Alexia Riner was one of several students selected to travel with Berklee’s Interdisciplinary Arts Institute Ensemble to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil in July 2014. The trip included an exchange at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), where BIAI members collaborated with UFBA students and share their research in interdisciplinary production, modular synthesizer design, and interactive music apps, and culminated in a concert at the 3rd Bahia Biennale at the Goethe-Institut theater. Read more with our student blog posts from Brazil, view Alexia’s photos from the trip, or read the official press releases in English and Portuguese.
Going to Brazil on behalf of the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute was an unforgettable experience. We were exposed to an entirely new culture that opened my eyes and ears to the arts of Brazil.
Before going we studied the music of enigmatic Swiss/Brazilian musican Walter Smetak. He worked as a cellist, luthier, improvisor and had a major and mentored Brazilian luminaries Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. Smetak won a prize for research in the 1st Biennale and taught at the Universidade Federal da Bahia that hosted our exchange along with the Biennale.
On the first day in Brazil we arrived around 2:30pm on Sunday (July 13th 2014) at the Salvador Airport. The drive took about 35-40 minutes and once we got into the city, the cab driver made his way up an old cobblestone road filled with beautiful colored buildings, one of which was our hotel! We stayed at the
Pousada do Boqueirão, which was a quaint and exquisite place. The hotel employees gave us a warm welcome in Portuguese and took our bags up to our rooms. The entire hotel was filled with traditional Brazilian art, including our rooms! Dalton and I greeted our teacher Neil Leonard, at the hotel and decided we wanted to embark on an adventure to explore the city.
The excitement of the World Cup filled the streets with locals and tourists alike. We found a nice little restaurant, seated ourselves outside and watched the World Cup with the rest of Bahia. Later, we met up with Neil Leonard, his lovely wife Magdalena Campos, a teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and her assistant Julie (a student of hers) and discussed our plans for the following day.
The next day, we had the pleasure of meeting a music teacher named from the Cristiano Severo Figueiró Universidade Federal da Bahia. We gathered up our music gear and Cristiano took us to a restaurant near the University where we had a hefty amount of delicious Carne de Sol (Beef of the Sun). Afterwards, we were taken to the university where we spent a couple of hours setting up our equipment and meeting some of the musicians from the University with whom we were collaborating for a performance at the third Bahia Biennale. We met Leandro Zacoust (a flautist), Isadora Souza (a vocalist), Bruno Rohde (an electronic musician), and Solon Mendes (a flautist). We all had our first rehearsal together which was very successful and in the process, got to know each other on an intimate level. After a full day of a pleasurable rehearsal, we decided to go to a performance at the University for a contemporary classical concert. The musicians that performed were absolutely mind-blowing and we were all captivated throughout the entire performance!
On Tuesday, we woke up around 9am to a wonderful complimentary breakfast prepared by the hotel cooks. Shortly thereafter, we were off to the university for our final rehearsal before our performance in the Institut. We spent the day preparing and perfecting our pieces and also spent a few Bruno spent some time showing us android apps they had developed, then 3rd Biennale of Bahia in the Goethe hours learning about each person’s technologies. Cristiano and a student named educating us on the complexities of each application. Jason Lim showcased his Qu- bit modules and gave informative demonstrations on how to use each module. Dalton demonstrated a patch he made using Jitter that was designed to perform a light show at the new 160 Berklee building! We also took the opportunity to jam together, improvising and harnessing our strengths. That evening, we visited a Capoeira school and observed two different classes. I immediately fell in love with the music of the fight/dance and could have sat there watching for hours given the opportunity. Despite being exhausted from the exciting activities of the day, we went back to the hotel to put the final touches on the individual pieces we were going to perform.
On Wednesday, we were all a little anxious knowing that the performance was coming up. Nonetheless, our hosts insisted that we make one special visit so see a unique part of Bahian culture that we could only see that day. We spent the morning at Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá, a largest and best known candomblé in Bahia. Cristiano and his girlfriend Tatiana explained aspects of Afro-Brazilian religioin and the history of this center. Gilberto Gil, singer and former Minister of Culture was a pracitcing member of the Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá communitity.
When we got to the Goethe Institut, we immediately put our gear into the dressing room and begin setting up tables on the stage and figuring out where everyone would be positioned for the performance. After grabbing a quick bite to eat at a nearby Subway, we set up all of our gear and took an hour to test each performer’s sound and rehearse the songs one final time. I was very nervous and kept praying that all of my equipment would function reliably. Everyone was filled with nerves and excitement- especially when the audience members started walking into the hall.
After a pleasant welcome given by Neil Leonard and Cristiano Figueiro, Jason and Bruno approached the stage and began performing their duet. Jason performed with his modular system, Bruno with his tablet and laptop. They had sort of a percussive sound “duel” which received a great response from the crowd! The next piece was Dalton’s piece, something he had worked on for his final Electronic Production and Sound Design class at Berklee. I triggered and manipulated his sounds, he played drums, and Neil processed his saxophone.
The next piece was a collaborative effort between Neil and Cristiano. This was actually my favorite piece, as it had a mixture of South American music and contemporary electronic sounds. The crowd absolutely loved it! Finally, it was my turn and I must say I that while I was quite nervous, I couldn’t wait to be on stage performing. It was an Indian piece I wrote a few semesters ago that involved the recitation of a prayer and some “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.” In this piece, I was singing and using my laptop, accompanied by Isadora on vocals, Bruno on his laptop, Cristiano on guitar, Jason on his modular system, and a PhD graduate Solon on flute.
The grand finale was an improv piece in which every performer spent 5 minutes improvising in duets. The response from the crowd was exhilarating! Walter Smetak’s daughter even came! We ended the night with a nice dinner at a restaurant overlooking the ocean and returned to our rooms exhausted, but elated.
The following day, Neil and Jason spent the morning preparing for a sound installation at the Public Archive at the Biennale art exhibition with Neil’s wife Magda while Dalton and I explored the city. We all met up in the afternoon and decided to visit the Smetak museum. This was definitely one of the most interesting exhibits I have ever seen. It was filled with amazing hand-crafted instruments built by Smetak himself that completely abolished the boundaries between visual art and music. Some of the instruments were playable and a museum employee did the honor of playing some of them for us. The sounds created were melodic and unique, very characteristic of Smetak.
After the museum we visited a beautiful breathtaking than the one before it. Neil took some time to explain the architectural an amazing example of Baroque architecture in the Americas. Each room was more details of each room in the church. After the visit to the church, I spent the rest of my evening shopping for souvenirs for friends and family and immersing myself in the Colonial section of town.
On the final day of our trip, Jason left Salvador early in the morning, but Dalton and I were not scheduled to leave until late afternoon. We spent our final hours doing some last minute shopping, visiting the town square and little music shops. Then we made our way back to the hotel and eventually to the airport.
It was very difficult to say goodbye to Bahia. None of us were ready to leave and Dalton and I spent a lot of time on the plane discussing when we would return and what we would do when we came back. Having the privilege of working with the musicians at the university was very special. We were able to make long-lasting connections with people who live thousands of miles away and share our passion for music. The hardest part about being in Bahia was not being able to speak Portuguese and I will definitely make sure to have some Portuguese under my belt before I go back so I can easily communicate with the locals. My favorite part of the whole trip was just exploring the city and all of its wonders. I am truly grateful for this life changing experience, which allowed me the opportunity to learn about another part of the world, its people, their culture and also their arts. I got to create new music with young musicians and present it in an international festival. I never expected to create new work with a group of amazing artists from a very different culture while being a senior at Berklee and on top of that, have it all go so amazingly well!