Pangeia Instrumentos - Victor Gama with Max Eastley and Heitor Alvelos

By David Gunn

Instruments onstage, three of them, with 200 people waiting. Sculptural driftwood in low light, no sound. Just an empty stage that looks like theater set with three of them waiting. And to be fair, they are a performance in themselves. I'd bought the album and knew the sounds, but their appearance is remarkable. One is based on a ceramic vase, with a glowing cover and little stacks of metals rings – a Hollywood cast-off from some Aztec version of A Clockwork Orange that never made it to the big screen. And the other two are strange wooden towers – with huge seed pods as sound chambers, with catgut stretching like guy ropes from the sky, bamboo and twine salvaged from the forest floor.

After a while, Victor Gama walks on and sits cross-legged behind the small vase, and puts his fingers in his mouth. For the next ten minutes he sits there, rubbing spit on the top of the vase, setting off deep vibrating resonances, mucking about with little squeaks and the groaning frictions of thumb and glass. Skip forward another ten minutes and the air is twittering jungle temple gongs in an Asian halflight with nothing but the silence beneath him. Skip forward half an hour and he is striding voodoo around one of the towers, striking the sides with twigs and branches, as blurring projections of birdflight and burning lines move behind him, as a stage-left Eastley sits pulling more sounds from one Amazonian bow that seems possible or even likely. A lot happens for one review.

In press releases for his album, Victor Gama talks about how the very fact of building these instruments is central to the creative process, the character of the instruments defining the music that comes out – and you can see that, as he moves between the various instruments, they seem to lend themselves to certain moods and rhythms, shot through with flamenco, gamelan and myriad other influences. The fascinating thing is the diversity of the sound within this coherent whole, the subtlety of expression and tone – the way the ideas develop and reform in the space between the cyclical modulations of Gama and Max Eastley's strange sound games, leaving you no time to remember, but just to smile at the sheer poise and single-minded elegance of the whole beautiful thing. And then, near the end, he stops, walks to the front row and gives four people sticks, holds their hands, leads them unto the stage...

It starts as an embarrassing moment – after an hour and a half this, to introduce audience participation feels like some panto gimmick. But I'm wrong – this is the best bit. He hits the strings at different points to show them how to make different notes, hitting the seed pod in the middle to demonstrate the percussive beats showing them the possibilities. And they start playing, disparate and self-conscious, and then Victor Gama leaves the stage – the rest of the people look confused, but Eastley keeps playing, and so they do, and gradually a magic happens – they develop their own rhythms and synergies and within five minutes, something comparable to Gama's great arrangements is being rolled out by people who've never played the instruments before. That such complete artlessness can create a passable performance is astounding, and completely based on Gama's own self-effacing artfulness: creating the raw materials for others to surprise themselves with their own ability. It is a beautiful moment.

Victor Gama and the Pangeiart project are all about re-establishing connections – the various returns to various Pangeias. Re-establishing an identity for Kongo and Angolan music through collective performance, using music to bring together those divided by war, and, in the context of the Rephlex gang, remaking the connections between the acts of physical creation and musical performance. And all of this is only worth saying because the end result is so compelling, so direct and affecting, but it is worth saying. In a context where music is being produced from every corner with little aim beyond itself and an inward-looking music industry, the industrious craft of Victor Gama is an important exception. Here’s hoping the workshops of Pangeia remain busy for many years to come.
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