had great affinities, I decided to stop the release and went back to integrate Joo on the release. I removed parts of what was previously made on each track and asked Joo to give his input. While he was working on one piece, I was recomposing, processing, and mixing his input of another piece. After that, I sent him the result with a few notes for possible directions for the next one, and Joo was also inflecting into new approaches and exploring possibilities based on what was being made.
If the music has a specific function within the reflection? Maybe, but it’s also possible that the reflection may have a function within the music I hope it works as a dynamic process, where the functional aspect disappears and give rise to a more holistic and less rational listening experience.
Chain D.L.K.: Following this very quick digression, let’s jump to the present time, the only “existing” one indeed… do you agree with this last assertion?
Vitor Joaquim: Yes, I feel very comfortable with the idea that the present is the only (now) that we have…
Chain D.L.K.: That jump was functional to introduce “Quietude”. How does it describe your present time/status?
Vitor Joaquim: Quietude, because is a title, that has several angles of perception. To be honest, I don’t see myself in a quiet state most of the time, but it’s a state that I wish for, and I work on reaching as much as possible. In the context of the commission that lead to the album, quietude was the dominant feeling during the residency that I had at Casa do Paço in Vila Me, the aunt’s house of Agustina Bessa-Luis. Paradoxically, Sibilia, Agustina’s book that was the main literary source of research, is a story full of discomfort, adversities, doubts, and haunting questions. A story where quietude is a concept that never quite settles.
Chain D.L.K.: I read it was made under commission… how do you remember the preliminary stages before the release started taking shape?
Vitor Joaquim: Yes, it was meant to be an open-air performance in the location of Casa do Paço, but the pandemic changed all, and we couldn’t finish the project as a live event. There was a commission also for other pieces with Lus Vieira Campos (film), Pedro Prazeres (dance/performance), Carolina Martins (exhibition), and Ana Rocha (writer and performer on Luis’s film).
Gustavo Monteiro from Sekoia association, who curated the program and produced the overall project, was in an impasse and the pandemic was not giving us a time window safe enough to schedule the event. I was with the piece organized to play live but the live performance didn’t happen at last. So, an album release was the most obvious and easy outcome to put an end to our misery! If all goes well, next Spring we will make the global event at Casa do Paço and the pandemic ghost will be crushed in a multidisciplinary event.
Chain D.L.K.: How did Casa do Paço and its environment influence the sound?
Vitor Joaquim: Casa do Paço played a big role when I was there for obvious reasons, and also much later, when I was working in the studio. Its quietude is profoundly touching, all that surrounds us there has a special way of unfolding, the smells, the insects buzzing, the singing of birds, the breeze in pine trees, the water flowing in the tank close to the house. All is magical in there. It’s impossible to not be influenced. During the stay, all that was making a sound was poured into dozens of recordings, some of which are integrated into the album.
But the way how we rationalize that influence is another story, not easy to verbalize and probably much more unconscious than we can imagine. While I was composing, somehow, I was still there too.
Chain D.L.K.: Performative arts had a strong impact on the development of your artistic personality, hadn’t it? Is the assumed pandemic situation diverting the route, to say so?
Vitor Joaquim: Absolutely, all my decisions while making an album are conducted and directed by the fact that the project is to be played live, projected in a performance. My live session is the matrix, where I produce the album, instead of making an album and then finding a way to play it live. Since my Flow album, all the albums are made live in the studio. When I feel that the album is ready, I do a live session in record mode and one multitrack timeline is generated out of it. Usually, I only do it once and move on to the remixing stage, and most of the work is around checking the levels of small events and transitions between tracks.
The pandemic reduced the probability of play live, so, yes, it’s diverting the route because it’s reducing drastically the experience of checking live the options made initially in the albums.
I miss that.
Chain D.L.K.: You lived in the darkness for many years before your name started getting printed on release notes and your signature started to imprint some excellent outputs. Would you like to endorse or to suggest any pretty unknown artists you got in touch with, who are going to get into the light or deserve it soon?
Vitor Joaquim: Thank you!
That is the question that always makes me vacillate: naming, i.e. put some people in, leave some people out. To not be rude, I will recommend (1) one Portuguese label with great releases, Eastern Nurseries and (2) one artist and friend, from my hometown, Luis Pestana, who released Rosa Pano on Orange Milk Records, an amazing album that reminds me that the world is a box full of nice surprises.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Vitor Joaquim: A couple of studio albums to put out, one was cast aside because of Quietude, maybe another LIVE Series album, and a much desired and postponed Early Recordings album. Plus 2 pieces of dance (already finished) to be premiered next Spring, also postponed due to the pandemic.
So, not so much to do, really!