O Rio / The River Vol 2. LUÍS ANTERO
(Impulsive Habitat 2013)
Review by Cheryl Tipp
Luís Antero returns to the Alvoco Valley with ‘O Rio / The River Vol. 2’, the latest manifestation of his ongoing relationship with this area of rural Portugal. The first volume, released in 2012, focused primarily on the sounds of the river itself. The sonorous twists and turns of this body of water were brought together to form a flowing piece that created a light, listening atmosphere.
‘O Rio / The River Vol. 2’ carries with it a very different emotion. The feeling is heavier, darker. It’s strange because many of the elements featured in volume 2 are also present in volume 1. Flowing water, bells, voices and community gatherings are common to both pieces, yet with volume 2 they come together to create a much more sombre mood. The bell here is solemn; the community gathering appears to be one of austere religious recital rather than joyful festivity.
We discover the reasons why when reading the accompanying liner notes. With this volume, Antero wanted to highlight the “long lost sonic memories and identities” of local people whose livelihoods were once intricately linked with the life of the river. Antero explain that the gradual silencing of the traditional mills that once existed along the shores of the Alvoco has forever changed the soundscape of this place. He writes:
The ‘passing’ of these sounds, once characteristic of the river and the villages growing on its shores, seem to walk hand in hand with the extinction of the professions that once encouraged them; river-keepers and millers from the Alvoco river valley.
Conversations with some of these figures are included in the composition and add poignancy to the piece. I only wish I could speak Portuguese so that I could understand what was being said. Oral testimonies are powerful tools that foster a heightened level of emotional engagement, so inclusion of interview excerpts here is very fitting.
Antero’s sensitivity to the shifting spirit of the Alvoco Valley is clearly evident. The time spent in the area, both with nature and the people who still inhabit the region, can only bring him closer to the subject. He seems fiercely determined to preserve the aural identity and cultural legacy of this land so that the old ways are never completely lost. It’s an admirable and important project that once again shows the value of field recordings to the listeners of tomorrow as well as today.
‘For sure these villages are not dead, but their lives are not the same as in days gone by. The mills no longer rotate and the river-keeper has long stopped protecting the crystal clear waters of the river. Is there a way for all these life experiences and intricately detailed ways of life to be saved from oblivion? The heritage of these village people must be sought after, their memories and identity, preserved; carefully listen to the whispers of the river. It is from this aural experience that one can perceive, protect and preserve the history of these villages.’