center of mass
Restriction is the mother of invention,’ as Holger Czukay once said, and perhaps with something like that axiom in mind, Barcelona-based improviser Costa Monteiro limits himself on this half-hour disc to a single cymbal sounded (by motorised objects most obviously) against various resonant materials. There’s nothing particularly new about teasing overtones out of metals, but Centre of Mass is quite wonderful. Its episodic structure initially seems weak, as a variety of timbres are explored and then abandoned, but as the piece unfolds there’s gradually more overlap between sounds, with the final stretch managing to recapitulate and synthesise those initial ideas into a complex and very lovely coda. Even if Costa didn’t exercise such careful structural control, this would still be great from a purely sonic point of view. It’s a hugely enjoyable collection of individual textures, each drawn out with meticulous care.”
Keith Moliné, The Wire
“The term “sound art” is an often blankly pregnant phrase that usually refers to an installation of sonic work in an environment that has some lasting perceptual effect on the listener. It is often process-based, and expects of the individual a certain aesthetic awareness of environment to emerge in relation to sound. It seems far rarer for works of sonic art to be placed alongside significant musical works in terms of their impact, whether through tonal color, range, expressiveness, or any other criteria we attach to composition and improvisation. Barcelona-based artist Alfredo Costa Monteiro, who also works with electronics, turntables and accordion, is of sonic kin to post-Cageian composers like Alan Bryant, David Behrman and Robert Rutman, though he is of another generation. Like these artists, he has found a way to orchestrate and give a sense of quality to noise, resonance, and environment.
Centre of Mass involves a large cymbal and resonating/vibrating objects placed to produce an astounding range of tones, overtones and various combinations. Properties reminiscent of acoustic instruments emerge almost immediately in the piece, which clocks in at a hair over thirty minutes. There’s breathiness in the first part that one could equate with low, needling baritone saxophone. Rattling drones emerge in a higher pitch, calling to mind a hurdy-gurdy. A lengthy stretch of what sounds like a plastic fan slowly shifts toward celli, then back into the amorphous cheap-mechanization range. High harmonics reach the foreground, supported by a mix of other distinct tones before being buried in clatter. The harmonic frequencies generated from objects’ vibrational interplay is as old as insect wings, but Monteiro has found a very rich chamber orchestra within one piece of copper and a series of handy objects. Harsh, electric noise is part of this landscape too (perhaps a quote from Behrman’s “Wave Train” twelve minutes in), but it grows from an organic, natural sensibility of electro-acoustic play. And like any great orchestral work, site-specificity is unnecessary—whether on a home stereo or a late night drive, one’s surroundings will be molded to fit Monteiro’s art.”
Clifford Allen, Bagatellen
“The third release sees the debut of a new imprint, Another Timbre Byways, which will release limited edition CD-Rs featuring less well-known musicians. This inaugural release sets a high standard for others to follow. Barcelona-based sound artist Alfredo Costa Monteiro is already well known enough to have appeared at the Atlantic Waves festival, to have accumulated a smallish discography and to have his own Wikepedia entry. He has previously released recordings of «paper music» and «rubber music». Here he delivers a prolonged (over 32 minutes) drone piece as good as any you’ll have heard this past year. Monteiro has used the phrase «soft noise music» to describe his music, and it is apt here as the listener is not overwhelmed by its volume but captivated by its form and structure. Underlying everything is a persistent low frequency drone—at times reminiscent of a didgeridoo—that provides a solid foundation on which to build, as well as setting the nerves jangling. Monteiro overlays the drone with sounds obtained from exciting a cymbal, a process which, in his hands, yields an inconceivably broad range of sounds, enough to create a constantly varying and fascinating soundscape, one that makes riveting listening. Monteiro is one to watch. And so, of course, is Another Timbre. Roll on 2009. “
John Eyles, All About Jazz
“There are musicians whose conception I simply enjoy, finding almost anything they do to be imbued by it. Costa Monteiro is one. This often harsh dronescape, lasting a bit over 30 minutes, was created by agitating one or more cymbals on various resonating surfaces. Simply enough idea, focusing in on a «small» area, discovering all the largeness there, finely executed. One is initially fascinated by the sounds themselves; later, their placement, opposition and sequencing impresses greatly. Good stuff.”
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“One thirty-some minute work of overtones generated through the use of motorized objects on a large cymbal. The recording however seems to be focusing itself more on the motorized objects than on the cymbal itself, or so it seems. Divided in various parts, each emphasizing the various possibilities of scraping and scratching the surface. A highly concentrated set of sounds on a highly condensed disc. Great stuff.”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
“From his adventures with Cremaster to the recent collaborations with the likes of John Duncan, Alfredo Costa Monteiro has been analyzing the fundamental nature of harmonic resonance through methods that could appear as not really innovative on a negligent listen. What we need here is exactly the opposite, as the 32 minutes of Centre Of Mass clearly show that the core of a vibration is perceivable – make that “visible” – only to those who are impermeable to words but have the channels of responsiveness wide open.
The record is built upon separated episodes of different length, all generated by the simplest means: a cymbal and “resonant objects”. Beginning with straightforward quivering essences that we can barely define as “tones”, various gradations of harmonics are explored by extracting the grime and the acid to convert what superficially appears as a grim diversification of frictional harshness into something that must be investigated starting from the rear side of the skull which, at serious volume, is the first part of the body that gets aroused by these stimulating, if admirably controlled phenomena. Those apparently jarring superimpositions gradually evolve until they become an aggregation of protective reminiscences, as we’re thrown back in a critical setting which is probably nearer to the preliminary phase of biologic life than to the painful qualities of dissonance. Although impressively resounding the frequencies never threaten to overwhelm, looking at the listener with a sort of severe benevolence. They eclipse fear and stupor at once, tracing a mental path to be followed without hesitation in order for the very nerves to undergo a beneficial effect, a sharing of the overall wavering in the energetic flux of existence.
When the music abruptly ends one is left pondering about buried meanings and trying to give an answer to a massive amount of doubts, yet the lingering sensation is that what’s just passed might have been a rare glimpse of afterlife under the outer shell of sonic waves that – while harmonious for the well-trained – are not going to absolve the ignorant.”
Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes