Discrepant label boss Gonçalo F Cardoso explores the noise(s) of his homeland Portugal on Ruído(s), his final work under the Gonzo moniker. One part sonic capriccio, one part subjective dream journal, Ruído(s) is a fitting farewell to Gonzo’s roving audio diaries. While Cardoso will still be releasing music under other names, he will use the Gonzo name solely for DJ sets. That Gonzo should stabilize as a DJ persona feels fitting. There’s always been a feeling of blending and juxtaposing to Gonzo’s work. That selector’s sensibility is what guides Ruído(s), as the tracks blend unprocessed field-recordings, programmed beats, and fabulations of Portuguese music decaying in abandoned ballrooms. The serious and sacred move easily into humor and hedonism and back.
A sound that Cardoso describes as a postcard has perhaps more the feel of a scrapbook. His role is broadly the same across his various projects: He edits, mixes, and organizes. Whatever the project, the subtle manipulation of field-recordings to humorous or surreal effect remains a central aspect of Cardoso’s work. Besides the superficial Francophone Pacific elements, Papillon‘s releases have been defined by the material contributions of collaborators Laurent Jeanneau, Cédric Stevens, David Nann, Mike Cooper, Yannick Dauby. Visions Congo‘s sole LP, Mulago Sound Studio (2017), re-imagines a 6-month stay in Africa’s great lakes region and Zanzibar. His field-recording practice is thus intimately linked to his experiences as a traveler. As Gonzo, his work has visited India, Japan, South East Asia, Central America, North Africa. Whether he returns to these monikers or devises new ones, it is time to wander somewhere new.
I took this opportunity to chat with Cardoso, who reflects upon seven years of the Gonzo project, the growth of Discrepant, the relationship between sound and travel, and why he felt now was the time to put a line under his obsessive nostalgia for home, turning his gaze towards the unknown.
Sound Propositions is an ongoing, semi-regular series of conversations with artists exploring their creative practices and individual aesthetics, conceived of as a counter-narrative to a dominant trend in music journalism which fetishizes equipment and new technologies. Rather than writing copy that can just as easily have come from a press release or a consumer electronics catalog, this series tries to take the emphasis away from the ‘what’ and shine light on the ‘how’ and ‘why.’ You can find the previous conversations, as well as additional articles and features, here.
Surfing on Soundcloud back in 2013 I came across a preview of Gonzo and Lowjo‘s NOISES(s) tape trilogy, reminiscent of the kind of anything goes travel diaries Sublime Frequencies puts out, but totally doing their own thing. Cardoso has stayed on our radar ever since, and Discrepant has continued to impress with releases from the likes of Carlos Casas, Mike Cooper, and Kink Gong. Discrepant was founded in London in 2011, with an emphasis on vinyl, and has since expanded with a number of successful imprints: Sucata Tapes, Souk Records, and Farsa Discos.
Discrepant artists reinterpret old genres and media, document ceremonial musics, and produce sound-collaged travelogues. As I highlighted in my end of year post, 2018 was a particularly strong year. Inkanakuntuby marked the full-length debut from Muqata’a, launching the beat driven sub-label SOUK Records. Félix Blume presented listeners with a unique window into Haitian funeral rites on Death In Haiti (Funeral Brass Band & Sounds Of Port Au Prince). Tasos Stamou‘s Musique con Crète is an electroacoustic distillation of the past and future of the island of Crete. The label also gave Koray Kantarcioğlu‘s gorgeous Loopworks a well-deserved vinyl release. 2019 has kept up the same pace, including new records from Stamou and Blume. Mazen Kerbaj turned in a bi-polar double LP of solo trumpet, both with and without effects and post-production, showing Kerbaj’s versatility as a player, but also that the real artistry is deeper than with or without tools. After an earlier mixtape of Turkish New Age on Sucata, Grup Ses joins forces with the MC Ethnique Punch for Deli Divan, hip hop from one of Istanbul’s greatest (and most enigmatic) crate diggers. And most recently we have Gonzo’s swan song, Ruído(s).
Discrepant: inconsistent; conflicting; at variance [from Latin discrepāns, from discrepāre to differ in sound, from dis-1 + crepāre to be noisy]
One might argue that the use of exotica tropes walks a fine line between indulging in fantasy, imagination, and escapism, and playing on old imperialist cultural attitudes. Like Sublime Frequencies, Discrepant’s irreverent take on “World Music 2.0” largely sidesteps questions of authenticity through a displacement and juxtaposition of sounds and perspectives. (See David Novak’s “The Sublime Frequencies of New Old Media” for a recent take on the politics of World music.) These works don’t pretend to speak for anyone else but they still draw power from their particular, if multiple, contexts. Labels like Sublime Frequencies and Discrepant appeal to me in that there’s often a kind of irreverent DIY punk attitude while still exposing audiences to a rich diversity of sounds and artists and supporting artists we might not otherwise hear while also searching progressively for surprising sounds. For Cardoso, the unfamiliar sounds of traveling brings a sense of defamiliarization. And, if we assume for now that “objective” recordings are impossible, then leaning into the subject position of the recorder and indulging in the surreal and fantastic qualities of listening can produce beautiful results.
But Discrepant is not completely irreverent. Its politics are often ambiguous or at least implicit. For instance, providing a platform for artists from outside the usual musical centers is important work, especially amplifying the voices of artists from countries we don’t hear enough about, either as artist or subject. Other releases take a more direct approach, addressing the political and social realities of the present. Cardoso teamed up with Ruben Pater for their 2015 LP and book project, A Study into 21st Century Drone Acoustics, which explores the military, commercial and civilian application of drones. Pater is the author of the Drone Survival Guide, what he describes as a “21st century bird-watching” guide—a poster and book explaining how to spot, hijack, hack, and dazzle different types of drones. Cardosa’s treatment of recorded sound takes on a very different affect from nostalgia trips and surreal sonic postcard, but it precisely this cheeky engagement and broad range that keeps us coming back to Discrepant. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Returning to your homeland for the final work as Gonzo seems appropriate. Noise(s) is a theme you have returned to over the years, though more often you are drawing on the sounds and cultures encountered while traveling abroad.
The album marks an end to my obsession with the music and atmospheres of my childhood in Portugal, mostly the south of the country. It’s a theme I explored before on a couple of tapes as well as on a more traditional tip on the two Anthologies of Atypical Portuguese music. (VOL3 in the works). With this final work I kind of collect all of my musical sketches of these last few years and re-arranged them into an album – (I consider my music to be sketchy in nature, unfinished and endlessly recyclable). I sense that I have now reached a semi-saturated point with that sound and feel the need to continue and move on to other geographies/cultures less familiar to me. There’s only so many ‘postcards’ you can write before the risk of becoming cheesy.
Most of what I do has that postcard feeling. Of a sketch from a place, a snapshot, ‘hello, we’re here, its different, it’s nice’. I love postcards and regret the lack of thereof these days, with all the social media tech. At the same time a series of sound vignettes can be the perfect way to transmit emotions and feelings.
Will you continue making field-recordings after this?
Oh yes, I still have so much on my drives to go through. Trips I did 3 or 4 years ago still need revisiting and be applied to the broken lens of memory. I’ll probably record less and absorb more, that’s what’s been happening in my last trips, I focus more on the mundane rather than on the exotic or faraway sounds. As far as presenting them to the world they will be through different persona’s, devised and created for the occasion. There will be also more of my ‘rawer’ material, released under my own name like I did for Edições CN and the Drone Acoustics album.
Tell us about the founding of Discrepant. Were you making compositions prior to the label, or did releasing records by Cedric and Laurent etc inspire you to make your own works?
I’ve always been an avid music listener, I dabbled in punk and experimental bands in my youth but after a break from music (with film) I decided to come back at it from a completed different angle, an experiential one. I found myself recording day to day sounds, both at home and wherever I travel to – which over the last 6 years has been a lot. Back home I decided to arrange them into some sort of audio diaries and mixtapes which I shared online on a online blog, it was called Discrepant. One thing led to another and I started inviting artist to do the same, first mixtapes, then very quickly started releasing records. It worked out and I now release a record a month and have expanded the label to other sublabels, Sucata Tapes, Souk Records and Farsa Discos. All of these reflect my musical taste which can go from experimental drones to Colombian cumbia and ‘fake’ exotica. Both Cedric’s and Laurent’s work was very inspiring as were others labels like Sublime Frequencies or Touch for example. It was only after building some sort of catalogue that I felt the courage to start releasing my own material.
I’m also really interested in this idea of ‘fake’ exotica. Whether its the sort of pan-Mediterranean influences in weird Italian 70s records, Jon Hassell’s “Fourth World” music, Andrew Pekler’s take on exotica, there’s a lot there that can be so interesting but also risks falling into the tropes that are the object of critique. You mentioned that you’re not interested in the “real” or “ethnographic” (nor am I), but I wonder how you relate to the political implications of presenting peoples and places at at such a distance. Focusing on your own homeland perhaps side steps that somewhat. Does your approach vary when creating a subjective impression of a place you experience as a visitor versus your home?
Not really. As I said my music is made from an entirely subjective perspective. It’s manipulated to reflect my personal memory, whether I was a tourist or someone who lived there for a period of time or passed through. Its my diary, my vision and my idea of how I should present those sounds. I understand the questions it raises once I decide to make them public and charge money for it, but I don’t see why there should be a restriction just because I have the ‘privilege’ to do it. The cultural appropriation debate as we know it doesn’t really make sense to me, I think most people confuse it with good taste, if something is done in good or bad taste, according to their own musical references or background… The case with exotica is pitch perfect – developing or building worlds and atmospheres that don’t exist by very often using faraway sounds/recs or non western scales to evoke that feeling, again, I can see why people would question it, the use of clichés ( I love them), stereotypes (also a fan of those) is often the main problem but its interesting to have a creative liberty to use those clichés and stereotypes to your own advantage. I guess awareness is the main ingredient, nevertheless you can’t please everyone and that was never my aim.
Short answer is no, I approach everything with the same frame set, my own 🙂
Recording and traveling seem to be very much tied up for you. How do you understand the relationship between traveling and listening?
As far as I’m concerned traveling is probably the best thing you can do with your money, if you lucky enough to have some. Managing to marry the love of sound, specially unfamiliar sounds with traveling is a blessing. I usually record a lot, I have thousands of unused recordings to go through, because I record so much it takes even longer to listen to it all, catalogue it and work it into some kind of logic. Sometimes I do it stealthily other times not and lately I even include the sounds of people who ‘disrupt’ the recording inquiring about my microphone or that strange taser looking machine I’m holding. Once back home I try to slowly (de)construct an audio diary of my trips, it’s highly personal and people often criticized me for not offering a ‘real’ or ‘ethnographic’ vision of a place. It’s not my aim at all, they’re all deformed and semi-invented mini diaries of my time spent in a place, deformed because that’s how memory really works, you always remember things differently and I try to reflect that in my recordings. Like a memory of a dream. Sound has that power of being totally subjective, its whatever your references are that will define your listening experience.
“Like a memory of a dream.” This is precisely how I approached a portrait of Mexico City I published some years ago. This raises a two-part questions….
The more pragmatic question first: how do you approach cataloguing recordings in your archive.
Well, there’s always a note to the place and time on the original recording. I usually come back and immediately name the sound files by date, place and brief description. I also mark with a + or ++ or even ++++ if they’re good interesting recs,. I then leave it to sit on drives for months sometimes years. When I decide to tackle it I just wack everything on a timeline, by order of date recorded and start listening and editing. I compose and/or jam on top to convey some sort of feeling connected with my memory of the place, but very often is a hazy recollection, something I’m keen to transmit to the listener.
It sounds like you also often approach field-recordings through some haze of memory, so with that in mind: How important is the location of the recording or the event to your work? how much is driven by the a sense of place, and how much by sonic event itself? Put a different way, does the ontology of a recording outweigh its aesthetics?
I’d say 20% place, 80% sonic. The location is the trigger, the impetus, hence the traveling and relocation to less familiar areas to capture sounds that are not necessarily around me, but the contrary also happens. (I lived in London for 17 years and have a massive catalogue of sounds of the city to turn into a ‘noisy postcard’ album) So even though both are connected the result is mostly a sonically driven ambition.
I had a listen to the old Ruido(s) tape and recognized the shared opening track. I like this idea of the sketch. It seems to me that any work which constitutes itself through assembly of a mix of elements invites further recontextualization. This resonates with tape culture as well, since tape lends itself to re-recording, unique dubs, pass and adds. One thing that struck me was the use of programmed beats. Can you tell me about this aspect of the record?
Well it was a tune I did a while ago. It has beats and me mumbling and ‘bothering’ a contact microphone. I did it in Lisbon, on a hot summer day so I thought it was an apt interlude for this album, particularly as it was not ‘expected’ from a field rec/ambient/soundscape album and I like that break.
So how have you gone about growing the roster of artists that your label(s) work with? Have you had any challenges due to international barriers (for touring, sending royalties, etc?)
Less and less. Touring can be a bit of a problem as I’m not really a promoter but as far as communication/royalties/etc the internet really democratized it the music ‘industry’ in my opinion. There are still challenges of course like making sure the artists get copies of their work, dodgy shipping/customs etc.
Can I ask about your interest in music more generally? Aside from gaining confidence and starting to share your own work, what was your path to becoming interested in more experimental forms of music, sound, field-recording etc?
I guess I was always attracted to less obvious styles. It happens often to people who are obsessed with music, they dive deep into the rabbit hole and come back with all sorts of weird tastes.I always was interested in the ‘natural’ sounds, the best Walkman is the environment around you!
How do you approach a live situation compared to how you work in the studio?
My approach is completely different, studio is a place for experimenting as opposed to a live environment where I’m always terrified of messing up – I’m also not a very accomplished musician so the improv elements on a live show are limited depending on the show or the venue/audience. It all depends of the project of course. Hair & Treasure is pure improv but when it comes to Gonzo, Visions Congo et all. I pretty much deconstruct some tracks to play live and work a lot on the visuals – the current Ruído(s) live show has videos done by Evan Crankshaw, the same artist who does most of the artworks for my projects and others on the label. So I’d say it’s almost like a soundtrack to a film – that’s how I approach my live shows usually as there’s nothing more cliché than seeing a dude sitting behind a laptop.
Lastly, I always like to ask about an artist’s favorite work outside of sound art or music. What books, visual art, plays, films, etc you are inspired by, or find common cause with? Are their artists working in other media (past or present) that you feel an aesthetic kinship with?
Too many to list but here are some names that pop to mind: Kubrick, Phillip K. Dick, Fernando Pessoa, Jodorowsky, Northern Africa and Middle East music, Martin Dennis, all of Strange Attractor press, Luc Ferrari, Dolat-Shahi Dariush, Camus, Paul Theroux, Detroit Techno, [Jean] Painlevé , Jacques Mayol, all of Spencer Clark’s output etc etc etc