Luís Antero‘s 1881 is a walk into history, a celebration of exploration and a testament to the people of Portugal. In 1881, 42 intrepid adventurers left Lisbon to brave the mysterious mountains of Serra da Estrela. While the expedition was arduous, there were no wild animals to reckon with, and no bone-chilling cold. Instead they found lagoons and thermal lakes, boisterous air quality and the future site of a tuberculosis treatment center. In the end, the Society of Geography would not only map the area, but end up saving countless lives.
Antero is the perfect person to recreate the sonic experience, as he lives in the area and as such is able to separate history from myth. The four-part piece unfolds as a single 38-minute soundscape, redolent with sparkling sound. A train engine starts and stops; the bells of a herd offer natural contrast. The explorers are arriving; the sense of anticipation is palpable. And then arrives a monstrous downpour or waterfall, as if to dampen the spirits or warn, here there be dragons. But no; the birds, descendants of dragons, emerge to offer encouragement.
“neve e gelo” (“snow and ice”) is packed with cowbells and conversation. The sound of footsteps is heard beneath snorting animals. Again the water sounds like life; a settlement can be made here. At this point, Antero turns to music, a surprise in the thirteenth minute, akin to a film score. The passage comes across as confident, complementary, congenial. Already the explorers realize, none of us will die here; we will plunge ahead, perhaps as heroes. As snow and ice turn to “água e vento” (“water and wind”), the piece bursts with a relief bordering on joy.
We can hear Christopher Walken in our heads, because there is more cowbell (or to be accurate, sheep bell), leading to “o pastor e partida” (“the shepherd and departure”). An area once thought to be desolate is teeming with life, with the dynamic contrast of a rain forest. The scientists and students have returned, wrapping up one of the most joyous expeditions ever made: a test more of risk and motivation than of character and perseverance. This does not diminish their success; if anything, it makes the story even more pleasant to tell. Voices loop like a song and echo like a canyon. Hammer and nail represent the sanatorium; healing is on the way. (Richard Allen)