- Performed, recorded and mixed by: Alfredo Costa Monteiro
- Design: Alfredo Costa Monteiro
Listen a fragment of Epicycle
Listen a fragment of Epicycle
: Computer & voice.
Even in the rarified, difficult to define world of contemporary electro-acoustic improvisation there are artists who can be said to fall into one of two general
categories: for some, the listener has a fairly good idea what to expect from a new recording; for others not. There’s no qualitative judgment being made
here —certain musicians can mine a narrow area very profitably—but Alfredo Costa Monteiro definitely falls into the latter grouping. From works for prepared
accordion to creative abuses of turntables to at least two recordings where the sole sound source is paper, he’s rendered it futile to approach a new offering
with any particular sonic expectations. And with “Epicycle”, he does so once again.
One constant, something that’s always drawn me to his work, is that he possesses an inherent sense of pure musicality. This is a feeling one encounters more often in jazz perhaps, the notion that a musician (say, or ) has such a strong musical touch that virtually anything he puts his fingers to sounds good, equivalent to a visual artist like Rauschenberg—whether it’s a goat wrapped by a tire, a white painting or cardboard boxes flattened on a wall, it simply looks beautiful. It’s an ineffable characteristic, something nearly impossible to pin down but at the same time just as apparent when you hear or see it. Costa Monteiro both surprises with “Epicycle” and retains that wonderful musicality.
One surprise lies in the steady-state, relatively drone-ish character of the piece. Much of his earlier work is less fluid, choppier in the sense of consisting of slabs of sound placed alongside or atop one another. Disjunctive when heard “up close”, the music nonetheless tended to resolve into satisfying, cohesive wholes. Another unexpected aspect of the present recording is the sound source: Costa Monteiro’s voice. Although processed virtually beyond recognition as such, the listener may still pick up vocal inflections, the sort of shift in pitch occasioned by opening and narrowing the oral cavity while intoning, for instance. “Epicycle” fluctuates from roars to barely perceptible pings, often with an abruptness that initially startles but on second listen seems entirely natural, like a cloud suddenly blotting out sunlight. And like a cloud’s shadow, it covers vast stretches of terrain. Costa Monteiro’s work has always had a graininess, a sense of soil and sand (it sometimes reminds me ’ gritty work) and that impression remains even when the sounds are derived from modulated airflow. The music recognizes the bumps and irregularities of the ground at the same time as it envelops them, navigating through buffeting winds and acidic rain, not to mention an electrical storm or two before evaporating into a prickly haze. It’s a fascinating, chillingly beautiful journey; you never feel quite safe but always have the sense you’re in capable, acutely sensitive hands guided by a deep musical imagination.
is a Barcelona based artist who works across the spectrum from sound art to visual art after moving out of a sculpture/mixed media background. If that suggests a certain restlessness, his discography bears that out: Paper Music (2001) was generated entirely from paper-sourced sounds, while Rumeur (2004) was also a solo accordion work. Epicycle is an exercise in voice processing, produced entirely using Monteiro´ voice, filtered and reshaped by software. Not that you can really tell: Monteiro renders it into crackles, buzz, gales of static, and even at one point a bass rumble that threatens to erupt into -style power electronics. Only the faintest traces implying a human larynx are detectable. Epicycle has a proise and organisation which you could call sculptural as much as musical or tonal, but it feels dogged by a certain flatness, an interest in form above all else, that makes for an overly pro-faced atmosphere.
As an artist whose work often crosses the boundaries into the visual as well as the audio, it is interesting to hear a music only work from Monterio.
His dedication to working with singular sound sources through an album's worth of material may call to mind other artists such as
Previous recordings involving paper and accordions as source material makes it clear that Monteiro is adventurous to say the least. But here, using only his voice and processing, he creates a tense, violent world of sound that hangs with the best of "extreme" musicians without feeling like a rip-off or a poser. Instead, subtle shifting walls of drone electronic sounds are met by outbursts of pure modulated anger, screams cutting through the thick tense air. At other times the drone is layered with sinister organic elements, what could be guttural groans or the sound of breath that sound like something threatening just over the horizon where it cannot be seen, but its presence clearly felt.
I mentioned a sense of musicality in the introduction to this review, and it does clearly manifest itself in the structure of the work. Rather than feeling like a slipshod collection of sounds slapped together, it instead feels composed and tactfully planned out, from quiet interludes into harsh, noise outbursts that wouldn't be out of place on a record, back to more pensive passages that cause the listener to more closely contemplate the darkness.
My previous reference to was not a simple point of comparison, because both artists have that same raison d'etre when it comes to obsessively using and manipulating a rudimentary sound source as a basis of composition, but structurally is where they depart. Perhaps due to his prolificness, Nakajima often relied on the same overreaching framework on his tracks that made them somewhat tedious. Monteiro, on the other hand, has a much more dynamic flow that causes the listener to be genuinely surprised when the sound shifts from subtle to brutal. I know I caught myself being jarred on more than one occasion with the forceful transition.
The fact that this is all sourced from the human voice makes it even more interesting, knowing that such dark and tense sounds lurk within everyone, just needing to be coaxed out and given a tiny bit of electronic treatment. Perhaps the metaphor can be made that the work represents the dark, disturbed element that lies just beneath the surface of everyone, but regardless of how it is interpreted, it's a great listen.