frêle à vide
…vibrations, the sound of unknown machinery moving through tunnels, empty spaces, and suddenly there is silence…then tones, waves and more vibrations, and suddenly you realize that sounds have your full attention, nothing else exists in the room, you’re just there, and the sounds of static, white noise, motors, radios, and sine waves make all the objects in the room strange, and every point of visual focalization outlandish; …and more waves. There’s a constant movement of the environment; ugly and dark drones transform the rest of the sounds into an uncomfortable space, but at the same time it creates a physical addiction, an addiction that helps to transcend to those strange places and reach a state of contemplative quietness.
Frêle à Vide are 4 untitled tracks, 4 compositions of pure sonic matter without any harmonic or melodic consideration. This project is reminiscent of the work of sound designer Alan R. Splet, were the sounds create and modulate on itself and where the musicians can just record what’s happening by letting the sound’s natural movement compose the passages as if it were a false field recording. Walkman feedbacks, short wave radio, microphone, mixer, op amp, tone arm, and sw/mw radio are the tools used by Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ben Owen for the creation of the compositions.
Small tools used in an absolute and beautiful handcrafted coup d’état…
Pau Torres, Toronto, winter 2011.
There is something to be said of the procuring of refined Power Electronics – and something else entirely of the artists who are still attempting to make it – in that anything post-PE is perhaps a feeble attempt to revive a dead genre. Keith Moline from the Wire speculated on the regression of noise into old school forms as a way to curb a lack of contemporary creative steam. Maybe he has a point, there’s no use kicking a dead horse. However, I wouldn’t begin to knock acts like Baltimore’s Copper Glove, for example, who seem more as carriers of the Broken Flag and Schimpfluch legacies, as opposed to just cheap knock-offs. Some artists can just bring the creative flare, even if it’s to a dead horse.
I’m not confident of the parallels between Power Electronics and this recording, more like I’m running with an initial thought. If anything, Frêle à Vide borders more on Power-Electroacoustics. Sure, Monteiro and Owen take cues from noise’s past, particularly in their use of sustained frequencies and penchants for grime. However, history has proven a strong cut-and-paste mentality among noisicians, and this is somewhat subdued (except in obvious spots) in this work. I also get the sense that the duo have approached the music from the angle of improv – though it’s hard to say for sure – allowing for an ebb and flow between players, which, as obscured as it is here, is a style that finds its roots in Jazz.
The two utilize a battery of electronic gear, Monteiro with walkmen and shortwave radio and Owen with a mixer, mic, tone arm, radio and something labeled an op arm. Over the span of four tracks the music tends to crescendo over long arcs, extended quieter sections often submitting to controlled tone bursts. Over the course of these arcs, it becomes clear that the music’s austerity is its championing characteristic, as this sort of junkbox «jamming» all too often leads to meaningless prodding and poking, and therefore, a lack of directionality. Not the case here, as it’s clear that these two are taking their music to particular places. A fine work.
Adrian Dziewanski, Scrapyard Forecast
A strong, tough recording from Costa Monteiro (walkman feedbacks, shortwave radio) and Owen (microphone, mixer, op amp, tone arm, sw/mw radio). Four tracks, sustained noise (though I don’t read them as drones)–more or less from static or humming regions with an isolated feel. I’m not sure whether this was a long-range interaction or not (I suspect so) but the music carries a kind of detached sense which I think works very well. I’ve been reading a lot on Robert Ryman lately and found myself relating this music to his paintings insofar as allowing the material to simply speak on its own, with no interpretive intermediary. Similarly, the blankness and thereness of these sounds causes one to shift away from Costa Monteiro and Owen as such and to just experience the sounds instead of talking about them, contextualizing them, etc. Which I’d invite folks to do as it’s very rewarding.
Good, raw work.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
Two quietly busy sound-artists wrangled together a not-so quiet album of unstable electro-acoustics. Ben Owen is a NYC based sound artist we have been familiar with over the years, in part due to his work running the always impressive Winds Measure Recordings label, complete with some exceptional letterpressed packaging to house the hushed minimalism and subtle field recordings. Monteiro Alfredo Costa is one of those artists who’s been very prolific throughout the European sound-art / improv circles but is something of a mystery to us. His work purports to share an interest in low-fi technologies and unstable processes – with crappy tape decks, feedback systems, found objects, and old record players working into his repertoire of electro-acoustics. It is a model of instability that seems the modus operandi for this collaboration with pierced tones of variably sourced feedback wavering upon that high-tension wire between sonic evaporation and sonic obliteration. These oblique, ear-ringing hums couple with microwave sizzlings, deadened electrical buzzes and gravel-crusted static to form chunks of sound that butt up against one another. Compared to the brutalist agenda of Merzbow, Prurient, The Rita, etc, this would hardly qualify as a noise record, as the compositions are thoroughly detached from any overt confrontation, but these grey rumbles and bright rattlings can get quite noxious. One can think of Joe Colley, Chop Shop, or Kevin Drumm during their introspective ruminations on electro-acoustics and noise disintegration. Released on the small Contour Editions imprint, run by the very talented Richard Garet. Limited to 150 copies.
Richard Garet’s Contour Editions label caught the attention of this blog since its birth, due to (predictable) intents and purposes of its creator.
Two years after, the project is taking a definite form and running (with regularity) parallel to Richard’s audiovisual activities.
In February 2011, two physical releases were added to the catalogue: a CD-R, result of a collaborative effort between Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ben Owen (two names also often mentioned in Spiritual Archives’ posts) and a DVD-R, product of audio/video interaction whose actors are Asher Thal-Nir and Garet himself (a review will follow soon).
«Frêle À Vide», the CD-R, can be considered a convergence point, and, at the same time, synthesis of Costa Monteiro and Owen’s philosophies of sound. Perhaps conceptual implications are less present here, to advantage of a strong emotional impact.
The disc consists of four «pièces sans titre», composed by using walkman feedbacks and shortwave radio (Costa Monteiro), microphone, mixer, op amp, tone arm and sw/mw radio (Owen).
Noisy start to dissipate any doubt about the nature of these recordings: the first nine minutes filled with screeching tones, powerfully amplified, the second half that shows lower crushing force, complying to Costa Monteiro’s standards, mesmerizing, as usual, hissing waves take control of the acoustic space, providing a steady stream, repeatedly broken up by abrasive intrusions.
Just a few seconds of silence before falling in the second track: change of operational modes, incisive selection of processed inputs given off gradually, able to shift to a different phase of listening.
The chosen frequencies reverberate, insistently, progressively increasing in intensity and depth. The magnetic flux is now affected by amplitude modulations.
Even more complexity in the third piece: tension reduced (at first) by a prolonged crackling effect, then radio emissions and other electrical interferences, transmitted in sequence, to generate an uncontrolled reaction culminating in sound distortions that resonate loudly.
All dies down in the final minutes of the disc, marked by the presence of a persistent hiss combined with electrostatic impulses and expanded signals. High return in terms of sonic feedback.
For those who already know these two talented artists this work will represent a confirmation of their skills; for the others, a good starting point to get introduced to their music.
Giuseppe Angelucci, Spiritual Archives
Two artists who rarely garner the attention they deserve, join forces here on Richard Garet’s Contour Editions imprint. More a summary of recent experimentation along well trodden paths, Frele a Vide deploys various textural layerings of feedback, and an assorted armoury of de-tuned shortwave radio signals, walkman, tone arms, and various forms of amplification (presumably to add richness to the feedback). These recordings, despite summoning up the lost spirits of Jap-noise heroes such as Merzbow, or CCCC, offer little in the way of originality as an opening gambit, as overdriven electronics clash with feedback or radio distortion to create a swirling mesh of sound, an uneasy mixture for these jaded ears..the sleeve notes promise a physical addiction to these discomforting, angular assaults, but having heard this all before, I’m afraid I was almost prompted to press the eject button. Having spent a lot more time with the four untitled pieces on offer here, and having read through the accompanying press release I couldn’t help but think I’ve missed the point though. There is an obvious connection between both artists, and their use of the sonic materials they choose to work with, an effortless joy and affinity with creating sounds and textures from technologies that can be found in most domestic environments. These elements, when pushed to their limits, are forced into configurations not intended for their purpose – perhaps this is the Rosetta Stone that unlocks Frele a Vide, simple, yet purposeful experimentation, and the resulting restless soundscape formed from the hybrid sounds created. As we approach the finale, the fourth (untitled) piece, for me is a sublime inversion of the previous three works, as the signals are suddenly reduced and distilled into a warm granular, textural field that forms a compelling, visceral scenery that ends way too quickly, as I am gently lulled into it’s gravitational pull. Only my biased preconceptions, combined with many years of total immersion in the world of experimental sound prevented me from truly engaging with this work on the level that it was intended, but with all due respect to the artists involved, for me, Frele a Vide worked best when the foot was taken off the gas pedal, allowing the sounds more space to move and evolve, an opportunity to experience their warmth and physicality, a stripping back to fundamentals, rather than a full on, amped up aural assault.
BGN – white_line, 4/25/11
Take a look at the array of sonic generators that Costa Monteiro and Owen employ in Frêle À Vide before analyzing the remarkable effects that the resulting music achieves on a listener’s sense of balance over the course of four segments. As a matter of fact, the sources include walkman feedback, radios, amplifiers, tone arm and mixer; but should someone start thinking about a chaotic concoction, the truth has never been so distant. The general impression is one of complete control, both on the acoustic dynamics and the direction to which shifting masses are pushed in an environment saturated by ear-clogging tones. Different types of altered stillness are examined by the duo, with a privilege for meagre clusters of pitches possessing a peculiar harmonic richness even when they don’t move at all. The wrecking potential appears to some extent limited by the intentions of the very designers; think of a charged hostility if you will. Also appealing is the combination of opposites – acute stabs and humming buzz, starkness and malleability – which finds a natural accomplishment in the third track (all pieces are indicated as “Sans Titre”). Here the tendency to nuclear eeriness is manifested through painstaking parabolas scarred by overdriven stridency, in a way recalling an atmosphere of metropolitan conflict. Everything sounds unsettling and beautiful at once, the representation of opposite forces that – for inexplicable reasons – produce stimulating energy from the gathering of smothering frequencies. An excellent album, surely going to be appreciated by those who treasure John Duncan’s output circa Phantom Broadcast, or the more “in your face” idioms produced by Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixing desks. Its psychological momentum increases with each new listen.
Massimo Ricci, Touching extremes
Tonight I have been listening to a CD on the Contour Editions label by Ben Owen and Alfredo Costa Monteiro that I think actually came out a year ago, but I only recently obtained a copy, and as I haven’t seen all that much written about the album, and because it is still available a late review is probably still worth writing.
The album, named Frêle à Vide is a pretty tough listen. For its creation, Costa Monteiro utilises walkman feedback and shortwave radio, while Owen uses a microphone, mixer, tone arm and another radio. Between them, across the four tracks they produce a generally quite uncompromising set of quite brutal drones. The first untitled piece opens with five or six seconds of silence followed by a pressurised constant drone made up of layers of frequently fluctuating feedback-esque sound that lasts for some nine minutes or so before, after a further silence another, higher pitched, actually quite uncomfortable drone appears, again remaining firmly constant but with various elements coming and going, textures altering, density thickening and thinning as different elements are brought in. The sounds are mostly quite insistent and tend to drive their way deep into your head while listening, but I found that using headphones revealed much more that seemed to get washed away when played into the air. The subtleties in the drones were more apparent when heard up close without external distractions in this way. The hiss of white noise became clearer when heard against the heavier feedback tones, the changes in frequency and the slight fluctuations in the more oppressive elements became clearer to pick up on, making for a far more interesting listen.
The first three tracks each follow a similar course, although different intensities and volumes come and go. The third piece here, clocking in at thirteen minutes has a strange acoustic quality to it, as if somehow throttled and compressed down, so everything is there if you listen hard enough, but all pushed into a tight space so that the music feels intensely claustrophobic and as it if is about to explode. Its really quite original work. Drones are of course ten a penny, but Frêle à Vide has a peculiar feel to it. Even in the much quieter, brooding fourth and final piece here the emptiness that at first appears to be silence is in fact full of detail when heard up close. The album is a real pressure cooker of sounds. Everything feels like it has been laminated firmly together so that various elements impact on one another and yet are all packed so close together that casual listening will only register the one plane of sound, and it takes careful attention to peel apart the details.
I’m not usually a big fan of drones, and even less so of noisy, somewhat uncomfortable drones like those heard here, but somehow, the amount of subtle detail and just below the surface variation to be found in Frêle à Vide is thoroughly engaging and worth the effort required to listen past the ugly accumulated surface layer. A fascinating, if occasionally difficult listen then, and really original to boot.
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear