The "Mare Tranquilitatis" is the "Sea of Tranquility" on the moon. It is the place where the first moon landing took place, 50 years ago. It is unclear whether the album in any way wants to join the celebrations of this event, since the performance itself was recorded live recording on November 10th 2018 at O'Culto da Ajuda, Lisbon, during the CreativeFest XII.
We've reviewed albums by the orchestra before, and I think this is one of their best. Ernesto Rodrigues, acting as the conductor of this large ensemble, leading his 28 musicians through sonic soundscapes that alternate between light-textured minimalist moments to dense and dramatic eruptions of sound, does it with verve. The music's unpredictability and especially the cohesion of the orchestra within this unpredictability is fascinating to listen to, and a testament to Rodrigues' skills to move the music forward along his wishes. This is no small feat.
But what does "Variable Geometry" mean? In the European political context, it refers to different levels of cooperation between countries in the European Union (like their willingness to participate in the Schengen zone, or participate in the common euro currency). It means integration and participation at different speeds and levels. In the context of aerodynamics, it means that an airplane may change the configuration of its wings during a flight. Whatever the real and original name that triggered Rodrigues to use the term for his orchestra, the concepts of collaborative difference, of changing dynamics and openness to variation appear essential.
The orchestra's sound is a collective sound, one that avoids solo voices, and even if they are discernable at times, often in short phrases and shouts, emanating from the voluminous mass of the orchestra's groundswell, they are more like birds straying from a flock to return before you've noticed their separate movement. The sound is not about the voices, it's about the total sonic experience of changes in depth and intensity, the dynamic swirling of sonorities and pitch, the flowing of harmonies and dissonance, of unity and chaos.
In case you wondered, the "Mare Tranquilitatis" may be tranquil at some moments, and there's even a short span of absolute silence, yet there is more to it than tranquility. It's worth the trip. Join us to the moon.
The Variable Geometry Orchestra on this album consists of:
Maria Do Mar - violin
Guilherme Rodrigues - cello
Yu Lin Humm - cello
Helena Espvall - cello
Miguel Mira - cello
Ricardo Jacinto - cello
Johan Moir - double bass
Miguel Almeida - classical guitar
Gianna de Toni - acoustic guitar
João Silva - trumpet
Paulo Curado - flute
Andre Holzer - clarinet
Juan Cato Calvi - bass clarinet
Noel Taylor - bass clarinet
Bruno Parrinha - clarinet
Mia Dyberg - alto saxophone
José Lencastre - alto saxophone
Etienne Brunet - alto saxophone
Catarina Loura - piano
Armando Pereira - toy piano
Mariana Carvalho - accordion
Rui Sousa - electric bass
Carlos Santos - electronics
Carla Santana - electronics
Biagio Verdolini - objects
Ramon Lopez - percussion
João Valinho - percussion
Pedro Castello Lopes - percussion
Ernesto Rodrigues - conduction
At another time, another performance by another iteration of the VGO, so that you get a flavour of what to expect: