What’s an Eccentric Musician?

Imagine an orchard. It is called Orchard of Performing Arts. Among the many trees, Bella Dance, Oak Theatre, we can see a Clown Tree. It is not a leafy or withered tree.  But it has deep roots and an enviable flexibility. One of the branches of this clown's tree is called musical eccentric. One of its oldest branches, as old as the tree itself, bears fruit of rare beauty to the eyes and ears. But it is not a fleeting beauty.  It is the beauty of grace, of joy, of fun. The grace of making grace and music, music and grace, gives a special flavor to these fruits. A fruit that intrigues for its peculiar flavor, where it is impossible to know where the taste of grace ends and that of music begins and vice versa.  The fruits of this branch still scatter seeds that sprout without shame. Each link is a leaf or a flower of this branch.

Plastic bottles tuned with compressed air, firearms that sound like guitars, tuning of water drops... people's creativity has no limits when it comes to the creation and invention of musical instruments.  Here you will find links to building your own eccentric instrument as well as inspiration and artistic motivation.

I have been an eccentric musician for 40 years. When I joined Circo Teatro Udigrudi in 1982 I would never have imagined that this career would be so long and fruitful. From the beginning, Udigrudi has always been guided by music and musicality on stage. In the company's first performances the clowns were accompanied by the “Brothers Liga Tripa”, Caloro and Márcio Vieira. The latter always had eccentric ideas about music and making music. An engineer by training, Mació (as he is called by his friends) has always had a different way of “listening to the world”. Mació took some principles from the engineering course and applied them to acoustics. He empirically researched the construction of musical instruments and fundamentally influenced Udigrudi's creative process. Luciano Porto, MárcioVieira and Marcelo Beré are founding members of Udigrudi and are still working together.

One of the first productions by Circo Udigrudi in 1983 was Gambira Goiaba – Urban Suite.

Here an embryo was created that went on to thrive throughout the artistic career of Udigrudi and its members. A scenic musical score of homemade instruments, completely different from conventional instruments, presented in an unusual and fun way how the logic of the clown engages with the instruments and the music.

In 1998, Leo Sykes joined the company, and directed O Cano, OvO, Embarque Nessa, Lixaranga, Industrial Devolution and the short film A Casa do Mestre André. The common point of all these artistic productions is musical eccentricity. The clown members of the company brought the elements – Mació built the musical instruments, Luciano designed the sets and Beré contributed by messing up the process – to create, together with Leo, the eccentric-musical score for "musical eccentrics". Therefore, what motivates me to do this postdoc project – a databank on eccentric music – is my own experience as an eccentric musician.

But, what is eccentric?

To clarify the scope of my research, I would like to bring back some of the ideas developed during my PhD. In my theses, Poetics of the Clown, I present an approach to the clown’s practice that is under the umbrella of what I call “misfitness”. I suggest that the clown is a misfit by profession and that there are some principles of practice that define the clown. From the four principles scrutinised at the time (Objects, Relationship, Body and Logic), the logic of the clown is the one I want to highlight now. The misfit logic is at the base of clown’s practice given that “the logic of the clown is translated in action, e.g., the clown thinks with the body”. The actions of the clown reveal a different kind of logic that defy the principles of orthodoxy or everyday logic. Logic for the clown is not necessarily logic for a non-clown. A clown is what a clown does, no matter how ‘unlogic’ it might seem! The horizons of my research can be seen when this misfit logic is applied to music.

Eccentric is another name for clown. Not every eccentric is a clown, but most clowns are eccentric, not just because they sometimes dress differently or use weird make up but because they think in a way that does not fit with the conventional way of thinking. Because their thoughts are translated into visible acts, their attitude could be considered eccentric when comparedto the man in the street. Therefore, one way of defining eccentric is to correlate it to the concept of misfitness. Essentially, an eccentric is a misfit - someone that fails to fit the expected behaviour towards things and people/society. The eccentric creativity of talented performing artists does not fit in with the conventions of a conformed society and brings new light for the performing arts.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary eccentric is something or someone strange or unusual, sometimes in a humorous way – weird and unexpected, or difficult to understand – different from others of the same type in a way that is surprising, interesting, or attractive.

Alice de Castro, a Brazilian clown theorist, says “the clown is the comic figure par excellence. He is the most crazed expression of the comic: he is tragically comic. Everything that is hallucinatory, violent, eccentric, and absurd belongs to the clown. He has no commitment to any semblance of reality. The clown is pure comedy. The clown is not exclusively a circus character. It was in the circus ring that he reached the fullness and finally assumed the role of protagonist. But the name clown came long before the so-called modern circus. In fact, it would be better to say, “the names”. One of the great difficulties that most authors find when studying the origin of clowns is the profusion of names that this figure assumes at each moment and place. Clown, grotesque, rogue, silly, eccentric, tony, auguste, jockey, are just some of the most common names we use to refer to this crazy figure, capable of provoking laughter at first glance.”

According to Erminia Silva:
“The concept of eccentric gives rise to an infinity of possibilities, ranging from definitionsrelating to medically related conditions (this person is eccentric in the sense of having a mental disorder) to the attempt to call an eccentric clown “only” the one who plays “unusual” musical instruments in their shows. (…) eccentric in the sense of “out of the ordinary” with the synonyms: bizarre, weird, exceptional, exotic, extravagant, heteroclite, uncommon, irregular, fetched, singular, surprising. However, there are other ways to use the terminology for a person for being: whimsical, new, crazy, different, lunatic, maniacal, grotesque, ridiculous, extraordinary, incredible, unusual, one-of-the-type, delusional, unnatural, skipathic, funambulesque, funny, original, systematic, sophisticated, wilfull, baldo, baroque, psychedelic.”

In clown literature, Tristan Remy offers a different approach to the eccentric clown. He points out that the eccentric is a completely different to the Auguste. In the clown tradition there is the Whiteface (straight man) and the Auguste (the “idiot”). Remy affirms that “psychologically, the eccentric is the opposite …the contrary of the Auguste, the eccentric is never an imbecile. He is a crafty auguste, resourceful, artful even, who always ends up on the top. His whole science is to accumulate obstacles in sufficient quantity to have the merit of triumphing over them for once.” (Remmy 1945: 369) For the clown theorist, the eccentric was an autonomous artist. “The eccentric has no partner on which to rely for the drama. Their failures are set up not by a clown partner but by themselves. They are the victim of their own body, or of their props. They are two-in-one, having to both drive the action and fall victim to it. The Whiteface drives. The auguste needs only to react. But the eccentric must be both, intelligent enough and have enough of an idea to make things happen and set things going, and yet foolish enough to fail. (…) From the auguste as an idiot, passing via the naïve, the indifferent, we reach the intelligent auguste." (Remmy 1945:409). In fact, Remmy was talking about Grock, the “king of clowns”. The Swiss clown Grock is a classical representative of what defines a musical clown. He played more than 47 conventional instruments in a non-conventional way plus another number of sound sources (rubber balloons, chairs and props) that he played without inhibition. Grock was a virtuoso as a musician and as a clown. The quintessential representative of eccentric musicians! However, the concept of eccentric musicians transcends Grock geniality and was adopted to define a whole branch of the clown’s art tree.

CASTRO, Alice Viveiros de. O elogio da bobagem: Palhaços no Brasil e no mundo. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Família Bastos, 2005. Pg11

Silva, Erminia
Palhaçosexcêntricos musicais / Erminia Silva e Celso Amãncio de Melo Filho. Rio de Janeiro: Grupo Off-Sina, 2014. Pg14

Rémmy, Tristan (1945) Les Clown (Paris: L’Arche) pg:369, 409

Marcelo Beré
marcelobere.org