épicycle



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, Monk or Don Cherry) 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 Antoni Tapies’ 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.
Brian Olewnick




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Alfredo Costa Monteiro 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 Merzbow-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.
Sam Davies, The Wire



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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 Akifumi Nakajima (Aube) in approach, but the results are in a world of their own. Here, using only the sound of his voice, the artist creates a frightening soundscape that still maintains a conventional, almost musical feel to it.
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 Merzbow record, back to more pensive passages that cause the listener to more closely contemplate the darkness.
My previous reference to Aube 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.
Creaig Dunton, Brainwashed




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La mitad portuguesa de Cremaster (con Ferran Fages) nos propone una elaborada pieza electroacústica partiendo de la voz como materia prima que luego es procesada y tratada mil veces hasta trasformarse en torrentes agresivos, sutiles hilos colgantes, líneas incisivas que se superponen, respiraciones y objetos granulares. El excelente acabado del sonido y el ensamblaje de todos estos motivos sintéticos definen la forma tubular y expansiva de Epicycle.
Jesús Gonzalo, revistamu.com




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No me puedo considerar un fan ferviente de la música noise en su vertiente más industrial o experimental. Entiendo que es una música muy personal para gente muy selecta, pero cuando encuentras algo, que sea por lo que sea, te llama la atención no puedes negarlo. Puede parecer a priori sencillo trastear con un sintetizador, una grabadora y otros hardware, montarte una página en MySpace y presumir de proyecto basado en la experimentación, pero ya no es tan fácil sobresalir por lo que haces entre la inmensa marabunta que crece constantemente. De todo ello nos da buena cuenta el proyecto de música experimental, con prominente caracteres ambientales y noise de Alfredo Costa Monteiro.
Alfredo es un portugués afincado en Barcelona con una ejemplar carrera tras sus espaldas dentro del mundo de las artes visuales, sonido, y poesía. Terminó sus estudios en la escuela de arte de Paris en 1992 hasta que se traslado a Barcelona. Desde 1998 hasta la actualizad (2007) ha sido miembro del colectivo 22a que se centra en el estudio del arte contemporáneo. Su trabajo "Épicycle" ha sido editado por Etude Records, un prometedor sello catalán que centra sus visiones en el oscuro arte de la música experimental e independiente. Siempre es una buena noticia conocer que gente de nuestro país promueve tales iniciativas para que poco a poco la escena española se sitúe cerca de la media Europea que lucha muy fuertemente.
Hay que decir que Alfredo Cosa Monteiro, y su "Épicycle" no tiene nada que envidiar a la música de otros sellos bastante consolidados (en su género) como la Cold Meat Industry o Steinklang Records por mencionar algunos.
Como buena música experimental que se precie, personalmente para mí, en su vertiente más noise, la naturaleza de los sonidos son directamente inexplicables. Mezcla de pasajes graves, muy graves y lentos, con otros mas agudos y mas acelerados. Lo que mas llama la atención es la continua evolución de la música. Es importante comentar que el CD esta compuesto por un único track de 37 minutos de duración. Lo más típico en este género de música es que los tracks terminen resultando muy repetitivos abusando de usar una y otra vez las mismas secuencias y sonidos. Esto no pasa en este álbum, pues también comprendemos que 37 minutos de repetición podría resultar algo tedioso. En lugar de eso, podemos disfrutar de continuos cameos entre sonidos más puramente ambientales, y otros endemoniadamente enfermizos y estridentes. Aunque en la portada del mismo no pone nada al respecto, te aviso que en esta ocasión mas que nunca debes escuchar este álbum bajo tu propia responsabilidad. Si tienes problemas de corazón, cardiacos, etc, te recomiendo no pongas la música muy alta si no quieres llevarte algún que otro susto. El motivo es que todo comienza muy calmado, con algún que otro inquietante sonido ambiental y otros industriales ocasionalmente. Tus oídos se acostumbran a esta danza que genera una tensa atmósfera... pero de repente y sin previo aviso sonidos mas fuertes y ruidos descontrolados toman el testigo del espectro sonoro. Luego otra vez todo vuelve a una relativa calma. Y esta es un poco la tónica general y dominante de todo el álbum: intercalar partes más ambientales con otras más caóticas y ruidosas. Yo sinceramente en alguna que otra ocasión me he quedado de piedra cuando sumido en alguna tarea que estaba realizando, y con la buena sensación de un sórdido ambiente en segundo plano me ha llegado toda esa amalgama de sonidos apocalípticos de bote pronto.
Es obligatorio mencionar la calidad musical del álbum. Lejos de sonar a computadora o tratamiento amateur, "Épicycle" suena claro y definido. Se denota un buen trabajo en el tratamiento de sonido, tanto en la mezcla como en la masterización, lo cual realmente es algo bastante infrecuente en este estilo de música donde todo suele sonar mas confuso dada la naturaleza tan especial de los sonidos empleados.
Etude presenta el trabajo en curioso formato similar a un digipack pero si la parte dura de plástico donde se ancla el CD. Supongo que será un formato mas barato en cuanto a poducción, pero también hay que decirlo, con una sutileza, finura y elegancia bastante llamativa.
Un trabajo recomendado para todos los amantes de la música mas vanguardista y experimental que encontraran en Alfredo una nueva dimensión acústica, distinta y personal de cualquier otro proyecto escuchado antes y con una calidad admirable.
Roberto G., Mentenebre




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Inquiet des tournures que peut prendre le son, l’artiste (et musicien) Alfredo Costa Monteiro improvisait récemment – et derrière ordinateur – Epicycle, soit : 38 minutes sur lesquelles court une batterie de drones fins, interrompus par l’irruption soudaine de craquements sourds et de parasites sévères. Sous les chapes, quelque chose se joue malgré les obstacles imposés par les zones dissemblables de perturbations, qui devra admettre enfin la suprématie de la ligne claire pour permettre à Costa Monteiro de conclure ses expérimentations menaçantes.
Le Son du Grisli




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Sometimes entirely and completely different is the release by Alfredo Costa Monteiro, who is more a composer than an improviser like the other two. Perhaps composer is also not the right word, sound artist would be more appropriate. His work sometimes deals with installations and take a concept as a starting point. 'Epicycle' is 'for voice processing' - we read on the cover as it's hard to imagine voices in the mass of sound. Deep bass, sudden changes, high pitched sounds - nothing here that sounds like a voice. Although divided in larger blocks of sound, the rapid changes that happen every now and then, make this a surprising work. If you like Ilios, Francisco Lopez or Carl-Micheal von Hauswolff then Monteiro's austere sound collage of the voice being transformed into an electrical power plant should be up your alley too.
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly




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Visual artist, concerned with visual/sound poetry, refined musician, active in multiple projects and collaborative experiences (Cremaster with Ferran Fages, I Treni Inerti with Ruth Barberán, Neumática with Pablo Rega) Alfredo Costa Monteiro could be imagined into a solitary place of the electro-acoustic improvisation universe.
His research doesn’t pass through consolidate schemes of experimentation, his interest refers to unexplored possibilities to treat the sound acoustically and digitally.
This work, “Epicycle”, consists of one track, 38 minutes long, built on a drone implant that suffers multiform interferences, a recursive and almost unrecognizable Alfredo’s processed voice, incidental incursions of flowing effects.
Music with a palpable sense of purity, quite impressive.
Spiritual Archives




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Alfredo Costa Monteiros långa stycke för processad röst kryper i en slingrande rörelse nära marken. Det ålar sig framåt i ett ljudbrus nära tystnaden. Entonigt. Snart blir de små avvikelserna tydliga, nästan oförnimbara pauser; de oväntade inpassen i störd diskant är bitvis oberäkneliga. Lyfter som gasmoln. Ljudpuffar. Snart tätnar ljuden och stegras till en stark vind. Men till skillnad från den vanligast förekommande noise-musiken bryts den ljudliga intensiteten för en laddad återhållsamhet. Så förändras klangbilden, olika skikt lagras på varandra tills rörelsen vittrar sönder och stycket upplöses som ett organiskt material.
Det kräver 38 minuters tålamod och koncentration, men ger en välslipad uppvisning i elektronisk omvandling av röst. Den hörs aldrig som just röst, men där finns ändå ett slags diktion, som påminner om ursprunget.
Thomas MIllroth, Sound of Music




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Okay, as regulars to this reviews section will by now have guessed, whenever I have a yen to opt out of life and crawl into the back of my mind, I often find Israeli noise the most suitably discomforting. However, I have this month been fending off psychic attack with the slightly less offensive sounds of ÉPICYCLE by the Portuguese artist Alfredo Costa Monteiro. An enormous and diesel-powered Soviet space freighter low on fuel and crewed by North Korean retards so Luddite they think the remains of last night’s rice supper might get the engines sputtering into life again, that’s what this record sounds like. For endless repetition only, this one. Unfortunately, at least from what little I know about Monteiro, this new release appears to be highly unrepresentative of his regular style. Well all I can say is this shit stinks so bad we need several latrines-full more. Bring on the boxed set, Lord Alfredo, and don’t forget the accompanying free largactyl syringe! In the meantime, this icky ointment is available on Barcelona’s Etude Records.
Julian Cope, Head Heritage



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Sound poet Alfredo Costa Monteiro makes a memorable impression with his single-track, thirty-seven minute piece Épicycle. Having previously issued recordings using paper as the sole sound source, the Barcelona-based Monteiro this time around uses his voice as the singular source, although more precisely it's his voice transformed beyond recognition via computer processing. In simplest terms, it's a pedal-point space drone punctuated by granular starbursts, rattlesnake hissing, and open-mouthed screams. Roaring industrial storms explode intermittently and then just as abruptly vanish seconds later, as if gathering energy for the next assault. The listener thus steels him/herself in anticipation of another attack, in the expectation that it may be more intense than the one before. Eventually, a severed electrical wire spits out lethal fire as it flails spastically on the ground, after which soft tones lead the piece into a hazy coda where insects scurry under a rumbling sky. It's a fascinating journey, for sure, though not one you may want to take too often.
Textura




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Nuova uscita per questa intraprendente etichetta di Barcellona che ricerca e porta alla luce gemme grezze di alterna brillantezza dell'improvvisazione elettroacustica spagnola, in uscite rigorosamente limitate a 500 esemplari. Questa volta è il turno di Alfredo Costa Monteiro, compositore portoghese trapiantato in quel di Barcellona da diverso tempo. Il nostro in questa opera si cimenta nella creazione attraverso un unico pezzo di più di mezzora di un magma sonoro derivato dal trattamento elettronico della sua voce. Cone una sorta di "Ono in progress", Monteiro dipana il brano attraverso bordate di lacerante brutalismo sonico prodotto sfasando e rimodellando la sua voce fino a renderla totalmente irriconoscibile e travisata nel contempo in allucinate e vibranti folate di suono puro. L'ascoltatore viene proiettato in un mondo di rumori in decomposizione che rimanda ad illustri maestri come Lustmord, ricreando un paesaggio mutante di desolante ambient isolazionista che scava nei meandri della psiche. Un buon companatico per le vostre orecchie.
Marco Paolucci, Kathodik




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Portuguese artist involved in many different projects, such as free improvisation duo Cremaser, independent collective for contemporary art 22a, and several collaborations, Alfredo Costa Monteiro releases now one of his darkest and most fascinating visions, "Épicycle", a single composition of about 36 minutes that lives out of the contrast between a deep, distant and pitch black drone revolving in the background, and several sudden, powerful noise explosions that appear unexpectedly during the listening. The oppressing and suffocating atmosphere of this gloomy music is able to match the unsettling visions evoked by the northern dark ambient school of Cold Meat Industry, or the "death industrial" rituals of Archon Satani and the likes. Dark underground caves populated by inhuman dwellers, huge abandoned factories and ocean deeps are the most suitable environments to be described by Alfredo's music.
"Épicycle" is an outstanding work, an intense and shaking listening experience that stands high above many dozens of mediocre dark ambient clones and pathetic industrial-wannabes crowding the underground since some 7 or 8 years. It's singular, but also a bit discouraging, to think that many fans of such scene would rush buying any CD with a gothic artwork and black-metallesque name, thinking to find the most incredible darkness in it, while maybe ignoring an artist like Alfredo Costa Monteiro, just because he's not presenting himself in an "extreme" way. Don't be as narrow-sighted as them, and get hold of this black sinister underground pearl.
Simon V, Filthforge




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La label spagnola Etude Records è sempre più propensa a dare spazio agli sperimentatori, piuttosto che andare a collocarsi tra le mura sicure di un genere predefinito. Quasi in contemporanea con l'uscita dell'album "La Ciutat Ets Tu", firmato dall'importante percussionista Tomasz Krakowiak, ecco la pubblicazione di un lavoro solista di Alfredo Costa Monteiro, musicista portoghese conosciuto anche come metà del duo Cremaster e noto negli ambienti della musica d'avanguardia, laddove uno strumento classico può fornire urla che mai nessuno si sarebbe immaginato di sentire. "Epycicle" è un album monotraccia di quasi quaranta minuti (dotato di una confezione affascinante) in cui l'autore esibisce le qualità più recondite di strumenti quali fisarmonica e chitarra, estraendone rumori lancinanti. Il filo conduttore sonoro del lavoro può essere riconosciuto in una oscurità gelida che non ci saremmo immaginati potesse scaturire da strumenti caldi come quelli usati da Monteiro. Su questa tela si stagliano, violenti o pacati, i suoni spesso metallici e degni di una qualsiasi grande fonderia d'acciaio. Ci muoviamo nei territori dell'improvvisazione libera, sulla scia di quanto hanno potuto insegnare maestri sperimentatori del passato, gente capace di produrre suoni astrusi senza ricorrere all'elettronica, o semplicemente modificando l'uso o la struttura di uno strumento classico (si pensi a John Cage), e non è un caso che Monteiro vada ad utilizzare una svariata rosa di oggetti 'applicati' alla chitarra, che di fatto 'lamenta' le percussioni subite. Il lavoro può essere avvicinato come esito finale anche alla musica concreta, ma la sua costruzione non prevede la manipolazione di rumori esterni sovrapposti, quanto la creazione di grida inumane provenienti dall'interno e generate ad hoc. L'opera lascia con la curiosità di vedere un'esibizione dal vivo dell'autore, per capire come si possano ottenere tali effetti e ripercorrere da vicino i gesti che aprono la via ad una ferocia desertificante in parte vicina agli esiti della power-electro.
Michele Viali, Darkroom Magazine




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Alfredo Costa Monteiro (1964) is an artist from Portugal. He have finished multimedia studies in Paris, now he lives and creates in Barcelona. The artist is involved in many different art projects. His creation is unpredictable and can be named ‘art of visual sound’. 'Épicycle' is such example.
"In the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the epicycle was a geometric model to explain the variations in speed and direction of the apparent motion of the Moon, Sun, and planets. In particular it explained the retrograde motion of the five planets known at the time. Secondarily, it also explained changes in the apparent distances of the planets from Earth" (Wikipedia encyclopedia). The delineation of this system is on cover of album. The epicycle is a circle, in which orbits a planet or centre of other epicycle. The centre of epicycle moves along another large circle – deferent, and they both rotate counterclockwise. And in this system the epicycle rotates with respect to equant – the off-center point, which is opposite the Earth from the center of the deferent. In cover picture you can see this process, with toothed wheel in the centre. It is useful to keep this image in your head and to imagine how everything goes during musical impression of this movement.
The creation begins in one slow steady rhythm of motion in the distance. Some others loud sounds appear and come more and more near you with resounding noisy sounds. Suddenly they disappear and there is the same subtle far-off rhythm. Imagine that there is one epicycle, which moves near other and near the centre. Then start sounds, which are similar to talk, which can remind human talk, but not clear verbal, maybe a talk of this circular mechanism. These sounds become discontinuous and then it starts noisy powerful process. Dominate three or more rhythms and in this place we can remember, that centre of epicycle moves in uniform speed. So there are steady rhythms, which sound more or less loudly and quietly. You can hear how tooth wheel works in the centre, if you imagine the diagram of cover picture. Maybe there are a lot of such circles with their individual rhythms, which rotate in one big rotation.
If you imagine, that this circle in another circles are in space, you can be sure there are unknown and mysterious sounds in incognizable darkness, which can escape in some places of this track. The second part of track is more dark and noisy. One noise recedes, other comes near, like cycle in the cycle. At the end there is the similar steady rhythm like at the beginning. Every this circular mechanism rotates around, like a form of track – movement around, from beginning to end, from the same place to the same place. Circle is very important concept in our being. Costa Monteiro develops this symbol in musical way and the listener can propose, that almost everything moves in our life around, like in this astronomical system. This dark ambient music reflects felicitous vision in minds, the listener can be without knowledge about epicycle, but he can see this process by reading sounds. They are very natural and can help to feel a sense of invisible things and secrets of human structure, which reflects in abstract sphere of our being. This mathematical and philosophical journey is deep and pointful attempt to make a modern musical-visual sculpture in penetrating sense of sharp listener.
Demetrija, Heathen Harvest




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Alfredo Costa Monteiro ne montre sans doute pas la voie la plus immédiate pour accéder à l'esthétique Etude Reords et j'avoue avoir éprouvé moi-même quelques difficultés avant de pénétrer son univers strictement électronique. Cet accordéoniste qui a d'abord préparé son instrument avant d'utiliser les platines pour, finalement, se concentrer sur la seule source sonore du papier, explore en effet des contrées toutes personnelles dont la radicalité pourrait décourager les amateurs les plus avertis s'il ne montrait également une musicalité capable de transcender les résonances les plus virtuelles en authentique expression créatrice. Ainsi des drones constituant cet "Epicycle", que l'on croyait avoir déjà mille fois entendus et qui ressurgissent, débarrassés du souvenir de leurs prédécesseurs, neufs en quelque sorte et nimbés d'une poésie singulière.
Ici, comme certains tableaux évoquent leur sujet plus qu'ils ne le représentent, les nappes de Costa Monteiro, douces ou furieuses, planes ou coupantes, suggèrent la densité même du vent, l'opacité de l'air se déplaçant. Et l'auditeur, inquiet, suit les perturbations parfois violentes des masses stagnantes soudain balayées par de véritables bourrasques, comme s'il était lui-même ballotté d'un bord et de l'autre, aussi léger qu'une feuille. Un grondement sourd tend la toile de fond de ce paysage mouvementé et entretient un tel climat d'angoisse d'un accident à l'autre que l'on redoute la prochaine avanie dont la puissance, peut-être, nous emportera. En parfait dramaturge, le narrateur muet de ces sinistres composantes amorce constamment l'explosion sous-jacente, maintenant par là même l'attention d'un public qu'il abandonne à ses affres et immobilise soudain par la brusque déferlante d'une vague immense détruisant tout sur son passage avant de s'écraser et de rejoindre un néant qui ne sera jamais vraiment silence.
Et ainsi de suite ! Costa Monteiro joue avec nos nerfs, nous surprend, redouble d'insolence et tient toujours, au-dessus de nos têtes, la menace réelle de l'ultime incident qui annihilera toute chance d'écoute. Car, bien sûr, au-delà du sursaut permanent qu'il repousse toujours et de la peur du cri dans l'ombre, nous ne souhaitons rien qu'écouter, encore et encore, cette musique douloureuse, urgente et tragique.
Alors seulement, à l'issue d'un ultime chaos dévastateur, il nous condamne au silence définitif, descendant vers l'épilogue en nappes successives troublées de trilles ironiques, suggérant encore l'éventualité d'un bouleversement final et mourant enfin dans les soubresauts grondants d'un orage qui s'éloigne. Peintre, scénariste, décorateur… Derrière ses machines, Alfredo Costa Monteiro déplace des masses abstraites à l'intense pouvoir d'évocation. Et c'est littéralement abasourdis que nous émergeons nous-mêmes de cette Saison en Enfer aux accents futuristes.
Joël Pagier, Improjazz





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