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Alfredo Costa Monteiro | umbralia
TRB.031 | 2011/06/10 | CDR

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    "Umbralia" for electric organ... Taking the instrument's sonic capabilities for granted, Alfredo Costa Monteiro walks on the edge of drone music by recording a rather strident and edgy 45-minute mass of microtonal organ music. At times mysterious and silent while at times being head-pecking and menacing with rising and falling otherworldly low-frequency stabs, high-pitch sonic fissures and trembling volumes of fine-tuning clusters, "Umbralia" echoes its electroacoustic nature no matter it does not carry any such process. Bring in mind a György Ligeti à la Charlemagne Palestine work...

total duration  45:17

recording took place at Passatge, on February 2, 2010
mixed at home, in Barcelona, in July 2010

mastering & graphic layout by Themistoklis Pantelopoulos, April 2011

photo by Alfredo Costa Monteiro, March 2011


reviews

    The correct intuitions for ever-puzzling music never abandon Alfredo Costa Monteiro in these last years, a period during which his recorded production has reached a level of solidity like never before. As we have repeatedly written in the past, the Portuguese gipsy of contemporary art can distill meaning from almost everything he touches, and - as a consequence - affecting sounds from any instrument (or object) that he decides to use. In the case of Umbralia, released quite a while ago but only recently sent to your reviewer, the choice fell on an electric organ. This decision, paired with the kind of output we're usually furnished with by the Greek label run by Themis Pantelopoulos, reveals the area of research as that where drones, apparent motionlessness (pregnant with decisive events) and microtonality meet.
    Since the very beginning one's aware that this is not a typical "press-play-and-let-the-psyche-do-the-work" album. Costa Monteiro is an inquisitive musician, so he's not content with a single solution; circa 12 minutes in, the strident clusters that open the program suddenly cease, and after a few instants of silence a wonderful series of sloping figurations draws arcs in the air like semi-invisible rainbows, soon "corroborated" by adjacent pitches that immediately destroy that sense of suspension with ear-piercing dissonant signals. This, in turn, morphs into another accrual of notes whose edgy traits bring out mind-intoxicating fumes: a constant flux of atypical codes and tones, the incessant rubbing constituting a veritable nirvana. This alternance of rarefaction and accumulation - at times relatively noisy - goes on for the whole extent of the composition, each time renewing our attraction towards this clever superimposition of diverse gradations: often discordant, generally bewitching.
    Once again, a first-class statement that discloses its potential even at low volume but expresses it fully by playing it loud. Skillfully orientated upper partials can regulate a transitory sensory perspective of the cosmos, and Costa Monteiro doesn't need cheap pseudonyms and "hear-me-pontificating" anonymity to perform the job.


    Another excellent and, amazingly, very different release from Costa Monteiro, who has to have one of the most varied catalogs around. "Umbralia" is for electric organ and, most assuredly, there's more than a dollop of classic Sun Ra to be heard, but Costa Monteiro careens into several areas, almost always with a harsh, microtonal edge to the sound, a severe burr. As with most dronage I find tasty, there are multiple layers in play most of the time and those plies create great, tense space between them, using fine colors. Additionally, some of the layers depart from steady state, incorporating "stabs" of a kind that recall Reich's great "Four Organs". It shifts several times, gradually becoming less compressed but ever retaining an uneasy, quivering aspect. Sun Ra comes to mind again, as if Costa Monteiro had taken slices of those incredible parts of "Atlantis" or "The Magic City" and expounded on them. "Umbralia" is another in an increasingly long line of strong releases from Costa Monteiro, who's establishing quite a canon.


    So, so cold here today. Julie and I went for a walk at one point to try and clear the cobwebs a little, headed up onto our favorite old disused railway line, and, as beautiful as it was to watch the sunset and share a couple of hugs, it took me at least an hour to get warm again afterwards. It hasn't snowed yet, but its only a matter of time. Tonight, at 3AM I am driving my parents to the airport so they can escape to sunnier climes for the Christmas period. I just hope I can get there and back before the roads become hazardous.
    I have listened to some music this evening anyway, a new CD by Alfredo Costa Monteiro named Umbralia released on the Greek label Triple Bath. As is par for the course with releases by Alfredo, he is playing here another instrument I don't believe I have heard him play before- the electric organ. There is one single track on the disc, clocking in at forty-five minutes, but as it stops a couple of times before beginning again there are certainly clearly defined movements to the work, albeit not noted on the disc's sleeve. Now, I think I have mentioned before my dislike for the sound of the electric organ. It always puts me in mind of bad psychedelic music, particularly when keys are held down, as they certainly are on this new CD. So my entry point to this disc, particularly as it opens with a passage of sustained electronic sounding tones is one of some prejudice. That the piece maintains a drone form for much of its duration doesn't help either.
    Not a good starting point then, and CDs by lesser musicians than the talented Mr Costa Monteiro might not have lasted so long on first play, but once I had rid myself of my preconceptions and allowed myself to listen properly to this piece of music I found it, on the whole, quite enjoyable. the opening minutes of the CD do indeed inhabit an area of carefully tuned sustained tones that end up playing tricks on the ear, with beating patterns emerging and so a sense of rhythmic wavering exists. gradually more harsh sounds are added though, sheer, almost metallic shimmers and also deep bassy throbs at the other end of the scale. Sounds mostly appear suddenly, stay a while and then disappear just as abruptly, with the general drone feel of the piece never leaving but with a lot happening to keep the music interesting. Often Alfredo uses the various extremes possible in the instrument to deliver sudden jolts to the listener. A passage of high tones will inevitably be cut short by something so deep it barely registers, and throughout the disc the direction is often changed when one dominant element from one end of the keyboard or the other suddenly cuts out to reveal its opposite underneath.
    In a couple of places the music comes to a complete halt. The first of these is a real shock, as a stream of insistent high screams suddenly cuts away to leave nothing behind. We get twenty seconds or so of silence before a new series of tones, completely different begin. Having noted both the length of the piece and that there was only the one track on the disc this sudden silence threw me completely and had me reaching for the liner notes again. Its nice to be surprised by music that you thought wasn't likely to anyway. Lifting my head on the second run through I noted that these gaps seemed to come at precisely the fifteen and thirty minute marks, so dividing the album precisely into three. Late in the second movement of the disc things get very interesting as Costa Monteiro introduces a series of sounds that do not seem as if they come from the organ. Passages of grainy white noise, as if he is pushing the nutriment to far, forcing dials round one notch too many and coming up with malfunctioning groans.
    The music on Umbralia perhaps isn't the kind of thing that easily connects with me, but I have to say that I enjoyed listening to this piece several times over, and it seem to grow on me on subsequent listens. Its a subtle, clever, and immaculately realised work that pulls interesting sounds, and combinations of sounds out of an instrument not usually linked with such phenomena. I remain more attached to other areas of Alfredo's music, but its always good to hear yet another part of this extremely talented musician's output.


    On the other new release for Triple Bath we have the renowned improviser Alfredo Costa Monteiro, originally from Portugal but since twenty years in Barcelona, and best known for his works with accordion, electric guitar, turntables and many collaborations with Ferran Fages, Ruth Barberan, Margarida Garcia, Pilar Subira and Juan Matos Capote in a culmination of projects. For 'Umbralia' he works with an electric organ. Hard to say whether this organ is played in real time, or perhaps multi-layered, or even what kind of organ it is, as nothing else is mentioned as 'electric organ'. His one piece lasts forty-five minutes and is of great beauty. Maybe it's because I love the sound of organs, toys, farfisa, churches, motor driven, electrical: I happen to love 'm all, and certainly in cases like this, where it's very difficult to say what exactly he is doing. I am somehow convinced that this is not the work of real time play, but if so, no doubt a bunch of electronics were used. But it's more likely that Monteiro made a clever mix of various organ bits and sculpted a great piece of music together. A bit Palestine like, or Lucier at times, but Monteiro moves through various passages, sometimes reminding the listener of an electro-acoustic collage of organ sounds. Excellent work all around.