If you were on the hunt for this long out of print seminal LP of the early 90s’ portuguese electronic scene, you’d better keep reading! The quality of this reissue will probably make you forget that there ever was an original run.
Here at Midinout we’ve already covered quite a few reissue and compilation albums in our last batch of reviews, from labels such as Analog Africa or Habibi Funk. But quite often these types of labels and LPs focus on relatively “remote” times and forgotten realms of music, so it feels kind of strange when something like a reissue Mr. Wollogallu comes out of the sleeve. A new print of a 90s album? Is this already ancient by today’s standards, or are my wrinkles getting larger than I thought?
Probably it’s a bit of both, but the main reasons behind these new prints of old (or not so old) works are always the same, regardless of their age: scarcity, high demand and cult status of the original piece (three aspects that are often deeply interconnected). Mr. Wollogallu had been sold lately at prices close to (or even surpassing) the 250 euro mark in sites like Discogs, so it was natural that the interest for a reissue was there, and Barcelona label Urpa i Mussel (a small but excellently curated imprint, closely associated with the city’s Discos Paradiso vinyl shop) was quick to see this as a great addition to their slowly growing catalog.
So the ultimate question is: is the high demand and the “legend” behind this album deserving of such reissue? Let’s find out!
The story behind Mr. Wollogallu is quite special. The album captures the sound of a very specific moment both in Portuguese music history and in Nuno and Carlos Maria’s lives. Before this record came to be Canavarro had already been doing music with the bands Street Kids and Delfins, and he had also recently released the 1988 underground classic “Plux Quba”, a record that would later prove to be very influential in the global experimental electronic scene (and that recently saw it’s own reissue under the Drag City label).
On the other hand, Trindade was recovering from the split of his former band Heróis do Mar, and he hadn’t yet joined -worldwide famous group- Madredeus, so it was also a fairly unique moment of musical transition for him. Nuno and Carlos Maria actually had never collaborated before the recording of Mr. Wollogallu but, fortunately enough, they got in contact through mutual friend António Cunha, and after their first live performance together they decided to team up for this once in a lifetime release.
The sound of Mr. Wollogallu is certainly quite specific, and this probably has a lot to do with the tools of choice that the duo decided to set up in their DIY Cascais studio. Thanks to Urpa i Mussel’s attention to detail, all of these technical aspects are excellently documented in the extra sleeves of the LP’s reissue (there’s even a detailed studio plan in there!), something that gearheads such as myself really do enjoy. In the pictures and diagrams you can spot a fine collection of samplers (such as the classic s-950 from AKAI) and early digital synthesizers like the Yamaha DX-7 or the Roland D-50.
Keyboards like the aforementioned D-50 are closely related to the sound of so-called “new age” music (for example, Enya’s “Watermark” and “The Memory of Trees” albums owe a lot to this LA synthesis workhorse), so it’s natural that you can hear some “new agey” synthetic textures in tracks such as “Truth” or “Antica / Burun”. But this influence is just one of the many you could pinpoint in a release as eclectic as this one, and the ambient, dreamy new-age sounds (reverb heavy synth strings, etc.) often share the stereo field with ghostly tribal-like voices (such as those on the 2nd cut, “Guiar”) or percussion patterns more akin to a “world-music” styled LP.
As you can read on the accompanying folded pages inside the sleeve, the album was made at a rather calm pace (it took more than five months to complete) while both artists were into tapes of African and Middle-Eastern music, and many of the album’s songs clearly reflect those influences. Oftentimes a few of these references are even mixed together into one of the tracks. Such is the case of “Blu Terra”, that starts with some vocal samples reminiscent of an African ritual, accompanied by fairly Turkish-sounding introductory melodies; but that later on becomes increasingly more electronic as the song progresses, and ultimately adds, to top it off, some Brazilian-like bongo and conga rhythms.
Other cuts like the guitar driven “Plan” or the rather pianistic “West”, while more traditional and “first world” in essence (ie: closer to classical music or blues/rock), feature some very interesting chord progressions and unexpected tonal changes that can still make them sound surprising to a westerner’s ear. You can also hear quite an eclectic mix of western influences here, for example the track “S. Louise” seems to echo the experimental aesthetics of Stockhausen’s “Mikrophonie” or Messiaien’s “Oraison”, yet its clean digital sound and pseudo-arabic melodies somehow turn it into something completely different.
There’s also a -maybe unintended?- soundtrack vibe in many of the songs, like in “Segredos M” or “Ven 5”, whose FM glockenspiel sounds and playful arpeggios could’ve been featured in any of Danny Elfman’s OSTs of that very same era. And if you’re into ambient you can even find a few cuts (such as Aelux) that go into pure “proto-IDM” territory, substituting actual song structure with sustaining textures, noise bursts and reverb tails.
Summing up, this is a great re-release with crystal clear sound and some very cool extra graphic content and written material, that will no doubt please long time Canavarro and Trindade fans, while it will also let the younger generations (re)discover this forgotten gem. Urpa i Mussel’s main goal is -as they declare themselves- to make the music they love available to everybody, and they have delivered that in style. Of course this is not an album for everyone -its heavy use of samples and digital synthesis can make it sound a bit “dated”, and might put some analog purists off-, but those who do care will surely appreciate this reissue.
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.