The solar figure of Susana Silva SantosFestival Meteo

Concerts 01.11.2021

It's almost Indian summer, as if summer didn't want to take its leave...
In our memories, the memories of the concerts start to fade, to become floating, except of course for those that have marked us.
From my brief stay at the Météo festival in Mulhouse, at the end of August, my memory retains above all the sunny figure of the Portuguese trumpet player now active in Sweden: Susana Silva Santos.

Her duo concert with guitarist Fred Frith at Motoco, a former industrial wasteland, and then her solo at Sainte-Marie Church were moments of great intensity, of the kind that comfort and nourish you, give you the invigorating impression that your whole being has entered into vibration, into intelligence with the musician's imagination, that you were in good hands, and that what vibrated was as much due to the musician's generosity as to her liveliness of spirit and the richness of the territories explored.

This is what happened for me with Susana Santos Silva, who was discovered by Fred Frith in 2011 during a workshop in Portugal. The guitarist subsequently asked her to join him in a women's orchestra he had assembled in Darmstadt. Fred Frith was immediately impressed by the vivacity and inventiveness of this musician. Since then, she has joined him in many constellations.

Susana Santos Silva was trained in classical music and then turned to jazz. She quickly felt the need to break out of the mould, to "unlearn" in a way. When she found herself in a playing situation and the formulas she had learned in conservatories came to her fingertips, she felt like she was betraying herself. She couldn't help but feel embarrassed, and even ashamed. She had to find her own way, play her own music! Meeting Fred Frith was a real turning point for the trumpet player. It should be remembered that the guitarist has trained many young improvisers over the years, teaching at Mills College (Oakland) and at the Basel Academy of Music. The percussionist Camille Emaille has also benefited from the guitarist's enlightened advice.

Susana Santos Silva is an improviser, and she says so loud and clear. This means that her imagination is only ignited in the urgency of the "here and now": what she likes is to play, to plunge into the sound matter! When she finds herself in the situation of composing music, when she has to make choices, when she has to decide, and when she has the time, everything becomes more complex, unless she keeps the spontaneity of improvisation. In this, she is finally close to her English partner, who has always tried to find spontaneity in the gesture of composition, remembering that his first school was rock (Henri Cow, Art Bears, Skeleton Crew...), and collective improvisation.

The music played by the duo on 27 August at the Motoco in Mulhouse took the audience into the hollows, the fulls, the crests of an immense wave of sound, within which the two voices of Susana Santos Silva and Fred Frith became one. Connected to a number of pedals, Fred Frith's guitar has the gift of metamorphosis: at times organ, at times sanza, guitar, sampler... It is an orchestra in miniature, a meta-instrument! Susana Santos Silva's trumpet is not to be outdone, from the blowing, close to percussion, to the voice in the instrument, not to mention many other playing modes. The musician says that she had great pleasure in letting herself be carried away by the wave, until she had the sensation - at least that's what she told me after the concert - of "swimming, of flying"...

What happens when two musicians improvise for the first time? Often the duet takes the form of a conversation, with moments when one or the other distances himself or herself. The duo of Fred Frith and Susana Santos Silva took a different path. The two musicians told me that they found themselves swept up in a narrative flow, a semblance of a story, a film script, so to speak, much to the delight of the trumpeter, who claims this very narrative aspect. "I like to tell stories. Playing music is storytelling, because it is related to our lives, and life is nothing but a story.

What story did Susana Santos Silva's solo tell us the day after this aerial duet? Of course, each of us took our own story with us, so I won't tell you mine, it's too deep in my memory as I write. I do remember, however, the slim figure of the musician moving with her instrument, on either side of the organ of the church of Sainte-Marie on the balcony of the façade. The mischievous and playful Susana Santos Silva had surprised the audience facing the choir by starting her solo behind them. Little by little, the bodies turned towards the entrance of the church, looking for the source of sound that had taken them by surprise. I remember looking for the embodiment of his sounds, watching for the evolution of this aerial trumpet. I remember being delighted by this solar, refined, inventive, always mobile and so alive playing!

The fleetingness and intensity of Susana Santos Silvas' solo was a nice introduction to the last concerts of the day on 28 August at Météo, and especially toAnthony Laguerre 's organic composition "Myotis V", conceived for the Percussions de Strasbourg and an electronic device: here too, an epiphany of sound, but much more organised and structured.

Anne Montaron

Listen also to A l'improviste with the duo Fred Frith and Susana Santos Silva, France musique.