Silvia Okun ... Klang.Som.Sound

Critic from 17.06.2009

Author / Medium: Article: Silvia Ocougne’s Wandering Guitar By Livio Tragtenberg in Revista XVIII- São Paulo, 2009

The journey taken by  composer and guitarist  Silvia Ocougne, born in São Paulo, but living in Berlin, Germany, is related to a sensitive diaspora. 
In our country [Brazil], which is filled with deaf musicians, where the same is often heard, diversity and creativity when not physically exiled  become encapsulated in niches or even survive underground, even if full of energy and creativity.  .
Graduated  from the University of São Paulo (USP) in 1984 in music, after having studied guitar with Manoel São Marcos, Edgar Poças and Paulo Bellinati, among others; on that same year Silvia was awarded a full scholarship from CAPES  to study ”Third Stream“ at the New England Conservatory in Boston, USA, where she obtained a Masters in Performance in 1986.
To a certain degree, she followed in the family’s footsteps: her grandparents came from  Minsk Belarus,  Moldova and Berlin and settled in Brazil around the First World War. 
 Silvia’s guitar, or rather, Silvia’s guitars, as she reinvents the instrument, which unfolds into several personalities, from the Arabic descendants, “viola de coxo” from Mato Grosso, to the “prepared “cavaquinho”   summarize and reprocess this cultural diaspora. .
I had the opportunity to see her perform at the  2005 Festival Maerzmusik, in Berlin, a solo presentation where she played alternately more than a dozen string instruments, from small toy guitars, lutes, all kinds of violas, prepared, adapted and so on; all with extreme fluency and sound finesse taking us on a journey through rich landscapes.
Moreover, this is one of the most important characteristics of her musical creation. When incorporating the most diverse styles, languages and instruments, she recreates them in a very personal manner, which may be heard, for example, in the CDs Ping Pong Anthropology, with the Gruppe XIIIth Tribe, Berlin, 1993  (Recommended), and Animal Magnetism with the “Orchestra of Excited Strings“ 1996, (Tzadek), released in Germany in the 1990s.  Silvia plays with several improvisation groups in Germany.
She has also played with composers Carlo Domeniconi, Arnold Dreyblatt  and Daniel Ott among others. Domeniconi is a very important Italian composer and guitarist, a reference in the field.,
Silvia Ocougne also belongs to a generation of musicians dissatisfied with the boundaries of style, while humorous, such as  Premeditando o Breque, Língua de Trapo, and Arrigo Barnabé, among others. This vein was very well explored in the CD Música Brasileira De(s)composta, with Chico Mello, Berlin, 1997, (Wandelweiser), created in collaboration with Chico Mello, a composer from Paraná, who has also been living in Berlin for a long time,. In it, songs by Adoniran Barbosa become soundscapes incorporating  John Cage and  minimalism: pure invention.
Also with Mello, she released the  CD Violão de dois , 2001 (Oakmus) in a new attempt in affective deconstruction of Brazilian music. A gesture of nostalgia typical of someone who lives away from their own country? Maybe so. But above all, the idea of reinventing oneself, and observing, in a broader context, the reinvention of the personality and the function of the musician nowadays, where the industrial-scale urban music imposes on us a standard of homogenized music consumption.
How can you survive such standardization?
Silvia Ocougne, as a stray troubadour, with lutes and viola de coxo in hand, moves through modern music festivals in Europe and Asia, such as Ton gegen Ton, Vienna; Bang on a Can, NY, USA;  Jazz Festival Salzburg; New Music Festival Nancy; Festival Gamlebyen, Oslo, 1994; University Bosphorus , Istanbul; Festival of Visions, Hong Kong, and so many others.
 Currently, she is a significant name in the international musical scenario, namely on improvised music, an area so little known in Brazil.
Silvia Ocougne has also developed an extensive curatorial work in music festivals in Germany, where she has blazed the way for Brazilian musicians to perform under exceptional conditions, such as at the  Maerzmusik, where in  2005 she organized a concert with the instruments and the music of Walter Smetak, our microtonal grandfather, where I was able to participate along with  Tuzé de Abreu, Thomas Groetzmacher, Tato Taborda and Wilson Sukorski. This concert was performed with instruments invented by Smetak, who suffers with the lack of cultural vision in their region.
She also organized the  Festival Quasi Amazonia, at the  Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, 2000, where Brazilian contemporary creation which is not at the academy, our “Tomb of the Samba” was showcased.
Silvia been an informal ambassador in  Berlin, not allowing our onerous official cultural services to eternally reproduce the hegemonic vision that Brazilian culture limits to mulattoes, carnival and “axé”.
 As a composer, Silvia Ocougne has created pieces such as Ale Orum, a composition for Wind Orchestra, premiered by Neue Musik Rümlingen, in Switzerland.
Her work unfolds into collaborations for movies such as The pursuit of Happiness by Jimmie Durham, Berlin/France;  Days of Miendi, directed by Ingly Ma; Berlin/Beijing (in collaboration with Jan Schade) and São Paulo de  Juó Bananére, directed by João Claudio Sena, Brazil, among others.
Collaboration is a constant in her creative modus operandi. The old model of the erudite, romantic composer, still so reproduced by our “contemporaries” who dream of becoming an encyclopedia entry is replaced by the joint creation, especially in collective creation groups and improvised music  which may be heard in  CDs The Perfect Record for the Armchair Traveller, Berlin, 2001, (Recommended) and A Classic Guide To No Man´s Land, with XIIIth Tribe and Armchair Traveller, Berlin, 2003; (Recommended, track Man´s Land).
Upon my invitation, she participated in the recording of music for the performance of the dance-theater pieces Pasolini, Testament des Korpers in Hamburg and Othello in Stuttgart with Brazilian dancer Ismael Ivo in Stuttgart in the 1990s.
Just like Yiddish, which according to Isaac Bashevis Singer holds “unknown treasures” musical improvisation has collected through time numerous secrets, which, in general, were despised by the so-called “cultured” musicians. By gathering a wide variety of techniques and musical forms, improvisation recovers, in the current musical scene, the space for the meeting of oral and rural traditions in the context of free creation. And  Silvia is one of the most creative representatives of this musical practice. Her work is still awaiting for greater dissemination in Brazil for our pleasure.
Livio Tragtenberg is a composer and the creator of the  Orquestra de Músicos das Ruas de São Paulo.  (translated by Renée Ocougne)