SEMIBREVE festival 2023: The Day After, a hidden treasure in the small world of experimental music festivals

Text by Jacobo García

NKISI. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges
NKISI. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges

In the city of eternal rains, also known as Braga, during the last weekend of October, a drop of water takes the form of a community bound for the love of unconventional sounds. Without much fanfare, people from Europe travel to the city for one of the most alluring musical experiences of the autumn, the thirteenth edition of the SEMIBREVE festival.

As acknowledged by their programme, this festival has made a conscious decision to mature slowly, probably as the quiet rhythm of a city like Braga. One is quickly imbued in this calmness and solace, a different momentum and experience of the usual fast-paced world of electronic music festivals.

This year’s theme was the relationship between music and cinema. The festival prepared several special commissions which brought together artists of the likes of Eiko Ishibashi and Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, Tujiko Noriko and Joji Koyama, Maya Shenfeld & Pedro Maia, Kassel Jaeger and Eléonore Huisse. Theatro Circo provides an outstanding location to appreciate the programme. Production, sound and delivery are of the highest level, allowing us to recreate in music and film.

Our journey starts on Thursday. We travelled to a church atop a mountain, far from Braga’s old town. The Church of Bom Jesus hosted the inaugural concert with neo-classical composer Clarice Jensen. Her music employs cello, a chain of sound effects, repetition and electronic or natural reverb and delays beget grandeur and majesty, melancholy drama and romanticism in a remarkable setting such as the church.

On Friday, the programme moves forward with the performance of Maya Shenfeld & Pedro Maia, a sophisticated, grainy, transcendental composition. Music is expressed as minimalist force fields, bass pulses and touching melodies. Structured arpeggios that eventually break apart. Abrasive lightwork punctuates the visual work by Pedro Maia—aerial pictures from the Vila Viçosa marble quarries located in the Portuguese region of Alentejo. The piece serves as a reminder of the unimportant scale of the human race compared with the immensity of nature.

Kali Malone. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges
Kali Malone. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges
Tujiko Noriko & Joji Koyama. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges
Tujiko Noriko & Joji Koyama. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges

The night schedule started with the synthetic free jazz of Beatrice Dillon, who presented a mesmeric show, razor-thin in sound design, with disjointed beats aligned from syncopa to the dancefloor. We witnessed the future of Funk. The ready-made-for-the-dancefloor Mumdance experience created imperative havoc for a soliciting crowd; the music was a crucible of grime, hardcore, techno and whatnot. Club experiences at Semibreve tend to be sparse but on point.

In this fashion, we made our way to Saturday. Tujiko Noriko presented a delicate, warm, elegant set, a healing act full of ambient and pop textures, euphemist vocals, and conspicuous pads. We were accompanied by the work of Joji Koyama, co-producer of Kuro, Tujiko’s debut as a director. The minimalist visuals surrounded the music, empowering its message of comfort.

Later that night, the reunited sonic explorers named Emeralds took the stage, a reunion for the stars, an ambient wall of sound, a song to life. At that hour, everything that happened on the stage mattered—time passed as if we were inside a black hole. It was a mesmerising sorcery of sorts, power ambient performed with just a guitar and a pile of synths and effects. It was a compelling, warm visual work presenting mannerist videos from old analogue films. That was the performance of Semibreve so far.

We delved into the night with Loraine James on the stage. She presented a live set centred on club sounds, which brought energy and tension to the dancefloor—a concoction of syncopated, unfinished 4×4 beats, breaks and spectral melodies to engage and disengage. Nkisi performed afterwards; her futuristic machine rhythms unapologetically hugged the experimental side of club music. The night programme was closed by DJ Lynce, hailing from Porto, a nocturnal animal by his own words; he used his outstanding technique on the decks to provide an extraordinary end.

Maya Shenfeld & Pedro Maia.  Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges
Maya Shenfeld & Pedro Maia. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges
Thomas Ankersmith. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges
Thomas Ankersmith. Photo credit: Adriano Ferreira Borges

On Sunday, we walked down to the Salão Medieval da Reitoria da U. Minho for a brutal sound treatment by Thomas Ankersmith. It was an outstanding show based exclusively on the Serge modular synthesiser. Ankersmith conjured a sonic witchcraft, combining aggressive drones, beats or kicks and reverberations with devastating intensity, to the point of experiencing pain in our ears. It was one of the definitive concerts of the festival.

The last evening at Theatro Circo was helmed by Françes J. Bonnet, who also participated in the 2022 edition along with Stephen O’Malley. This time, employing his alias Kassel Jaeger, he presented his latest work, Shifted in Dreams – Redreamed. The concept behind this expanded audio-visual version was the piece of music being the soundtrack of a film in its premiere. He embarked videographer and artist Eléonore Huisse, who is also responsible for the record’s artwork. It is a frail, exquisite visual work that contributed beautifully to the act—a perfect prelude for what was to come.

Kali Malone, elevated to the altars of the experimental pantheon with her latest album, Does Spring Hide Its Joy, closed SEMIBREVE surrounded by great anticipation. Her act, sixty minutes of hardcore minimalism, only the music admitted highly subtle tone and pitch variations. The demanding sonic barrages commanded all your energy to focus on whether you were committed to immersing properly. It was an austere performance but a proper closing to the journey.

SEMIBREVE started slow, as it was stretching out, but then went from less to more and more. Musically wise, the programme searches for an equilibrium between melodic and harsher, more difficult acts. It also looks to be a sweet surprise for us. Overall, it made the audience experience moments of emotion, connection, and sheer grandeur, all in this low-key mood juxtaposed with a gorgeous environment in the form of its locations. After leaving Braga, this idea of slowness took on me. Participating in a festival where music, visuals and the connections between persons are the key and most essential elements made me immerse, appreciate and experience in more intangible ways. For that, SEMIBREVE remains a hidden treasure in the small world of experimental music festivals.

(Media courtesy of SEMIBREVE festival)
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