Winter: Wade Matthews and Alfred Costa Monteiro

21/01/2012

 

Winter – Wade Matthews and Alfred Costa Monteiro

Wade Matthews – digital synthesis, manipulated field recordings

Alfredo Costa Monteiro – amplified springs, electric motors, radio

This album creates an engaging sound world full of invention. In its best moments the music  comes across as effortless, without any intention of showcasing a raft of original sounds simply for the sake of originality. That last observation should be taken in a positive sense – it matters very little whether sounds are original, unusual or ‘fashionable’. What matters in the kind of idiom we have here is that the sounds are interesting in themselves and in combination, that they are well shaped, layered and mixed, and that there are not so many sounds coming at you that you feel overwhelmed, that you have time and space to enjoy the music. In this respect Matthews and Monteiro have succeeded by means focusing on a restricted palette and by making best use of their fine listening skills.

In the first track Aconite, the sounds are generally difficult sounds to pin down. There is activity, predominantly in the noisy and fluttery sources, a powerful crescendo and a much gentler coda to settle us down. Regardless of whether this is composed, improvised, or both at once, behind everything lies a sense of restraint and craftsmanship.

Crookneck begins with a foreground of animated crackly sounds against a contrasting background texture, then offers us some detailed interest by means of activated springs. A few well-chosen sounds are brought together in a series of combinations. These combinations are given time to ‘work themselves through’ meaningfully, punctuated at times by sudden drop-outs. There are some beautiful passages here – a duet of springs plus the electronic sheen of some form of digital synthesis. We can identify the recognisable envelopes of some of the field recording material, despite being unable to identify the exact sources. The fact that I’m not spending all my time playing game show participant with the sound sources would suggest that the music holds much greater interest than a bunch of sounds composed in some fashion. The very obvious use of the radio breaks the acousmatic spell somewhat, taking us over that bridge between abstracted material to recognisable or referential material, introducing perhaps even an element of narrative. Here, and more generally throughout this album, the artists show good musical sense in letting passages run, allowing the sounds to unfold and speak for themselves. We finish again with another quiet coda. This piece is packed full of musical interest, again demonstrating a clever use of the restricted palette.

Flounder kicks off with radio, some static with accompanying indeterminate digital textures. Then metallic sounds. This piece seems very deliberately to set up a specific sound world, clear in its choice of materials, and to follow it through convincingly. Some obvious compositional or improvisational strategies – sudden dropouts, quick cuts – remind us that authors are still there. Again this is a fine piece which offers a listening environment full of interest, energy and invention. From a personal point of view, for what that’s worth, it goes some way along the direction I’d like to see music going. The artists have worked hard at selecting and shaping their sounds. Imposed form gives way to sonic interest, allowing form, at the best moments, to emerge from content.

Haven has a more introspective beginning: an almost instrumental pedal, a few background layers, blurred boundaries between foreground and background. This uncertainty is a strong feature of the album, particularly impressive when layers emerge and recede almost imperceptibly, over a tapestry of other textural and gestural activities. Modulations in the layers come to the fore, pushing through the intriguing textural veil, all done without any of the sounds jumping out at you demanding attention. Again, the use of the radio is foregrounded, this time as high frequency whispery radio voices which break the spell somewhat but are consistent with the use of the radio elsewhere. More importantly these sounds draw clearly perceptible structural relationships with what sounds to me like transformed contemporaneous material in a lower midrange layer.

Savory opens with two, then three well-chosen sounds. The layers and gestures enter, again promoting that effective uncertainty as to which will be foregrounded. The new sounds ‘materialise’ very well, again nothing surprising or unusual, but all very convincing – they simply fit well together. This piece took an unusual direction with the appearance of a processed vocal sound – a very odd referential musical syntagm. From this point, the music seemed to follow a markedly different direction from the previous pieces – out of kilter with the ‘edgy’ restraint of the previous tracks.

All in all, I’d offer the suggestion that the success of this album can be attributed to a two-piece arrangement in which the sense of focus and the merging of identities is almost complete, in which the music is delivered succinctly and with taste. We never feel that there are too many cooks in the kitchen and, at the risk of bending the metaphor out of shape, our two chefs have had the good sense not to throw the kitchen sink into the soup.

Winter is released on Copy for your Records

 

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