Various Venues, Braga

The Portuguese city of Braga is home to under 200,000 people.

At times, wandering through its small network of criss-crossing central streets, you’d struggle to believe it was home to more than a tenth of that. The city’s size is enough to encourage instant familiarity. It’s this quality, perhaps above all others, that makes it the perfect home for Semibreve: a festival that finds excellence in small places.

Now on its ninth edition, the Portuguese event has earned a well-deserved reputation among a certain type of electronic music head. The sort likely to enjoy sitting down in a darkened room listening to a Buchla, while distorted footage of seawater writhes indistinctly on a 30 foot cinema screen. Yet refreshingly Semibreve is so much more than esoteric. The weekend’s programming featured performances as collaborative as they were innovative – reaffirming live electronic music’s urgency as much as its legacy. For example: night one showcased Alessandro Cortini’s sumptuous visual interpretation of his lauded 2019 album Volume Massimo; during the performance, the gear afficionado paired cinematic synth-scapes with precise and beautifully choreographed videos of contemporary dancers. Then on Sunday, British avant-garde electronic legend Scanner (Robin Rimbauld) performed an entirely new piece using a prototype modular synth designed by Portuguese brand ADDAC System – the composition itself a live collaboration with Portuguese visual artist Miguel C Tavares. These were two very different performances – one tightly scripted, the other loosely spontaneous – united in their commitment to elevating and testing their material.

These evening performances – other highlights of which included synth pioneers Morten Subotnik and Suzanne Ciani respectively – were located in the grand Theatro Circo, a 20th century theatre complete with plush red velvet seats; a space which inspired reverence on entry. Later stretches of the night were based in gallery space gnration, with music taking place in a pleasingly claustrophobic dark room on its top floor. Standout sets from Nik Void and Rian Treanor married the festival’s appreciation for analogue music-making with an altogether more dancefloor-ready approach.

Quiet pockets of magic were to be found elsewhere, too. Felicia Atkinson sent her whispered voice through the Universidade do Minho saloon; Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland (aka Deafcentre) produced an hour of piano-led dusk-lit ambience in Braga’s central cathedral. Both packed out performances were open not only to festival-goers but to wider Braga residents, inspiring a vision of how universal experimental music can be when given the right platform.

In some ways calling Semibreve a festival is a stretch. Across its three evenings there were less than 15 acts, all programmed consecutively and performed in the same two venues. Far from feeling conservative though, it’s an approach that exposes the event’s quality. After all, with only one act on at a time there is no other stage to distract yourself with if you get bored. Instead, through careful curation and community building, Semibreve ensures that every note is too good to miss.