This article discusses multichannel sound installations created for an exhibition at Galleria Solar Ferrão during a residency at the Sacatar Foundation in Bahia, Brazil. The project commemorated the 110th anniversary of artist/mystic Walter Smetak’s birth (1913, Switzerland - 1984, Brazil). Leonard's multichannel audio pieces were composed using recordings of alto saxophone processed in real-time using Max, field recordings, and unpublished archival recordings of Walter Smetak playing instruments of his design, used with the permission of his family.

Presented by: Neil Leonard

This article discusses the multichannel sound installations I created and the exhibition I curated during 2023 residency at the Sacatar Foundation in Bahia, Brazil. My project commemorated the 110th anniversary of artist/mystic Walter Smetak’s birth (1913, Switzerland - 1984, Brazil). My installations, along with ten of Smetak’s sound sculptures, were exhibited at Galeria Solar Ferrão in Salvador, Bahia from April to June 2023. Through my project, I explored a personal synthesis of ideas, sounds, and images, investigating the interconnection of cultures from the global North and the South.

I drew inspiration from Smetak's transdisciplinary practice. In Switzerland, Smetak began his career as a cellist and luthier, and then, living in Bahia, extended this foundation to create a transdisciplinary practice that incorporated composition, improvisation, musical instrument design, painting, sculpture, and poetry, anticipating contemporary cultural and aesthetic practices. He was influenced by the local artistic milieu and also mentored key figures in Bahia's Tropicalia movement, including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Tom Zé.

During my seven-week residency at Sacatar on Itaparica Island, I explored Smetak's connections to the local communities, as well as the natural splendor of the island. I was drawn to one of Smetak's most ambitious creations: a 22-meter high pyramid-shaped temple of the Brazilian Eubiose Society, inaugurated in 1983.

My installation, 'Frequências Futuras,' comprises bamboo replicas of the pyramid-temple and accompanying obelisk on Itaparica, video projection with images of the temple, and sound. The multi-channel audio composition is composed of recordings of my alto saxophone, electronic sounds, field recordings, and interviews conducted at the temple with members of the society. Audio is played via custom-made speakers housed in calabash gourds situated at the base of the temple replica.

My installation, 'O Espírito Sopra,' includes a single-channel video with images from Smetak’s family album, photographs from Itaparica, my on-site videos, and sound. The multichannel sound incorporates my alto saxophone, electronics, and field recordings of the island. In this installation, I explore the connective tissue of Smetak's life, including his time with his family on the island.

The exhibition sparked conversations among thousands of visitors. For many, these in-person gatherings to create and reflect on art were the first connections they had experienced since the COVID-19 lockdown began in Brazil three years before.

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