Ladies and gentlemen, circus and music…

After all, is there circus without music? Considering the history of the inventive, complex and dy-namic relationship between the circus and music; considering that silence is music, pregnant with listening possibilities and soundscapes; considering that sounds caused by breathing and stepping are a soundtrack, it is difficult to conceive the circus without its dialogue with music.

The circus is characterized by artistic hybridity, combining different types of knowledge, establish-ing itself as a “space for constructing singularities”, as historian Ermínia Silva (1996) puts it, and even as an “uninhibited space of symbolic appropriations”, as pointed out by Walter Sousa Jr. (2011).

During the twentieth century, it was observed that circus rings under tents that travelled – and continue to travel – through different places, were a possible and accessible space for the artistic expression of the most diverse languages. This occurred due to the absence of other structures to house these activities and the power of being itinerant, but most genuinely thanks to the porosity that characterizes the circus, always open to a plurality of elements, signs and references. It is per-formed through this dilution of boundaries between languages, contemporaneously with the chal-lenge of not ceasing to be, or being known, as circus. Music, within this multiplicity of expressions in transit, ends up becoming an expression tool that expands its possibilities for sociability, publi-cizing, construction of spectacle and of aesthetics, generating a discourse of sound within circus creation.

The playlists of shows today seem to maintain the eclectic character of traveling circuses, especial-ly those of the twentieth century. In the same show it is possible to hear the universe of pop radio; western erudite compositions; the classic circus repertoire; typical music from specific localities; songs and instrumentals from Romany and Jewish traditions, country folk, pop country music… Everything is possible when it comes to the circus. And the impossible is also welcome, in the ec-centricity of clowns and musicians.

The feat, an intrinsic characteristic of circus making, also appears in circus music. In addition to the technical feats – from circus performers who are, in fact, excellent musicians – there are other re-curring feats: making music with the available resources, inventively, re-signifying everyday ob-jects as musical instruments; playing an instrument while performing a circus act; elaborating a sound discourse that builds and directs the dramaturgy or scenic intention; among other modes of poetic circus musical feats.

In contemporary times, aesthetic possibilities have been expanded, based on technological inno-vations, as well as easy access to artistic production from around the world. There are still multiple circus modes, expressed in different trends, including in the circus/music relationship. There are mechanisms to rescue what has been experienced about music around the country – from the repertoire of circus-theater and the stunts of eccentric circus music, looking to bring music live back to the shows.

Others explore high tech musical tools, such as loop pedals and software that associate music and action. Others seek an authorial path, expressing their reading of the circus through what was seen and what exists, often composing their own soundtracks. Others yet embrace metalanguage, frequently starting from autobiographical subjectivity, exploring the daily routine of training, using as soundtrack their silence, jumps, breaths, aerial impacts… That is to say, much is sought, much is repeated, much is rescued, much is intended.

The circus performer is, by the nature of his craft, a being full of willingness. And a transgressor, by the nature of his art. He has a different view of the world and of life, pushing towards the edges of the impossible, imposing his fantastic perspective on daily life, highlighting the inherent risk of our lives. To these poetics of the unusual, the extraordinary, the uncommon, music presents itself as a partner of the circus in the past, of contemporary circus and likely of what is to come.


SILVA, Ermínia. O circo: sua arte, seus saberes – O circo no Brasil no final do século XIX a meados do século XX. Campinas: History Departament of the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences at Unicamp. Masters dissertation, 1996

SOUSA, Walter. Mixórdia no picadeiro: circo-teatro em São Paulo (1930-1970). São Paulo: Terceira Margem, FAPESP, 2011. 214p.

Lívia Mattos is an accordionist, circus performer, singer-songwriter and sociologist. She has devel-oped performances based on her documentary research on music in the circus, such as “A sanfonástica mulher-lona”, “Trigêmeas”, “Mono amour”, “Sanfona aérea” and the show “A Lira da lona”. She is currently working on a feature-length documentary film on the subject. She has participated in international festivals, such as Accordions Around the World, in New York, USA (2015), Akkorden Festival Wien, in Vienna, Austria (2016), OneBeat, in various states of the USA (2017), and the International Macau Parade, in Macau, China (2018). She has played with musi-cians such as Chico César, Rosa Passos, Badi Assad, Ceumar and Alessandra Leão.


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