Marcos Fernandes

the journal of improvised & experimental music
fall 2006 : issue #43

The annual Edgetone New Music Summit provides a showcase for an assortment of improvisers and phonographers aligned within the Trummerflora Collective and the Edgetone, Accretions, and Circumvention record labels. Alex Fong spoke with Rent Romus, Marcos Fernandes and Jason Robinson and filed this report from the California Bay Area's musical underground.


...The percussionist, phonographer, director of Accretions Records and founding member of the San Diego-based Trummerflora Collective, Marcos Fernandes, 51, looks like his Portuguese lineage. In the graying, shoulder-length hair and in the stillness of his bearing, one also senses his Japanese heritage. He grew up there. And perhaps it's his Irish blood that makes him so easy-going. With such a multiplicity of identities, his diverse musical tastes make sense.

His youthful interest in the Beatles and the Ventures led him to prog groups like King Crimson, Henry Cow and Soft Machine, before blooming into a fascination with Terry Riley and musique concrete. From 1985 to 1997, he played in the world beat group Burning Bridges.

"The years I spent investigating world music has really helped me," Fernandes said. "It was a liberal education. In other cultures, improvisation is very common--it's a tradition. There's a whole world of music where nothing is written. I had this whole new palette of sounds and ideas I could use."

"I use the terms 'phonography' and 'field recording' interchangeably," Fernandes said. "Certain sounds suggest themselves in a musical context. But when I'm recording, I'm purely sound directed. It's very rarely that I actually go out looking for something--it's more often accidental.

"My project right now is all field recordings that I've done over the past three years at anti-war rallies, and sort of creating a piece out of all these sounds," he added. "It has a journalistic element to it, I think. I'm investigating through phonography, through the sounds."

Fernandes' work with Trummerflora formally began in 2000 with five other members: percussionist and sound artist Robert Montoya, musician and filmmaker Hans Fjellestad, audio and visual artist Marcelo Radulovich, guitarist and noise artist Damon Holzborn and saxophonist Jason Robinson.

Fernandes, Montoya and Radulovich were already working together on various projects. Fjellestad and Holzborn met Robinson through their teacher, improviser and composer George Lewis, who was a professor at the University of California at San Diego at the time. Robinson was a graduate music student, working on a degree in critical studies and experimental practices; he earned his doctorate in 2005.

Trummerflora takes its name from the rubble plants found in bombed-out urban areas, where long dormant seeds are exposed to light and nutrients through broken pavement.

"Once we decided to collectivize, things started to happen for us," Fernandes said. "Initially, we didn't have a very complex mission statement. It was just a group of musicians working together to promote, produce and help improvisational music. Community was a big part of it ---to nurture each other."

Their first year featured a performing arm known as Borborygmous, releasing 2001's live recording No Stars Please on Accretions, which along with Robinson's Circumvention Records, pre-dated Trummerflora but became an outlet for the collective's albums. Accretions continues to release their more experimental and rock-based recordings just as Circumvention focuses on the more jazz-oriented work.

As Trummerflora's ranks expanded to its current membership of 15, the collective splintered musically, becoming more of a presenting organization by maintaining its various music series and Spring Reverb, a music and arts festival that began in 2002. They released their first compilation, Rubble, on Accretions in 2004, and a second volume has just been issued. The music itself is so diverse that it's impossible to categorize, spanning hip-hop, world music, glitch electronica, post-bop jazz and non-idiomatic improvisation.

"The thing that makes Trummerflora unique was that we were all coming out of different areas," Robinson, 30, said. "Of the original members, I was the only one coming out of jazz."

"When we started, we were an organization meant to celebrate this kind of diversity," he added. "Because we represent all these different music worlds and the expectations of those different musical worlds, the challenge is to try to figure out how to embrace that, how to get past those difficulties."

On Saturday, July 28, Fernandes wears his "phonography" hat. In the afternoon, he leads a panel discussion including Glenn Bach and Aaron Ximm. They discuss phonography as art, social activism and its complex relationship with copyright protections. They talk about phonography's relationship to sound design and the preservation of sounds in the natural environment. Only six people are in the 21 Grand audience for the talk.

That night, about 40 show up. It's a step down from the 120 that attended the previous evening's concert of invented instruments, where Edgetone artist Bob Marsh, as Dr. Bob, gave a triumphantly dark, ambient noise performance while wearing a leering silver mask. But phonography doesn't offer the same kind of spectacle, although the draw itself is not so far off the mark from Romus' goal of 60 attendees per show.

Fernandes deploys his field recordings into a tranquil soundscape---its source origins are discernible and musical elements, like the regular sounding of a truck horn, keep it accessible even as he eschews any conventional sense of form...

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