Friday, July 30, 2004

Turn, Turn, Turn [Fernanda Porto]

I've officially become a cog in the machine.

Not that I wasn't one already, but I just spent an embarrassing amount of time meticulously entering track names, composers, and all that stuff for Fernanda Porto's self-titled debut album in my iTunes and then reported it all to the master CD database at Gracenote. This is probably the first time I've ever possessed an officially released album (other than self-produced demos, CDRs and such) that wasn't already in this super-duper database, and I've been holding on to my copy for weeks hoping that some more ambitious soul would do all that work instead of me. (I guess the fact that it's still only an import has something to do with the omission.) Tonight I could wait no longer.

Actually I kind of like the idea of contributing to this hive-mind reservoir of info, updated (sometimes erroneously) by anyone with the energy to do so: another manifestation of the open-source spirit like the Internet Movie Database and so many other products of the digital age.

But enough about technology. How's the music? Well, there's actually quite a bit of technology on display on the album itself; it's one of the most interesting drum 'n' bass -rooted projects I've heard in a while. Plenty of d&b producers around the world have sampled bossa nova/samba beats and vocalists over the last decade, but when Porto does it, it doesn't feel like mere exoticism. Likewise, there are endless examples of pretty female voices used in electronic dance music, but far fewer cases where the singer herself is the writer, musician, and producer. Porto's bio on her official website reveals that she comes to the genre from a background in experimental music composition-- Xenakis, Stockhausen, and other noisemeisters.

The combo of machine-generated rhythms and more organic melodies on her album works really well, particularly on a track called "Baque Virado," my immediate fave. Porto wrote most of the songs herself, sometimes with collaborators, though there's one Jobim cover: "Só Tinha de Ser Com Você." One particularly interesting cut near the end of the album, "Tempo Pra Tudo," is her setting of a passage from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. You know the one: "To everything, there is a season..." But this sounds absolutely nothing like the Byrds or Pete Seeger; instead, the song starts with the album's most abrasive synth lines, almost industrial. Porto sings the Bible verses in an insistent, almost angry voice, tempered now and then with a gentler tone. Midway through, a choir enters the mix, and it keeps shifting gears just as the words suggest. "Turn, Turn, Turn," this ain't.

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