Joana Sá

Joana Sá piano, electronics & others


Part of a broader, fragmentary project composed by several autonomous but complimentary outputs such as the (expanded) book ‘a body as listening – resonant cartography of music (im)materialities’ (Sistema Solar / Teatro Praga), the virtual installation, the solo performance ‘a body as listening’ and the lecture-performance ‘Are you there? – resonant cartography of music (im)materialities’, this is composer-pianist Joana Sá’s first solo record since ‘Elogio da Desordem / In praise of disorder’ (2013), as well as the concluding opus of a trilogy that began with ‘through this looking glass’ (2010).
In the meantime, she has been playing a key role in shaping the distinctive sound-world of a small, remarkable group of classically-trained Portuguese creative musicians – beautifully documented in ‘Almost a Song’ (2013), ‘Di Lontan’ (2015) or ‘Turbamulta’ (2018) – which also includes, among others, her long-time collaborators Luís José Martins and Eduardo Raon. And 2020 saw the release of ‘Ways of notseeing’, her mesmerizing duo record with Greek composer-singer Savina Yannatou.
Now back to the solo format, she presents a work of rare expressive power, one which shatters several dichotomies entrenched in our modern ways of thinking: composition versus performance, classical music versus other genres, composition versus improvisation, reason versus passion, mind versus body, and so on.
Like most of the great Western classical composers before the relatively recent advent of the composer/performer dichotomy, Joana is, first and foremost, a composer-performer, but she is so in a radical sense: her performances, either the ephemerous live ones or those that end up being preserved on record are her (publicly accessible) oeuvre. Her music eschews any form of notation, but this is not to say that it does not involve a great deal of prior thought and planning: at least some of it lives in her, exquisitely crafted but in a state of flux, as opposed to something that gets crystallized in a score. (One is bound to wonder whether, say, Beethoven would have at all written down his sonatas had there been recordings in his day.) On the other hand, despite this considerable predetermined dimension, spontaneous composition is central to it as well, making each performance unlike any other. And the fact that, while one would hardly call it ‘jazz’, it is being released by a label commonly associated with that term, suggests that perhaps our currently accepted ways of sorting musical genres are ultimately idle and arbitrary.

There are, of course, several other artists today whose creative process is not unlike Joana’s, at least at the level of generality of the above description. But when it comes to the actual results of such process, she is utterly unique. She has the chops of a classical pianist and the energy of a rocker, and yet, seemingly paradoxically, can be a uniquely self-effacing performer, as if dissolving into sound somehow. She employs electronics and manipulated fragments of recordings as extended techniques themselves, opening up the functions of the piano – is it still a piano at all? – way beyond what is commonly heard, even among other adventurous explorers. That is, this is not merely a case of (subtly prepared) piano plus electronics, etc., but of a single, sui generis instrument, which allows for either extreme delicacy and sparseness or massive – at times even threatening – waves of sound. Through it, Joana creates a highly colourful work, as focused as it is intense, characterized by both stark contrasts and gradual shifts (another paradox?), providing a deep, immersive and profoundly moving listening experience.

João Esteves da Silva

All music composed by JOANA SÁ

Recorded 2-4 March by SUSE RIBEIRO at Valentim de Carvalho Studios, Paço de Arcos, Lisbon | Music assistance (studio) LUÍS J MARTINS | Mixing and mastering by EDUARDO RAON | Illustrations, RITA SÁ
Produced by JOANA SÁ | Executive production by PEDRO COSTA for Trem Azul | Design by TRAVASSOS

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