There’s something perfect about our imperfect minds. Most of the thoughts we think are the best, most of the time, aren’t the product of an instant occurrence. I’d say the best ideas truly come from a combination of luck/accident plus human intuition. Sometimes we may not know that our answer, or thought, is correct, but we feel it must be. That must be some of the explanation behind the timeless experimental album Plux Quba – Música Para 70 Serpentes by Portuguese musician Nuno Canavarro. Before Glitch was even a thing, Nuno, in his own way, was discovering that some of the best musical ideas could be created by looking for those bits of accidental imperfection.
Not much is known about Nuno on our side of the world. We do have an apocryphal story. In 1991, American musician, Jim O’Rourke, traveling by train through Köln, Germany sits in on a listening session where someone takes out a copy of an obscure Portuguese music album. For the next 30-odd minutes everyone listening to the album are just floored by it, unable to piece together how someone could have released something like this, in that frame of time. Years pass – seven to be exact – and finally Jim’s able to secure the rights to reissue the recording. Only 500 or so copies are printed on his own Mokai label, and of the few who get a second chance to listen to this record, once again all of them were left floored by what they hear coming out of that piece of wax. In 2015, once again another label, Drag City, saw fit to reissue the record in a drastically small run which is now out of print. Much like the album itself, it’s existence had this vaporous quality.
The music of Plux Quba is hard to describe. Gentle, tender, joyful, ghostly, and intriguing, it truly sounds like the gates of heaven opening up to the first sentient humanoid robot trying to process all this illogical oneness. It’s the sound of us trying to comprehend our technology through the technology we in fact birthed. On the record, sampled sound mixes with real and conjured up instrumentation. You also hear real voices slice, transform, and mutate through barely controlled aural prisms; in the end, everything combining into this emotional feeling more appropriate for our disjointed technological time than the pre-internet world that birthed Nuno’s Plux Quba. More songs are left untitled, than titled, as if seeming to allow the listener to fill in the rest of the musical picture. It’s ridiculous to sound colonial over this, but as much as we want to think our modern world holds the keys to human abstraction, someone has already been there before. Our goal, of course, should always be to try to find new blanks to fill in, once one is filled. I’ll share with you just a bit of new history that’s been filled in this year, concerning Plux Quba.
This Disc Must Be Heard:
- Through Speakers That Are As Much as Possible Separated From Each Other
- At a Low Volume Starting from A-5 [Wask + Side 2]
– Listening Instructions from Nuno Canavarro (as stated on back sleeve of Plux Quba)
No one had heard of the how, or the why, Nuno created Plux Quba. All concerned parties could only piece together was that he used to be a keyboard player for a few Portuguese post-punk and New Wave bands. What instruments he used, where he got the sounds, and how they got onto tape, that was all left a mystery. Nuno himself prefers to remain silent about such things, and other than Plux Quba, his only other known work is the even lesser known, and arguably even more brilliant, Mr. Wollogallu recorded with Carlos Maria Trindade) which solidifies all sorts of forgotten Portuguese avant garde brilliance we’re only know just rediscovering. However, more Portuguese experimental brilliance is for another day, today we can begin with Plux Quba. Today, I’m thankful I can share this interesting bit of new, enlightening background into how Plux Quba came to be. I’ve translated this interview Nuno gave to pioneering Portuguese music writer Fernando Magalhães so that you can get a better sense of what it took to get you this recording.
An unique record, Plux Quba – Música para Setenta Serpentes, by Nuno Canavarro. The album surfaced shortly after this musician returned from Holland, where he was studying composition. “I was there at the Institute of Sonology at the University of Utrecht for two years. There existed an incredible movement in terms of concerts, exhibitions, electro-acoustic music. I did not have the calmness, the concentration to do anything there. When I arrived, I wanted to work quickly.” Before this, Nuno Canavarro had studied architecture in Porto and Lisbon, and had produced records for Mler Ife Dada and Lobo Meigo. He played for some time in 1988 and 89 with the Delfins, “because I needed to do something.”
The material used for recording Plux Quba could not be anymore simple: “An Ensoniq Mirage, an 8-bit sampler – one of the first that existed – and an 8-track tape recorder, a Fostex. Today, I can hardly believe how I managed to make the record.” The precariousness of his means contrasted with Nuno Canavarro’s imagination in a way that made him take advantage of his own technical limitations: “With an eight-track recorder, and that system that lets a person turn anything into an instrument, I started to create a structure from it. Record yourself on a track, and then, later, start to add other things. You can, for example, record one track, and then another six or seven around it, and then finally erase the first one, these kinds of tricks. Or you could put stuff in reverse and record at different speeds. At the time, that was it.” Nuno Canavarro used a sampler with pre-recorded sounds, “although it is hard to hear sounds on the disc that can be recognized as instrument X or Y. They were all highly modified, or recorded, like the melodica, ethnic music tapes and television sounds.”
The record was recorded in a home studio, in the musician’s own house. It only came out later through the Ama Romanta record label. “At that time, a musical contest appeared, linked to the Centro Nacional de Cultural. I had a concert at the Instituto Franco-Português, jointly with five other projects that had gotten to the final, that João Peste [Ama Romanta founder] was there to see. He liked it immensely and invited me to put it on a record.” There was no post-production work, only the cut from the original tape, recorded on a two-track reel-to-reel recorder. Costs of production or the signature of a contract “did not exist”. Nuno Canavarro does not know the number of copies sold: “João Peste made five hundred copies, I think that was the minimum; after that, I have no idea. ”
About the music of Plux Quba, Nuno Canavarro thinks this resulted from, “in part, because it was a totally isolated work.” “Tózé Ferreira had traveled to Holland, Nuno Rebelo had gone to live in Lisbon. I shut myself up in the studio to do this,” he says. “On the other hand, the very limitation of my technical means, in this case, I think worked in my favor, because it led to my creativity. I got to use its own defects, at the level of the software of the sampler. It was a very unstable apparatus, there were some beastly things that, when forcing it to work hard, responded somewhat unpredictably. It was beastly for the kind of music I wanted to do.” The title, that, still remains an enigma. “It was to make it even weirder.”
For now, Plux Quba – Música para Setenta Serpentes barely exists, and only on vinyl, which at this moment is exhausted and out of print. Nuno Canavarro doesn’t know the whereabouts of the master: “I can’t remember if it was João Peste who has them or if I do.” While the tapes are not found, there is the distant possibility of moving them to compact disc. For Canavarro the idea, “would be, within two or three years, to have a compact disc with, additions to Plux Quba, some music that he had made before, even more strange, a third part with some tracks from a record made with Carlos Maria Trindade (Mr. Wollogallu) that have not ended coming out.” The CD would also have a fourth part, with new songs that Nuno Canavarro has shown to AnAnAnA (a Portuguese record label). “Everything together, compiled on a CD where in seventy minutes, I’d be able to show an amusing process.” Seventy, as many as the snakes. – Nuno Canavarro on Plux Quba as told to Fernando Magalhães.