Arto Lindsay

A Scottish critic, talking about Arto Lindsay's first solo excursion into bossa nova balladry, O Corpo Sutil (The Subtle Body), suggested that Arto sings "in a voice that seems to have found the missing link between Woody Allen and Astrud Gilberto." A writer for The Independent in London took a similar approach: "Imagine Lou Reed backed by an industrial version of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66." While it's clear that Arto inspires writers to wax clever about his disparate influences, his music offers an even greater challenge to them: how to describe the somewhat indescribable delights of this seeming collision of cultures: a noisemaking standard-bearer of New York City avantgarde-dom exploring the simple and subdued pleasures of the bossa nova. What seems unlikely on paper proves irresistible on disc and maybe that's all there is to say, except that Arto's intimate exploration of Brazil's most sensual sound is not so unlikely after all.

Noon Chill is the third installment in Arto's solo journey. Part one, O Corpo Sutil, surprised and seduced a sophisticated audience around the world with its simple and heartfelt homage to the bossa nova. Mundo Civilizado, Arto's second solo effort, blended Brazilian rhythms with electro sounds from some of Manhattan's more forward-thinking deejays and featured all-star assistance from around the globe. Noon Chill, as its title implies, is as warm and inviting as its predecessors, but there's dissonance around the edges, as if Arto's previous incarnation in the world of noise were coming back, mischeviously, to haunt him. Arto has suggested in interviews that these records comprise a bossa nova trilogy; at the very least, it's hard to listen to just one. (And fans will surely hope that Noon Chill is merely the third in a series.)

Contemplating this music prompts one, perhaps inevitably, to think about sex since sex -- the before, the during, and the after -- seems so much a part of the bossa nova, and a taste of this music can only lead to your wanting more -- more of Arto, that is. If you start from the beginning of this trilogy, you can sense Arto's learning curve: he starts out a humble but gifted student, then adds jungly, deejay-driven sounds that have captured his New York ears and give the work a slightly surreal spin, and he ends up, on Noon Chill, with something utterly natural and confident, a starker, more percussive feeling that echoes its Brazilian roots even though it was created entirely in New York City.

New York City has been Arto Lindsay's adopted home for close to 25 years and he has always been a pioneer on the farther edges of the pop music scene, where the attitude has always been rock and roll but the results decidedly avant-garde. With DNA, a trio that defined the late-seventies "no wave" movement in New York, he supplanted melody with noise and put the "no" in new wave. As a guitarist, he conjured up a style that will forever be known as "skronk", a jittery burst of sound and inspiration that became his signature. He has since worked with the Lounge Lizards, the Golden Palominos, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, among others, and began to play around with Brazilian sounds a decade ago with the Ambitious Lovers.

But his love for Brazilian music comes from his own youth, not from the heady company he has kept. The son of missionary parents, Arto was raised in Brazil. As a boy during the sixties, he absorbed, if not fully understood, an exciting and dangerous period in Brazilian music. The Tropicalistas, young, forward-thinking musicians steeped in local traditions but looking for inspiration globally, began to combine African, European and American influences with traditional Brazilians sounds, creating a vibrant musical hybrid that the repressive military government found downright subversive. It's a period that Arto has since documented on compilations he produced, like O Samba for David Bryne's Luaka Bop label and NAME IT, and he has collaborated extensively with famed Tropicalista Caetano Veloso, who has also lent a strong melodic hand to these bossa nova records.

As a man for whom Brazil, as much as America, has been a home -- and for whom Portugeuse is not a second but a next-to-native tongue -- Arto brings an unmistakable ease and affection to this work. In this multi-part adventure that culminates -- for now -- in Noon Chill, Arto Lindsay is a cross-cultural explorer, not a tourist or a musical plunderer. To hear him sing bossa nova, in English and in Portugeuse, feels like a call from home.

It's time to attempt to codify Arto; to put a category onto an artist who exemplifies "difficult to categorize". We're here to label him; not as a soft digestible pop snack but as the international musical adventurer we would all like to be. Alas, we're not all as charming, intelligent, fearless and pleasure seeking as Arto Lindsay. A great idea man who leads with his heart, Arto is not afraid to take the outside road wherever it may lead, crossing the traditional boundaries of class, culture, genre and nation.

Mundo Civilizado is the second album in a series of albums that couple Arto's love for Brazilian music with his passion for the new and exciting in the international rhythms of pop. For Arto, a man with no shortage of underground/avant cred, there's risk involved in making music for a world larger than the hipster enclaves of downtown New York. At the risk of alienating some purists, Arto is engaging us in a dialog about a new kind of pop music. On Mundo Civilizado, Arto manages to slip with ease from Bossa Nova balladeering to illbient mixes to Drum 'n Bass beats. This time he's added in a couple of interesting cover choices in Al Green's "Simply Beautiful" and Prince's "Erotic City." And then there's Hyper Civilizado, the companion album of re-mixes, scheduled for a release in July on Gramavision. It's a lot of stylistic territory. But above it all, this really is pop music in the larger sense.

Arto has always seemed like an elder statesman, even when he was a youngster fronting DNA, one of the premier outfits of the No-Wave scene. Compared to counterparts Lydia Lunch or James Chance, Arto came across as some kind of re-discovered blues hollerer who had invented the form thirty years previous. "When I started out," he reports to us, "I thought making the most extreme noise you could make would be the quickest way to stardom."

Nearly two decades later, Arto pursues a litany of ideas and projects with unflagging energy. To this end we are at the Kampo Center, a Japanese institution for the arts in Noho, New York City. The center has a theater, workshops on brush painting and a recording studio that Arto has turned into a second home, where he has been working daily from one in the afternoon to one in the morning for the last couple of months. Already the activity is in full swing; a constantly ringing telephone, Arto speaking Portuguese to someone in Brazil, and ever graciously making the rounds of introductions. His manager Steve Cohen is organizing plans for journalists to visit, while arranging for a musician to fly in from who knows where. Arto is smoking cigarettes, hugging people, greeting visitors with surprise as the elevator doors open.

We want to understand what's motivating Arto these days. How does he approach song writing? "When I write as personally as I can it often comes out sounding really abstract. I like writing that sounds casual, but I also like writing that rips words apart. I like echoes between languages. I like finding feelings in words, not putting feelings into words."

There are production projects in the works, an Italian singer, a track to produce in Brazil, a Japanese model turned pop star who wants to work with Arto. Pat Dillett, a gifted producer in his own right (They Might Be Giants, Geggy Tah) is on board to mix this new recording. He comes in and casually mentions a completely novel concept he's developing for a multi-artist album. Musicians are wheeling in gear, effects racks and Surdos -- huge drums that Arto has brought back from Brazil. Producer Andres Levin (who has worked on everything from Chaka Khan to Diana Ross to David Byrne) is coming up with percussion ideas for a track they're currently calling "Benjamin". There are discussions of new bands that interest Arto, new gallery shows going up. He's writing a song with Laurie Anderson that may end up on the next album, which he's already finishing even as Mundo Civilizado is about to come out.

This new set of songs is being finished up at Kampo for release in Japan late this year. Money is time, time is money and the exchange rate with Japan has gone from 80 yen to the dollar, when he was making his first album, to the current 125 yen to the dollar. The recording budget is coming from Japan, so he's got to work faster! "Man I just wish we could speed up the time it takes to get my releases out. We had jungle beats and drum and bass stuff out in Japan last year, but before you know it Everything But the Girl came out and David Bowie did his record." He's moving as fast as he can!

"I want to keep recording, struggling with all my contradictions and desires and to keep making albums. My production work allows me the luxury of working on my own stuff. I've been spending so much time working around the world I'm glad for the chance to get a bit more centered in New York." So while we get ready for Mundo Civilizado, Arto's focused on the next one. "This one is going to be my Sgt. Pepper," he says. We anxiously await it!

Mundo Civilizado players:
Melvin Gibbs - bass (Rollins Band)
Andres Levin - keyboards, co-producer
DJ Spooky - samples, textures
Peter Scherer - keyboards (Ambitious Lovers)
Vinicius Cantuaria - guitars, percussion
Romero Lubambo - guitars
Dougie Bowne - drum loops (Lounge Lizards, Iggy Pop, Chris Whitley)
Mutamassik - samples (NY Dj)
Don Byron - bass clarinet
Jacques Morelenbaum - cello (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ryuichi Sakamoto, etc.)
Amadeo Pace - guitar (Blonde Redhead)
Bernie Worrell - organ (Parliament/Funkadelic, Talking Heads, etc.)
Roy Nathanson - sax (Jazz Passengers)
Marcus Rojas - tuba

Brazilian percussionists (recorded in Salvador, Bahia):
Gustavo de Dalva, Boghan, Marcio Tchin

Recent productions:
David Byrne/Marisa Monte track "Waters of March" for Red Hot and Rio album.
Marisa Monte's A Great Noise live two record set with accompanying video. Certified gold in Brazil. EMI Records
Taeko Onuki (EMI/Japan) - tracks for vocalist's album
Taro Hakase (Epic/Sony). Full album for Japanese violinist
Miki Nakatani (For Life/Japan). Tracks for vocalist.
Arto and band (M. Gibbs, A. Levin, V. Cantuaria, M. Veloso, B. Perowsky) toured Japan in November '96. Tours of Europe and Japan planned for autumn '97.

Future projects:
Full length dance piece for Amanda Miller and Pretty Ugly Dance Co.
An Evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (June 25, 1997) as part of the Meltdown Festival, curated this year by Laurie Anderson. (The two are writing a song together as well.)
Music theater piece to be premiered at Expo '98 in Lisbon, Portugal.
A Stadium show for Expo '98
Developing a recording studio in Salvador, Bahia (Brazil) with Carlinhos Brown.

Arto's record The Subtle Body was released in Japan last year on Ryuichi Sakamoto's label, and it has done quite well there. The record is thoughtful and fairly restrained, roughly in a Brazilian style as opposed to Arto's noise/downtown rock. Guests on the record include Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mark Ribot, Nana Vasconcelos, Melvin Gibbs (Rollins Band), Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto), Bill Frisell, Dougie Bowne, Cyro Baptista and Amadeo Pace (Blonde Redhead).

Arto Lindsay has been a mainstay of the NY "downtown" scene since the days of No Wave, which makes him something of a father figure to bands like Sonic Youth. (In fact the band Blonde Redhead named themselves after one of his songs.) A founding member of DNA and the Ambitious Lovers, Lindsay has also recorded and performed with Lounge Lizards, Golden Palominos, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Allen Ginsberg, Ryuichi Sakamoto and others. An American who grew up in Brazil, Arto has strong musical connections there. His production credits include Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte and David Byrne.