A Nervous City in a Weird World
Brazilian composer and saxophonist Livio Tragtenberg has reassembled his Nervous City Orchestra and is set to take Miami audiences on a second trip around the world. And though Nervous City may ostensibly be dubbed world music for lack of a better description Tragtenberg's project has more in common with Laurie Anderson than rain-forest flutes.
The tropical made-in-Miami ensemble features fifteen of the city's best multicultural fusion artists. Among them are Cuban guitarist José Elias, Cuban percussionist Philbert Armenteros, Bacon Bits trombonist John Speck, Argentine banden player David Alsina, local Baroque and Medieval period flutist Renee Fiallos, and Haitian vocalist, guitarist, and percussionist Jan Sebon. Also featured is experimental cinematographer Benton-C Bainbridge, whose real-time video images serve as the backdrop for the performance.
Tragtenberg recently chatted with New Times about himself and his orchestra.
How did you become interested in world music?
I'm not interested in world music at all because it is a prefabricated category that the music industry made up in order to develop a new wave of consumption. It's the dilution of musical diversity into something plain and poor that can be quickly packaged up for middle-class consumers. I'm interested in creating a space for different musicians to express themselves.... I listen to sounds from the streets, not from the concerts or records.
You're listed on UNESCO's [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Website. You were a Guggenheim Foundation fellow. What are some of your other great accomplishments?
I make a lot of music for film, dance, and theater, and I've won awards for those projects. For example, I won the Brasilia Film Festival Award for music three times, and in 1988 I won the Outstanding Brazilian Composer Award. But the highest honor for me is being able to experience joy in day-to-day life by traveling the world as a collaborator in solidarity with the creative process of musicians, curators, and producers in special projects and festivals.
What inspired the Nervous City Orchestra? How does it differ from your other musical endeavors?
It was inspired by my Street Musicians' Orchestra of So Paulo. I've been working on projects with Mary Luft from Tigertail [Productions] for the last fifteen years, so last year, when she heard my description of the Street Musicians' Orchestra of So Paulo, she jumped on the idea of doing the same thing in Miami, but with Latin musicians in the United States.
The Nervous City Orchestra is also different in that we work collectively on the compositions and arrangements. Every musician is both a performer and a composer. My job is to focus on the element of surprise while finding a balance between all the exotic combinations.
How would you describe the Nervous City Orchestra to someone who has never heard of it?
It's like a playground, where you jump from one toy to the next. The most important thing is that musicians have an open space to play their music and develop their personal style. My job is just to make the cuts, edit, and write some of the musical refrains. Then Benton-C Bainbridge's images make the music jump out of the stage and run through urban landscapes.
So what advice do you give to starving artists who want to make a living?
Try to cook for yourself.
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