What do you get when you cross Brazil with New York? The unique sound of Arto Lindsay. Phil Johnson spoke to him
The sensual, sand-between-the-toes, sound of Brazilian samba is mixed with the industrial noise of what could well be a sampled chainsaw, along with strange, distorted, hip-hop loops. Deadpan vocals are so languid that they verge on the narcoleptic. Unusually literate lyrics sung in both English and Portuguese evoke the structuralist anthropology of Levi- Strauss and the surrealist love poetry of Paul Eluard. And who could forget the rat-tat-tat rhythms of drum and bass beaten out on home-made percussion instruments as if by an Amazon tribesman with a shortwave radio tuned in to the best London pirate stations?

The music of New Yorker Arto Lindsay's recent albums (released in this country by Rykodisc) is inspiringly good, and quite unique. Now, following O Corpo Sutil and Mundo Civilizado, a third album, Noon Chill, has just been released. It is every bit as good as its predecessors and may even be better: it's difficult to tell just yet as Lindsay's music needs time to grow on you. Like the Brazilian music it simultaneously quotes from and deconstructs, it can't be hurried.

The singularity of the music stems from Lindsay's background. A child of American missionaries, he grew up in Brazil in the Sixties, speaking both English and Portuguese, and attended Brazilian schools. Returning to the US to attend college, he later became part of the punk-inspired downtown New York music scene with the group DNA. As a guitarist he played with the Lounge Lizards, Brian Eno and John Zorn, and founded the Golden Palaminos and the Ambitious Lovers. With a foot in the camps of both art- rock and the free jazz avant-garde, Lindsay is one of that select band of unerringly hip New Yorkers - like John Lurie, the leader of the Lounge Lizards - who appeal worldwide, especially in Japan.

Thus it was from Japan that the invitation to record his version of Brazilian music first came, and this led in turn to the recent trilogy of albums. "A friend in Japan got a label deal and asked me to do a bossa nova record", Lindsay says. "I said I'd do an album about bossa nova. With this third album I've gone a little further than that." Between them the three albums call upon an A-list of backing musicians and collaborators that is both impressive and cool, including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bill Frisell, Brian Eno, DJ Spooky and Melvin Gibbs.

Of his Brazilian background Lindsay (who looks too forbiddingly cerebral to be the composer of such sensuous and often sexy music), says: "I never feel completely American, and I never feel completely unBrazilan. And Brazil is on the way. Economically and socially it has a long way to go but it's really moving forward, and culturally it has been a part of the modern world all along.

"In the Fifties and Sixties people in America thought Brazil was full of dancing natives, but now they're beginning to understand that it was ahead of its time. When I was a teenager in the Sixties, the Tropicalismo movement was incredibly sophisticated, aware of both classical and ethnic or folk music and the whole relativity of musical styles."

Lindsay has retained close links with contemporary Brazilian music, and has performed at the South Bank with the leading figure of the Tropicalismo movement (which in the Sixties turned popular music into a protest against the governing regime), Caetano Velosa. But - thankfully for fans of his punk roots - despite the lulling acoustic guitar textures and the incomparably romantic songs of love he has taken from Brazil, Lindsay still has a serious interest in noise. "When I started to make music I was pigeon-holed by the press as extreme, and I was very naive", he says. "There was always melody in my music, but my own idea of melody is probably broader than most people's. I'm very interested in song-forms, but I'm still extreme and I do have an audience for different kinds of things. But I've always mixed things up. Even in DNA, I used Portuguese lyrics and Brazilian rhythms, and with the Ambitious Lovers I began to mix samba with elements of funk and noise music. Since then the whole notion of noise has been absorbed into the mainstream, through hip-hop and alternative rock."

Lindsay has also been using the drum and bass patterns which appear on Mundo Civilizado and Noon Chill (which includes an additional CO of remixes) for some time.

For Noon Chill, the Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos played the jungle rhythms on real instruments, in real time - a feat that is usually regarded as impossible. "We tried to slow the tape down to half-speed for him, but he had one practice and then said `Don't bother', and just did it. Everybody's jaw in the studio dropped."

Noon Chill is on Rykodisc.

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