Projeto Arcomusical is “a world music sextet reimagining the Afro-Brazilian berimbau through unique and powerful chamber music.” Spinning in the Wheel is the second album by this Decalb, Illinois-based sextet co-founded by American composers, percussionists and berimbau-ists Gregory Beyer and Alexis C. Lamb.
A member of the musical bow family found around the world, the Brazilian berimbau is an essential accompaniment of capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art combining elements of dance, acrobatics and instrumental and vocal music. At first glance a simple instrument, the berimbau has at least six distinct parts. It includes a wooden bow and steel string, a beater to strike the string with, a small stone or coin pressed against the string to change the pitch, a gourd-like shell secured to the berimbau amplifying/modulating the string in conjunction with the player’s body, and a small rattle held in the stick hand. Using all these sound modifiers the berimbau is capable of a large range of expression, especially when several musicians are involved. Arcomusical’s six berimbaus allow the production of an extended number of tones making possible extended-range melodies, harmonies and spatial effects. In only a few years it has toured widely and commissioned over 30 new scores.
Chief among them is Roda (2016) by American composer Elliot Cole. An engaging and impressive four-movement, 20-minute work, it’s the most substantial musical statement on Spinning in the Wheel.
I was initially drawn to the novelty of Arcomusical’s instrumentation, but after just a few minutes of listening to Spinning in the Wheel I found its music clearly conceived and passionately performed.