Between Nature and Experimental

Laraaji dresses orange every day, a dress code with a vibrant radiation, close to the colour of the sun, fire, energy and creativity. “By the mid-70s I started to use orange in an experimental attitude. It is what I call a deep epiphany that changed my stance towards the style of music I started to create. I wear orange recalling the sun colours and representing sunrise and sunset. It is also a colour with a positive vibe”. It’s in these little details that the magic of the MADEIRADiG lies – a festival that happens every year at the beginning of December between Ponta do Sol Inn and Mudas – Contemporary Art Centre –, within the intimacy that is established daily between musicians and audience.

The Ponta do Sol Inn is key to the concept of this festival. Partners and hosts, André Diogo and Nuno Barcelos are figures who give unique characteristics to the MADEIRADiG and if this partnership did not exist the DNA would be considerably different. Besides the privileged location, between sea and mountain, the human factor is essential and lays mostly on the empathy shown by the employees and their ability to interact and assure that all the people there are pleased. Additionally to the fact that everything happens within this space, except for the night of the concerts at Mudas’s auditorium. The closeness between musicians, public and employees creates a degree of intimacy never seen in any other festival where the interactions occurs only between stage and audience.

It was at the The Ponta do Sol Inn gardens that Edward Larry Gordon aka Laraaji offered to the public his workshop of laughter meditation, created at the time he read the book The Orange Book: The Meditation Techniques of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh where the so called laughter meditation appears. Throughout one hour and a half “it was very good to see that people allowed themselves to laugh. It was fantastic and therapeutic to be in this ‘laughter zone’ and with this group that committed so quickly and so easily. Although some of the exercises seemed ridiculous, everyone had a good time”. On the following night, the last one of the festival, his performance at the auditorium of Mudas was mystical. In his own words “a kind of blessing for all those present and their nervous and emotional systems, through a musical journey that helped to overcome stress patterns existing in our subconscious. It helps us to feel the Universe here and now. ‘The world is fucked up and we need to unfuck it’”, he stated laughing. (read full story)

This year Rafael Biscoito, (Association for the Promotion of the Atlantic Culture), programmer of the festival together with Michael Rosen (Digital in Berlin) once again exceed expectations through a thorough choice which included the artists Carl Stone; The Necks; NaN:Collider + Miguel Pedro; Ectoplasm Girls; Greg Fox; Rhys Chatham; Maja S. K. Ratkje; and the already mentioned Laraaji. “There are names in our minds for several years, like the experimental jazz trio The Necks, that we wanted to bring for a long time. They are located in the other side of the world, in Australia, and sometimes it is not possible to combine our will and their availability. Fortunately it happened this year”, stated Rafael. And… for The Necks, whose stop in Madeira was part of their tour, it was a unique experience. According to the drummer Chris Adams “after 30 years, the thing that really wondered us is the fact that we still enjoy it so much. There was no pre-planning of a career in this band. That’s why we had such low expectations for the group that was never any situation where we felt like we hit a dead end and couldn’t go any further. We didn’t have any expectations. We were only three guys in a room that wanted to play music for ourselves… and now we are in the other side of the world doing that”. (read full interview)

The concern is always to present “a varied mix and not having a more closed concept in a year, that is the spirit of MADEIRADiG, and in this edition we believe that once again we managed to have the perfect fit” said Rafael. Together with the music come many times the visual arts, like it happened this year in the concert of NaN:Collider, a group having as members João Martinho Moura and António Rafael, and Miguel Pedro (founder of Mão Morta) who joined them for this special project they presented at the festival. The concert immerged the audience in a space travel for 30 minutes resulting from the scientific research and space exploration that João has been developing in a relationship between science and art. “I like to explore the aesthetic side of science”, he stated. For about 5 or 6 years that both work in media art, together with Miguel Pedro and Adolfo Luxúria Canibal. The final result of this project was, according to António Rafael and Miguel Pedro, the experience of “a work in progress. It isn’t a work that is presented immediately, it took a couple of months”. While João was working on the visual part, António Rafael and Miguel created together the musical part. (read full interview)

The whole concept of MADEIRADiG has been evolving throughout its 14 years of existence, but “the essence, its genesis, was the digital and multimedia”, says Rafael, highlighting the importance of the image, the visuals, electronics and laptop. “In the specific case of Madeira, there is no event that has its characteristics based in the avant-garde and the experimental. Being a unique event, we almost have the responsibility to try and show, and diversify, and this was how the concept evolved. This year, the festival balanced between music veterans, like the above mentioned Laraaji, The Necks or Rhys Chatham, and more recent names like the New Yorker Greg Fox, “a very good drummer, technically, who started at Liturgy, a metal band. Then he started to evolve, left his shell and started experimenting, working and collaborating with avant-garde names like Ben Frost”, Rafael added. Greg Fox is a virtuous, his music is sublime and he makes the audience trill with his skills. Throughout the concert jazz and electronic gather coming from a laptop controlled by the drums through the Sensory Percussion software. “It became a way for me to start exploring creative territory. Once you have the ability, the sky is the limit, as far, as the way you can make things happen with the bridge between the drum set and the computer”, says Greg Fox (read full interview).

Closing the festival, the concert of the Norwegian composer Maja S. K. Ratkje carried the public into a completely different field of visual and sound experience. On the set a table full with gear skilfully handled by her, jumping from one sound to another, in a totally unique and improvised concert, as are all of her concerts. There aren’t two shows alike, with the sounds going from chaos to harmony. As she uses her voice “the emotion is co-heard, it’s imminent. I use the expression of the voice to move people, but it’s not like an actor that is emotionally controlling. The sound comes fist and then the emotion”, she stated (read full interview).

This year MADEIRADiG had another innovation: the radio DiG, created in partnership with APCA and M-ITI (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute), they broadcasted, from November 28 and December 6, avant-garde electronic music; live performances; interviews; concerts; also past editions of the festival were revisited and promoting the local artists working in this field. According to Maria Fernandes, in charge of the festival’s communication, “it was a new approach to radio broadcast based on the hi-tech and low-cost principles from the RooTIO project that the M-ITI has been developing. It consists of a technical-social platform that allows a new and more accessible form of communication and that has already been implemented in four communities in Uganda. For MADEIRADiG it appeared as a tool which allowed other kinds of contents to test the system. The goal is, based on the success of this trial, to put some pressure on changing the legislation, allowing the creation and opening of new frequencies for the local radios”, she concluded.

Rafael is happy with the festival and with the acceptance by the public, which reflected the trend of previous years: always growing. “Online sales represent now around 40% and, although still most of the spectators are German, this year people came from Italy; United Kingdom; Denmark; Netherlands; Belgium; Switzerland; Austria; and Croatia”. However, the festival is still living in this ambiguity, on one hand the need to grow and on the other the impossibility of that happening due to its exquisite format, living between the Ponta do Sol Inn and the auditorium of Mudas, limited to 200 people. This year the audience was larger and several people had to stand by the door of the auditorium. What to do to solve these issues? It is a problem existing for some years also due to the lack of support and sponsors. After all many brands don’t like to bet on niche concepts, although they are paramount for many. Will we all be “forced” to just live on the mainstream due to the lack of support for unique concepts restricted to the beautiful and experimental?

Special thanks to: André Diogo, Celina, Maria Fernandes, Maurício Marques, Nuno Barcelos, Rafael Biscoito, and Rita Isabel.

Elsa studied journalism and over the years has taken several contemporary art courses, including Themes in the History of 20th Century Art (Fundação Serralves), a Curatorial workshop at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon, Aesthetics (Ar.Co) and History of Photography at the same Institution and a Postgraduate Degree in Curating at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She is a founding member and director of Umbigo magazine, created in 2002, with which she developed several curatorial projects, including the exhibition "Entre Limite e a Audácia" by Miguel Palma at the Fábulas gallery, "The Difference" by Andrea Splisgar at the Palácio de Santa Catarina, the exhibition "Pieces and Parts" at Plataforma Revólver, Lisbon, "Pierre Barbrel – Dissociation" at Espaço Camões da Sá da Costa, "Robe de contact (lys)" by artist Jean François-Krebs at Galeria Sá da Costa. In 2023 she curated the exhibitions "Unwinding" by Theodore Ereira-Guyer and Sam Llewellyn-Jones at Galeria Sá da Costa and "A Face is a Mask..." by Pedro Valdez Cardoso at Brotéria. She was jury and curator of the Contemporary Jewelry Exhibition "On the Other Hand", commemorating the 5th anniversary of PIN (Portuguese Association of Contemporary Jewelry), at Galeria Reverso (Lisbon), Galeria Adorna Corações (Porto) and at the Gray Area Symposium at Galeria Medellein ( Mexico City). In 2018 she was a jury for the ENSA Arte award in Luanda. Also for Umbigo magazine, she coordinated the edition of the book "Coordenadas do Corpo na Arte Contemporânea", a collection that brings together an essay by Bárbara Coutinho and several artistic works, many of them developed specifically for the book, in a set of works that represent a small sample of the concerns philosophical and aesthetic ideas of a group of artists. In 2018, together with António Néu (art director of Umbigo magazine), she created the UmbigoLAB Platform, a networking network for artists that promotes synergy between them and agents in the field (curators, museum directors, gallerists, collectors and institutions).

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