Since 2009, Brazilian composer Claudio Katz Szynkier, aka Babe, Terror, has been creating an extremely intricate musical and visual universe where personal trauma, together with the vestiges of post-colonial and capitalistic exploitation, converge into haunting electronic music. “I look for what I don’t even know isn’t there, I try to perform surgery on hypothetical pasts to find and offer housing in the present,” he says. “I try to offer a kind of complicity, a comfort, in this archeology.” Teghnojoyg is the culmination of the ideas he’s been steadily refining while operating from a novel vantage point. “I had something new to show and elaborate on, and I wanted to find out what new thing this could be,” he explains.
Szynkier’s work is a self-referential, ever-expanding universe. It is music born out of forgotten communities, discarded ideas, and a growing desire for interconnectedness within both personal and political isolation. “[Brazil was] founded by religious medieval adventurers and sick merchants from Europe, colonized by them, and then recolonized by extractive capitalism, and we continue to be,” he says. “The music I try to make is one to create a surgical joining of bodies, plasma and concrete bodies, and a hole in the fabric of [São Paulo]’s abstract secret.”
His most recent albums, 2018’s Ancient M’ocean and 2020’s Horizogon have tackled these themes in earnest. “Teghnojoyg is an intense record, with delicious but corrosive sounds, corrosive in the sense of being expired acids, some of them really chemical,” he says. “It’s a junkyard chemistry lost in the confines of the city.”
Growing up, he describes how the educational system placed Brazilians within the West, yet in a less central position, which felt like a “backyard America.” This allowed him to find what he calls “magical waste,” the stuff “which is at your disposal because nobody wants it,” which would become the prime material for his music. One of the tools he uses, described as an “orchestra melter,” was initially a custom-built station with buttons and broken keys from 1993 that he bought from a factory in the Tucuruvi neighborhood that made sound devices and pedals. “I took it to the garage factory and asked them to solder it and make something new out of it, and it turned out to be a cheap mellotron knockoff with a really volcanic delay and a weird pitch shifter inside,” he says. This device was modified to be able to “communicate and combine with anything electrical and the computer,” creating the uniquely weathered feel of his music—“an extra kind of mold, a crack or two more.” The process didn’t cost him much due to the wear and tear of the original instrument, coupled with the garage staff’s passion for tinkering.
“My records are from the cosmic backyard and the cosmic gar(b)age [sic], and although there is more or less complex carpentry involved in making them, I could always sound like someone from the backyard: and that doesn’t mean ‘precarious’ or ‘third worldist,’ but remote and untouchable, foreign, indigenous-of-other-land in some point, ‘other’,” he says. This otherness is heightened on Teghnojoyg, which directly references such waste, both musically and textually.
This refers to everything he distills into his work, from archival footage of house parties from neighborhoods like Jaraguá or Perus in the ‘80s and ‘90s used in the accompanying films or the rather disturbing episodes in Brazil’s past he references in his music to the modified instruments (the “orchestra melter”) he employs to create the organic patina in his sound. Teghnojoyg centers synthesizers to construct its sounds, inter-speeding sumptuous piano passages drowned in discordant drones with atonal acid bursts on “Casa das Canoagens,” dissonant free jazz saxophone warbles emerging from haunted chorals set against a rolling bassline on “Congosymphag” or film noir violin melodies cast between 4×4 beats and distorted vocals on “Archeoteghnure.” Even his song titles are eclectic collages. “Teghnojoyg‘s echo of optimism is perhaps a reflection of my connection with synthesizers specifically and with the humor of the ‘sampled’ voices,” he says. “These are instruments that, in my view of music, can at their best reach a lava power, an insane volcanic electricity, an industrialization in the intense heat and even under the pollution.”
This dark, convoluted vision of forgotten spaces, decaying masses, and disquieting voices stems from a highly intimate place. The constant push and pull of contradicting forces that make up the fascinating tension in his music reflect his own internal struggle to regain a sense of self and autonomy after a deeply traumatizing childhood sexual abuse incident. It was only in the past couple of years that he managed to identify, frame, and assess the profound, ongoing consequences that informed his entire life. “This type of discovery and, after the discovery, the possibility of an internal vocalization, of an assuming [sic], is part of the same macrohistory of fascinating but devastating historical eruptions and meltdowns that define Brazil as an entity and society,” he says. “I managed to discover my work in a sharper way, and this is it: muffled things trying to become something else, to tell something that has not been said, hidden discoveries becoming something else. So the answer is not entirely about my case. It’s about this culture and what is terrible about it and how it ends up becoming, in oblique ways, an art of venting,” he says.
With Teghnojoyg, Szynkier has created an album that is sonically complex and highlights the stories of the overlooked. “I’m a better musician, instrumentalist, and composer today, with more technical control over the components,” he says, “and I think I made Teghnojoyg to overflow something—to overflow something that was hidden out there, in me, in the hidden memorial fabric connecting cities.”