Note: This text was initially published in the form of liner notes for EcoMúsica | Aves. Thank you, Flau, Fábio Caramuru, and Todd B. Gruel, for allowing this text to be repurposed in another form…
Fábio Caramuru’s music is colorful as terra roxa, a reddish purple soil found near his homeland of São Paulo, Brazil. Just like the fertile mix of minerals, gases, and liquids which enriches the ground for plant life, Caramuru’s work mixes fields such as cinema, music, and dance which prepare the heart for harvest. His music is earthy, yet precise. His chosen instrument is the piano: 88 keys coloring one ivory rainbow.
Early on, Caramuru split his interests between two vocational interests. In addition to studying music, a time-based practice involving the geometry of silence and sound, he also studied architecture, a space-based practice involving the geometry of shadow and light. Perhaps his music reflects the architecture he admired as a child while walking along Avenida Paulista: lush European buildings with generous gardens and porches.
Caramuru’s musical structures, however, are not built from stone, steel, or concrete; rather from soul, feathers, and ocean breezes. Perceived from a bird’s-eye view, his music seems clear as a blueprint: the harmonies fuse surface with center while the melodies appear bright as white lines on a blue background. Fortunately, wandering through his compositions does not require a hard hat or technical degree. Appreciating Caramuru’s world of sound requires only a warm sense of wonder.
Brazil is a country of contrasts. Its megadiverse landscapes encompass plains, mountains, swamps, and forests. Although the inspiration for EcoMúsica | Aves occurred while Caramuru was traveling abroad, mingling with a different culture and geography, a lingering background of people and places remains central in all of his work.
“I can say Aves was totally inspired by the Japan tour made in April and May, 2017. I traveled about 1000 km, visiting eight cities, from Tokyo to Fukuoka, from east to west, playing to a special audience, discovering a completely new landscape, observing interesting urban configurations, listening to many sounds, meeting extremely kind and sensitive people. It was not a commissioned work, but a spontaneous tribute to that incredible culture. The album was accomplished very quickly, only three months after my arrival in Brazil.”
EcoMúsica | Aves swings between extremes of rhythm, melody, color, and texture. Flitting from phrase to phrase with the flick of a wing, its 20 songs sit perched one moment before exploding into flight the next. Some songs forage alone in the rain; others flock south to warmer climates. From birth to first flight, courtship to heartbreak, nest building to migration, the feathered souls within EcoMúsica | Aves are represented musically. Caramuru’s compositions celebrate the sheer joy of singing, grateful for full stomachs and bright skies.
Beyond beaks and talons, Aves is an extension of EcoMúsica, an ongoing project dedicated to studying Nature as a whole. More than a tribute to any single species, EcoMúsica communes with various sounds and images of life. Modeling form after function, Caramuru’s methods of composition are as dynamic as Nature’s methods of evolution.
“My creative process started by selecting the birds’ sounds. I took the criteria of diversity and musicality while considering the potential of how these sounds would interact with the piano. Having about 40 preselected recorded birds, I made some quick experiments while just improvising over them, trying to create some initial structures and motifs. I then selected 20 birds, having roughly in mind the way they could fit with my piano.
After this, my sound engineer prepared the birds’ foundation tracks, creating loops of about 5-minute duration for each track. During about one month, I improvised with this material, crystallizing motifs and structures, making several notes, and recording myself with these sounds to check the results and to improve the ideas. Note that I’m talking about improvisation.
Finally, during two recording sessions, using headphones to listen to the bird sounds, I recorded several takes, having the structures in mind, but always free to improvise while open to new ideas that frequently emerge. During the editing process, I gave the final format to each track, and made the “sound design” of the birds (when exactly they appear in the music, as well as setting the musical dynamics, and making adjustments in their combination with the piano).”
EcoMúsica | Aves represents the pinnacle of Caramuru’s work so far—merging a love of nature with a unifying musicality.
“Indeed, I guess this is unique because this work represents a synthesis of all my experiences so far. A mature work, it’s the result of my passion for several musical styles and genres of music, and of my unconditional love for nature. I began my career as a classical pianist, expanding my work field as a recognized performer of Brazilian music (Tom Jobim, Camargo Guarnieri, Heitor Villa-Lobos), an improviser, and a composer. This is not a “Brazilian” work at all. I think it sounds universal.”
If Caramuru could be any bird, he would be a seabird, gracefully spanning water and air, equally at home roosting in the canopy of an old growth forest as bobbing in the center of the Atlantic. Beyond a tribute to specific birds, the 20 songs on EcoMúsica | Aves also function as a tribute to specific people—the fans and friends that he made while traveling. Music, like love, is a force that cannot be seen; but when it whispers with quiet wings within one’s heart, it lifts one higher—and higher—toward a heavenly sky where we all belong.
Birds sing. Flowers bloom. Pianos take flight.
1) Japanese Robin (Komadori)
A Japanese Robin calls thinly in forest fog, “see-see-see-see-see.” Soft Oriental piano lines weave through pinholes with careful strides. If Komadori were hosting a royal ball, the costume would include feathered hats and velvet capes; and the dance would mirror the French Baroque: courtly and smooth, flowing with lace and gold filigree.
2) Whistling Green Pigeon (Zuakaaobato)
The repeated “poaapooaaoo” from the Whistling Green Pigeon echoes the tone of the Shakuhachi, a five-holed Japanese bamboo clarinet. Caramuru weaves the airy bird song with phrases falling in D minor. A tropical sweetness lingers in the air. Smelling of pine, a damp wind ruffles curtains delicate as doilies. Zuakaaobato is best served with tea beneath a parasol while birds pick fruit from canopies.
3) Eurasian Wigeon (Hidorigamo)
Rowdy rhythms tumble mid-air with the Eurasian Wigeon. The keys shift quickly, leaving a lopsided grin where a root note should be. Hidorigamo echoes an elastic refrain curiously inspired by the opening song “People” from Barbra Streisand’s movie Funny Girl. Yet its elegant ambiance transcends pop reference with a French influence in phrasing and delicacy of touch. Known for being quite the hungry land grazer—picking insects from pondweeds—the lone bird whistles a scratchy “whee-OOO!,” gleaming with sunshine and glee.
4) Common Cuckoo (Kakkou)
The Common Cuckoo is a resourceful mimic which lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. The male sings in the key of E flat with nearly perfect pitch: “Coo-koo, coo-koo.” Caramuru plays peekaboo with the perky bird, bobbing and weaving on spindly legs as if skating across an oil slick. Some cultures regard the Common Cuckoo like the groundhog: hearing its song signals the start of Spring.
5) Japanese Grosbeak (Ikaru)
In a run of four fluted notes, “keekeekohkee,” the Japanese Grosbeak calls out from the fringe of a hazy hillside. Rising and falling on feathered wings, the keyboard floats like vapor—swelling by night, fading by day. Beginning with grace notes hushed by slow snowfall, drowsy chords blacken out the moon, drifting under logs and over treetops, in slinking minor key.
6) White-bellied Green-Pigeon / Japanese Green Pigeon (Aobato)
With the sound of childhood blown through bamboo pipes, the White-bellied Green pigeon calls out with simple joy: “Ahoh ah oh.” The birds’ earthy phrases sweep from highs to lows as Caramuru frames the Japanese Green Pigeons in playful meters, fluttering beside them in parallel fifths. All throughout, the bashful birds remain hidden, flitting from branch to branch, fluttering through beams of light.
7) Japanese Bush Warbler (Uguisu)
Known as the Japanese Nightingale, the Bush Warbler may be plain in plumage, yet it is highly prized in Japanese culture. When not the subject of homage in haiku and renga, its dung has been used to make facials since ancient times—even Buddhist monks applied it to their bald scalps as polish. With Beethovian reverence, the keyboard glides through a C major scale, peeling notes from a lonely rose: soft petals plucked, then blown towards a forest floor where the little bird peeks through bamboo woods while calling loudly: “Hoh, hokekyo!”
8) Tundra Swan (Kohakuchou)
Bobbing with a heavy head, the keyboard parades through ceremonial drills. At the end of a long day, the Tundra Swan gathers with its flock to roost. Caramuru weaves heavy keys around the bathing flock, splashing together while honking in spastic contractions. As sun sets over an icy pond, the black-billed birds socialize freely: some tousling for territory; others spooning with their mates.
9) Whimbrel (Chuushakushigi)
If J. S. Bach had ever visited a Taoist shrine, he may have seen the Whimbrel’s long, down-curved bill probing for food in mudflats. High-stepping in wet sand, the throaty Whimbrell twitters repeatedly: “Pip-pip-pip-pip-pip-pip!” While some birds wade through water for food, some composers wade through ruins for music. Enough to please the forefathers, Chuushakushigi is slow and skeletal, yet ripples with rich harmony.
10) Little Cuckoo (Hototogisu)
The Little Cuckoo may be a humble bird; but its wings are hardly bashful: carrying it to altitudes over a mile. Often found in scrubby woodland along the water’s edge, its beady red eyes blink through thick shrubs. With notes softly rounded, the piano swings with a joyful waltz in the manner of Richard Rodgers. The Little Cuckoo’s nasal song skirts Caramuru’s keyboard, bobbing gently, fluttering like butterflies.
11) Oriental Reed Warbler (Ooyoshikiri)
Sunlight flickers across plum blossoms in a quiet park. Beyond the empty street, an Oriental Reed Warbler sits perched on a TV antenna, gossiping its eager song: “kirukkirukkiruk, jeejeejee.” Caramuru, with the patience of a saint, humors the chatty socialite, modulating into a merry march: the left hand plucks patterns in pizzicato; the right hand whispers with the bubbly bird.
12) Black Woodpecker (Kumagera)
Thin enough to catch a passing draft, an eerie melody slinks through thick fog. The corn field rustles with the slightest breeze—a fitting mood for The Twilight Zone. While a Black Woodpecker bores holes in dead trees, prying out grubs with its sharp beak, Caramuru drifts beside the noisy bird, playing skewed blues skunked on Halloween punch. A scarecrow hangs limply in the middle of the field, straw poking through sleeves, its button eyes watching colors fade from the evening sky.
13) Scaly Thrush (Toratsugumi)
Full of lilacs and sweet longing, the Scaly Thrush echoes the heartbeat of a romantic. Caramuru’s piano pedals pearly notes thick with reflection, its scales unfurling upward. Mirroring the Scaly Thrush’s mechanical whistling, “twee…tuuu…tuu…tuuu,” Caramuru pivots around repeating notes, pacing empty spaces between phrases. With a lacey latticework of C-scaled pirouettes, Toratsugumi could be just the perfect song for a candle-lit dinner.
14) Japanese Leaf Warbler (arctic-type bird) / Arctic Warbler (Mebosomushikui)
Hidden deep in willow thickets, a Japanese Leaf Warbler tweets an earthy “Cho-cho-cho-ri” (a song memorized in Japanese as “money collector”). Trilling sharply, “Jee-jee-jee-jee-jee-jee,” a group of Arctic Warblers hover near hedges while foraging for mayflies. In a nod to “samba-canção,” slowly moaning for lost love, Caramuru’s lonely keys first hang like autumn leaves—red, yellow, purple—before gliding to the damp grass below.
15) Carrion Crow (Hashibosogarasu)
For far too long, Poe’s black-winged muse, the Carrion Crow, has tarnished man’s imagination. In the tradition of ancient German Choir, with sincere respect, Caramuru softens the crow’s rough “kraa-kraa”-ing with a soulful melody. Through the empathy of song, Hashibosogarusu petitions for a reconsideration of the misunderstood scavenger. After all, the bird’s habits, like its plumage, are misleading: what appears black from a distance is actually iridescent.
16) Japanese Sparrowhawk (Tsumi)
Dangling a melody from puppet strings, limber piano prances alongside the Japanese Sparrowhawk, chattering “Pyoh-Pyo- Pyo-Pyo.” The breezy keys jingle jangle in place, darting among hedges before swinging upward in zigzagging lines. A bouncy keyboard whirls alongside the bird of prey, circling a silent garden, hungrily awaiting the next whiskered rodent.
17) Chinese Hwamei (Gabichou)
Due to its melodic song, the Chinese Hwamei has become a popular cage bird. Named after the Chinese word for “painted eyebrow,” the clown-faced creature often imitates the song of other birds. The Chinese Hwamei whistles a scratchy song from a chain link fence while Caramuru’s piano catches every passing draft: ivory keys rustling with tall grass in the schoolyard below. Gabichou ends with air and fading sunlight, vaporous as evening mist.
18) Water Rail (Kuina)
Deep in a humid marsh, a Water Rail calls with a pig-like squealing. Referred to as “sharming,” Water Rails use the odd call when defending their territory for foraging or nesting: “groo-groo-gruuueeit-gruit-groo-gru.” Caramuru mirrors his winged friend with a ternary rhythm which is elegantly moody. The bass plods in place while the treble twinkles serenely.
19) Mountain Hawk-Eagle (Kumataka)
Kumataka opens with a seesawing piano pulsing between highs and lows. A Mountain Hawk-Eagle sits quietly on swaying treetops. But this swift bird is quite vocal when in company, calling “Po-hee, po-hee” with a shrill piping. Echoing the bird song with airtight keys, the piano throbs with nervous energy; the right hand plinks angular patterns as the left hand wanders restlessly.
20) White-naped Crane (Manazuru)
Roosting in wet meadows, the White-naped Crane can be easily identified by its pink legs and red face. Quick and angular, the long-necked bird hollers “Gyurr” repeatedly. Bobbing beside the crane’s head above shallow water, the keyboard curls around the sparse calls, fluttering upwards, then downwards again. Splitting a channel in the center of the keyboard, Caramuru taps a playful rhythm packed with physical comedy—shuffling along with big shoes and wooden canes.