by Noël Akchoté, Jun 2004 (France)

This interview was a participation in a joint interview/article about Sei Miguel and myself.
Rafael Toral

Q : How did you first came across Sei Miguel and what did attract you in his sytle and playing ?

First time i saw him he was playing with a septet, and it gave me the impression that it was like a steam machine, that the music was not emanated from the stage, but rather distilled, as if it were the sweat of impenetrable inner workings. It was clearly jazz, but i had never heard anything like that before. I only met him later and we collaborated shortly after. His architecture was fascinating and mysterious, and still is to this day, for me.

Q : How would you Describe his music and beyond, his whole approach, philosophy of arts and life ?

Big question… his music, beyond his playing, is unique – in the true sense of the word, nothing on the planet comes even close. What is so special about it is his deep knowledge of the sound spectrum, which allows him to arrange fully complementary timbral constellations. Each sound, each musician, has a sound quality that comes through with total clarity. His way of working with musicians is amazing, because he prefers to have musicians focusing themselves than to direct them. His notions of time and silence are central to the transparency he achieves in his pieces.

Q : He often seems to refer to Jazz ( not necesseraly as a genre ). How does that resonnate in you knowing this is not exactely your own background ?
What does Jazz means to you in 2006 ?

His music always arrived to me very clearly as jazz. His whole universe of references, his background is mainly from jazz culture. Now, the fact that i collaborated with him from a non-jazz standpoint and that my output was seamlessly integrated in his music opened a door for me to an enlarged conception of jazz.
Jazz in 2006? I’m a bit puzzled that jazz appeared only in the 20th century. To me, jazz is an advanced frame for an ancestral achievement of mankind (music), and it does resonate with ancestral, pre-historic dimensions of human life (which are contemporary, because we still are the same animals). As for my personal approach to jazz, i see myself as a sort of alien, playing jazz in a parallel reality.

Q  : How do you see your interaction in this group ? Do you improvise a lot or do you have a frame or a line already clearly set ?

With Sei Miguel i’m always able to play my best. The playing context of his groups is so precisely designed that everything fits perfectly. We do not “improvise”. All the playing is structural, all decisions are made according to clear limits of each musician’s parameters, as a terrain with a carefully measured perimeter. Densities, timings, timbres, pitch ranges and dynamics, among many other things, are meticulously observed. As he said in a line of genius, “not composed, not improvised and not a compromise between the two”.

Q : Do you see yourself as an instrumentist like others in the group or do you try to place yourself differently ?

Each one is unique, has different needs and different things to offer. It may happen that certain musicians are less fluent in Sei Miguel’s system and need a tighter “perimeter” of parameters, and others are much less “directed”, once common understanding is so deep that he just gives a clue or two. I always try to serve his ideas and concepts, and that may include giving some suggestions. I can admit i have a bit of a special relationship with him, i help produce his records, and he respects my opinion as an artist.

Q : Is working with Sei Miguel in this context like a turning point in your own work or just an ongoing collaboration ?

It has been an ongoing collaboration. Now, i had a big turn in my work, and that turn took me in a direction that made working with Sei Miguel a central issue, whereas before it was not so essential. And since then our collaboration has been deep and intense.

Q : How do you see the experimental, improvised, electronic music situation in 2006 ?

It seems to be surfacing from a very boring period in which too many musicians believed that the laptop was a world with endless possibilities, while its use crystallized into a very redundant style (which is incomprehensible, since you can do so many different things with a computer) and a current interest in more natural ways of making sound is getting more interesting.

Q : What do you listen to these days and is there an area of music you particularly follow ?

I tend to be listening more to jazz than other forms of music i specialized in in the past. I listen to many things of course, but the deeper i get into Sun Ra the more fascinated i am by his complex conception.

Q : Why, do you think, Sei Miguel has been pretty ignored by the european and worldwide music promoters, scenes, press and other parts of the cultural scene-chain ?

Maybe it takes a combination of trained ears, intelligence and intuition from decision-making listeners to notice the uniqueness of Sei Miguel’s work. And i’m afraid that people listen to his playing in the first place, while i find that what makes him so special is especially his arranging talent. He has a very limited ability to travel on his own, since he has no money and works with a group of musicians. Basicaly he is powerless to project and affirm the quality of his work. Besides, in Portugal he has been systematically marginalized.

Q : Do you think “other music”  scenes have now rejoined  what happened about 20 years ago in Visual arts with Saatchi and a deliberate policy to market and promote arts as a valuable business ?

I can’t claim to have an integrated vision on that issue, but i would tend not to believe that is the case. It must also be noted that the global economic situation is utterly different than it was in the 1980’s.

Q : Who would you say you feel close to or which area would you like to be associated to , today ?

Difficult question… it may sound over-ambitious, but i am establishing a working area on my own, outside consensual electronic music, outside plain jazz, outside improvised music… but with a foot firmly set on each.

Q : How is Sei Miguel and how are you preceived in Portugal today ? Do you get any feedbacks and are they any policies from cultural officials to consider you as major national artists ?

Maybe i’m recognised as a major underground artist… Sei Miguel tends to be completely unrecognized, although younger generations have noticed him already.

Q : What does upset you these days and what does excite you ?

The negative aspects of globalization, the sense of loss of so many things (like bakeries and groceries being replaced by banks and cell phone stores), the one-way flow of money from people to multinational companies, the youngsters’ use of sound as an affirmation of power, music everywhere (music = noise), Dubya, of course, and general lack of vision of a finite resource that is the planet and its environment in which the fantasy of infinite economic growth persists. And TV – ultimate evil multisensorial noise.
The positive aspects of globalization, like the widespread access to technology and the massive amounts of information being generated and shared through the internet. The beauty and poetry of delicate balances in music. Risk and challenge in art. Good food, friends, intelligence, life.

Q : How do you make a living and more generally what is the situation in such music today ?

I’m a sound engineer.

Q : You re a member of MIMEO but you seem less present in other forms or smaller groupings around the minimal quiet Onkyo musical approach. Is that a personal choice or just a situation ?

I’m not sure i see the Mimeo/ Onkyo connection, but my path is not in a direction related to Onkyo. Mimeo is a continuous challenge, it’s beyond music. It may happen that i don’t play much in smaller groups because in Portugal there is a very limited number of musicians i am interested to work with. Since i can’t travel much, i play more solo because there’s no time to develop work in collaborating “units”. But actually i want to change/ improve that and play more.Q : What would you like to say that hasnt been here mentionned ?