Alexander Search: The Marriage of Music with the Multiplicity of Being
Written by Andreia Monteiro on April 19, 2018
The radio recording room is occupied by five mythical figures. Benjamin Cymbra, the singer, fills the silence with the sound of a breeze he simulates with his mouth and hands. Augustus Search, on the keyboard, is focused on mixing sounds that transmit a transcendental ambiance. “And in a strange way undefined/ Lose in the one living Whole”, A Day of Sun starts to appear. A light that reminds everyone in the room of the multiplicity of being and the restrictions all human beings face within themselves. “The limit that I call my mind,/ The bounded thing I call my soul”.
Júlio Resende is the Portuguese pianist who gives life to Augustus Search and the composer of the songs of this project. While Fernando Pessoa, the poet honoured by Alexander Search’s band, had several heteronyms, Júlio has various projects and passions. At only 4 years old, he started to play the piano and, by joining the music conservatory, soon discovered that he had an urge for improvement. Thus, he enrolled in courses that allowed him to work with masters from Hot Club, New School for Jazz, Contemporary Music, Berklee College of Music and Bill Evans Academy. Besides his journey in jazz, he has also taken an undergraduate course in philosophy. Without wanting to limit himself, he started to think about improving in other musical genres. This way, after launching projects such as “You Taste Like a Song”, he started to work with Fado, a traditional Portuguese music genre. In 2013, he joined tradition with modernity by revisiting some of Amália’s songs, one of the most important singers of the history of Fado, and launched a new important album – Amália. More recently, he decided to jump into a new challenge.
Music does not exist isolated from the world. It tells us stories and establishes relationships with various fields. Is there a more beautiful marriage than the one between music and literature? In 2016, we saw how this marriage could be fruitful with Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize Lecture. Now, Júlio Resende and Fernando Pessoa marry talents in a project called Alexander Search.
Fernando Pessoa was not only a Portuguese poet, but also one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century. He is particularly known for the others he impersonated in his writings, having more than seventy heteronyms with independent identities and lives of their own. Alexander Search is one of the semi-heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa. He was created in 1899, when the poet was a student and lived in South Africa. Alexander Search wrote multiple poems in English, like A Day in the Sun. In a conversation with Júlio, he stated he had a passionate relationship with Fernando Pessoa, which he likes to share. “Fernando Pessoa is a poet and a writer, one head and an indomitable spirit. A genius. He gives happiness to who reads him and also many challenges”.
When asked about the choice of the semi-heteronym Alexander Search, Júlio explains that he is a symbol of the English heteronomy and that not all the poems on the album are from him. “Alexander Search is the symbol of the English heteronyms and, at the same time, it has the name Search, which is a beautiful word. Also, he was born in the same day Fernando Pessoa did. I think he is a good symbol that works as an entry to all the other heteronyms”.
Despite having his roots in jazz, Júlio composed these songs in a tone of electronic rock with indie-pop influences. “I did not chose that genre, it chose me. Those poems were written with the adolescent language of Fernando Pessoa, when he was between 18 and 23 years old, having an adolescent and juvenile tone. At the same time, it shows signs of emancipation, innocence and rebellion. At the end, he already showed great signs of mastery by this early age. He had a good domain of words and of what the poetic expression can tell of the human being. Maybe the rock spirit is the one which pronounces that attitude and youth more clearly”. However, this is not a band that limits itself to a musical genre, but proposes to be multiple like the idea of art of the poet. Actually, Júlio guarantees that the musicians “are capable of doing unconventional things during their performances”.
All the musicians impersonate characters, still waiting to be fully discovered, inspired by the imaginary world of Fernando Pessoa. The details go from a single identity for each of these characters to the physicality of the musicians on stage and their cloths, as you can see in this concert. In addition, the band is constructed upon an enthralling narrative. This is a band, which uses the English language, and was born in South Africa, despite being settled in Portugal. Alexander Search, a member of the band that tragically died when he was young, wrote the majority of the lyrics. Nevertheless, the remaining musicians recognized him as “the greatest conqueror of the beauty of words” and decided to continue with the band giving it his name to honor him. Together they are able to take us “Far away from here/ There is no worry after joy”.
Júlio stated this was a rapid process in what concerns the skeleton of the songs. “During a month I composed all these songs. I ended up ill because of that, actually! Then, the most laborious part were the musical arrangements, the band, and letting everyone know about the group”. A group, which is a rock band that has not the fear of failing, is young and have talented jazz musicians. “I thought they were my friends and people in whom I trust a great deal. They are great musicians and I had much luck with the group that I chose”.
Benjamin Cymbra, the singer of the band who has the rock n’roll strength in his voice and lives with the anguish of the present, is interpreted by Salvador Sobral, who won the Eurovision contest last year. Sgt. William Byng, portrayed by André Nascimento, is in charge of the absorbing electronics. Mr. Tagus, impersonated by Joel Silva, is in the drums with his African groove. Marvel K., brought to live by Daniel Neto, plays a spatial electric guitar.
Finally, on the keyboards and piano, we have Augustus Search who gains life through Júlio Resende. This musician feels that being Augustus Search helps him understand who he is and what is this thing we call our soul. “It helps me understand that I do not know who I am and that being multiple, like Fernando Pessoa said, has everything to do with ourselves and accepting who we are. Thus, I am happy being others, being Augustus Search during some hours of my week and on the stages. That multiplicity helps me understand that there is no point in faking that we are only one defined thing. We are undefined and chaotic. We like many things, we stop liking them too rapidly and then we come back to liking them again. We are in constant change and in a process of ebullition, creation and dilution”. Another thing this experience added to Júlio as an artist was that it brought him “many inspiration and creativity. It allows me to meet new facets of myself and of what I am capable of doing as an artist”.
This project allows people to know poems that the majority did not know. Although the main purpose of Julio composing these songs was to reveal good music, it also works as a profitable disclosure of the work of this acclaimed poet. “The most heard radio in Portugal, Rádio Comercial, is broadcasting Alexander Search’s music and we are listening to songs that, on the one hand are 100 years old, and on the other are new and fresh. That leaves me really happy”. This is a way of bringing the poetic universe of Pessoa closer to younger generations, through music, which not only augments the connection within the artistic sphere, but also contributes to a more disseminated knowledge.
In what concerns his work with Alexander Search, Júlio reveals there will be a national tour in Portugal. The first concert is on the 18th of May, so if you are planning to go to Portugal anytime soon you should definitely go to one of their concerts in order to have a one-time experience. However, if you are not planning it, do not be demoralised! The hypothesis of going on an international tour is there, “it will take some time, but we are going to play in many countries, I hope, namely in the United States!” Overall, it would be secure to assert that one can only “Hope for the best and for the worst prepare”.
This project connects one of the best literary worlds with the music of talented Portuguese musicians who are “away from fear” and expose the value of 100 years old words to the contemporary society. By listening to Alexander Search, we are not only listening to good music, but also traveling through the dreams of the most labyrinth minds. “I love the real when I love my dreams”.
Júlio is a man of feeling. Seeing him play the piano is defying the materiality of man. Right there on the stage, where he is probably improvising beautiful melodies on the piano, the fusion between the metaphysical and material world becomes a blur. There is no time, nor place. There is only a man playing the piano in a surprising and challenging way, with a delicacy on his fingers and sudden transformations of his body. With Alexander Search, the musicians propose to achieve the quintessence through the lyrics and songs. When asked about the best way to concretize that aim, especially through the piano, Júlio gave the only possible answer a gifted musician like him could provide, “by closing our eyes”.