Computer Folk & a crispy presence
by Michael Freerix
With her sketchy, dreamlike songwriting, Ana Rita de Melo Alves, who calls herself Anrimeal, travels on a highway that in the past has been defined by songwriters like Elliott Smith and Syd Barrett. Alves writes songs and sings to herself, in front of a fragile background of violin, guitar, piano, flutes, and percussion. She somehow reflects the silence around her, but gives it a special kind of air, a crispy presence.
It's obvious that her music is rooted in folk music, but she calls it "computer-folk." She works almost exclusively alone, and her computer seems to be her constant companion. There are plenty of field recordings interwoven into her songs, as if she is walking through a forest and singing to herself. But Alves lives in the present, by recording and producing the instruments on her computer, which is why her album Could Divine is such an up-to-date production. It comes to us as a modern-day experiment with an ear for the musical past.
Alves was born and raised in Porto, the second biggest city of Portugal. She moved to London five years ago to study songwriting. Although she learned a lot about microphones and production, she is very passionate about her DIY approach to music because, as she explained in a recent email interview, "I like the feeling of not knowing what I'm doing, and I love to work with limitations. In fact, I think I owe a lot of my creativity to my few resources."
Early on, Alves had a profound education in music. She went to music school from age 4 to age 19. She studied violin and classical singing as main instruments, but as she explains it, "I also had a bunch of different subjects ranging from acoustics to composition."
Internationally, Portugal seems to be a blank spot in music. Only a few bands or musicians (Madre Deus being one) have managed to have a career outside of the country. For some perspective: Portugal has a little more than 10 million residents, most of whom live near the coastline, and 10 percent of them are in the cities of Porto and Lisbon, its capital. Of course, music of all kinds exists in Portugal, but hardly any of it is heard outside the country's borders.
That was one of the reasons Alves had to leave her home country. "There is a wide lack of support for the arts in general in Portugal, and when it comes to music, classical music and jazz are the ones deemed more respectable. Additionally, both these music avenues focus almost entirely on performing and almost not at all on writing."
Along with writing songs, Alves is deeply involved in writing poetry and feels an inspiration from the arts. She mentions German-American artist Eva Hesse as an inspiration. Hesse had to leave Germany in 1938, and with her family, she somehow managed to get to New York, where her parents divorced and she grew up. She studied art under another German refugee, the minimalist Josef Albers. Hesse died from a brain tumor in 1970, leaving behind a small but distinctive oeuvre. Her sketchy, very intimate art is hard to pin down. Maybe it is beautifully labelled with this personal quote: "I am interested in solving an unknown factor of art and an unknown factor of life." Always searching in the sensual spaces between body and soul, the warm and the cool, aggression and love, Hesse's art is not interested in statements. Posthumously, some of her work was exhibited in the Kassel, Germany, exhibition documenta 5, in a room called "individual mythologies in progress."
This sounds like a label that could also be applied to the music of Anrimeal. Besides that, she quotes a lot of other inspirations as well. "There are very interesting things coming from Portugal at the moment-Dino D'Santiago, B Fachada, and Sopa De Pedra being my personal highlights- as there might be from any place on Earth. I believe artists are everywhere."
Alves decided to start her own label (Demo Records) when she had finished the recording of her debut album, Could Devine. She teamed up with Hanna Ehrlich of Crossness Records, a friend she had met years before, to put out the album, with some help from an Indiegogo campaign. Ehrlich writes: "The best music gets you right in the gut, and my first listen to [the song] 'Encaustic Witches' was like a sucker punch. From the outset, it was clear that she really knows what she's doing-she's such a skilled composer, lyricist, vocalist, and technician." For Ehrlich, "Music is the closest thing to a spiritual experience-in particular, finding specific refrains that turn the simple act of listening into a full body experience without any conscious effort." Could Divine is absolutely bursting with such refrains. Living in remote Thamesmead, at the outskirts of London, Ehrlich seems to have an interest in music that sounds more rural than citylike, more private than outgoing.
The music of Alves is well-structured but loose, experimental and song-based-it's focused and open to the world at once. As she writes in one of her poems:I'm a foot soaker
But still unaware of the process by which things become grey.
I'm a foot soaker so I speculate
The ray hitting the sail and taking it
From creek to river, from river to sea.
Color and life dissolving in the late afternoon
Into a vacuum.
How am I still unaware of the process by which things become grey
At least one time a day?
Could Divine is available on Bandcamp.
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|