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Alfredo Costa Monteiro: About beauty and endings

img  Tobias

Why did you decide to base "Epicycle" on sounds derived from your own voice?
For me, it’s very important that every recording has a proper identity. I’m very demanding about what it should sound like and which meaning it should take into the continuity of my work. I come from visual arts, with a deviation into sound poetry since 2001, where voice is the main protagonist and the main purpose of a work based on the sound of language and its relation with semantics. Épicycle could be seen as a way to inject voice (or some of its residual forms) in a part of my work which is more strictly concerned with sound. Here, every connotation to the initial source tends to disappear, disintegrated by the sonic flux, which is, at the same time, obtained from this source.
I’m not particularly attached to any instrument, my purpose is not to show any kind of skill, but to construct a music which should be as intense as possible. In fact, I consider all my activities as a whole with no boundaries, but if we have a look in detail, some differences could be clearly defined.

After you recorded vocal samples, in which way did you proceed to rework them for your ideas about language and semantics?
I used a very simple method of processing with a limited number of tools: distortion, pitch, reverb and equalization. In fact, it may seem limited, but the combination of these elemental parameters is just exponential. And it’s what interests me: not the tool in itself but the way this tool can be used, how this operation can be endured by the form. Most of the recordings have been treated gradually, I mean, chronologically. One thing that particularly excited me was the fact that a sound that seemed to have reached its critical point, could be changed again into a very different inflection.
Before working on the piece, I was sure that the most recognizable part of the recordings (which are very few) should appear at the beginning, in a way to make the process more understandable and sustainable at the time. This way, I had the possibility to move away form the source almost instantaneously, but always being aware of a certain continuity.

"Epicycle" is part of a personal tradition for you in the sense that it follows up on other recordings based on a single sound source ...

I’m kind of obsessed with simplicity, because, from to my point of view, it’s a way to reach the essence of every purpose, and not being embarrassed about superfluous information. It’s a kind of law of parsimony, very close to what is known as Occam’s  razor *  ( “plurality should not be posited without necessity” ), although I’m not really attracted by nominalism. The term razor refers to the act of cutting away unnecessary speculations to be able to reach the simplest form. The method is what keeps me attracted, first of all to achieve a coherence in the process and in the sound. Working with a single or limited source obliges me to go deeper into the immanence of sound, to hound it where it’s hidden.
It’s a kind of revelation, I’m conscious about it, but for me, sound is part of a sort of social revelation. To paraphrase Bruce Nauman: “the true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths” **. And in my opinion, sound should reveal some kind of truth,  that’s also why I work on its phenomenological aspect.
I like to have a concept as an origin, and the most apparently limited it is, the best it is for me; the concept is nothing but a spinal column which can irradiate in many directions, but I always keep in mind the initial impulse. All this is mainly applied to my solo works, having to make some consensus whenever somebody else is involved. 

* William of Ockham (1288-1348) was an english franciscan philosopher.
**  Window or wall sign, 1967 a neon piece by Bruce Nauman. 
In the liner notes to the release, Brian Olewnick prominently mentioned the word "beauty". What does that word mean to you?
This was Brian’s term, but he may have detected something I try to manifest in all of my pieces, a principle of pleasure that I mean to be shared with the listener, the simple pleasure of working with sound. And wherever there is pleasure, it can be seen as beauty. Beauty is not acceptable without ugliness, and I’m pretty much concerned by this antonym. But all this could lead to an aporia: an impasse, if it should be correctly defined, and it’s not the purpose in this interview. I could say that this antinomy is subjacent, because it’s also a chase for form, a way to take decisions, to see my free will at work.
By beauty, Brian may have thought of some aesthetic parameters that converge in the final form, or simply the fact that this piece was conceived as an emotional experience. Whatever it is, I can’t take it other than a compliment, as he says that you never feel really safe while you’re listening to it...

Well, the album certainly has a strong sense of flow, which almost suggests it might have been recorded live ...
Although it’s a studio recording, I wanted it to be similar to a live act, in terms of experience. I’m pretty conscious of the differences between a concert and a private listening, but I wanted to leave the feeling of something that has been experienced, temporally and emotionally. It’s possibly also because the piece is governed by a very clear concept where cycles of events are happening in a sort of cause and effect system, ultimately, a determinism; in astronomy, an epicycle is a complex system that explains the rotation of planets. While working on the piece, I was conscious of another apprehension of time, more circular than linear, and I was very aware of each event as it had to have a specific duration. More generally, when I work in a studio piece, I always divide myself in transmitter and receiver... that’s one of the things that such a process allows.
I believe less and less in spontaneity, because with the years we accumulate lots of stimuli, attitudes or combinations ( not only in the direct production of sounds, but also in the intuition of how something could sound ) that lead us to play in a certain way. I try to get rid of this, and working in studio pieces helps me in that sense. When I’m playing live, I have the feeling that I’m not really improvising the material any more, I’m improvising the combination of sounds and the structure of the piece. 

In 2007, you ended longstanding involvements in 22a and BA col.lectiu d'improvisació. Why?
I was a member of these two collectives for many years.  The first, 22a, was a collective for contemporary art, mainly focused in visual art. As I mentioned before, I started my activities as a visual artist, having studied at Fine Art School of Paris, with Christian Boltanksi. But with the years, I found myself more attracted by sound, in part because I got tired of the system that involves visual art, which I still find too rigid and too formatted. The retorics, with the growing figure of the curator and the constant subordination to institutions, ended up making me tired. And also because I needed another kind of presence in my installations, more intangible and less material ( I would say objectual, although I think this is a neologism). So, after some years of a quite intense activity inside the collective, I decided to leave it, and this happened at the very precise moment of its disintegration.

I worked with IBA col.lectiu d’improvisació for 8 years. We used to organize concerts, festivals, workshops, exchanges... During all those years it was a quite important pole of synergies, here in Barcelona. We worked for many years being just three people, and it was a unique experience, a kind of utopia where political and artistic autogestion were the main rules.
But later, some divergences appeared, in part related to the possible evolution of the collective. This, added to a kind of tiredness, made me leave. It’s still working, and I help them as much as I can, but with different responsibilities.

These two decisions where also due to the fact that I wanted to focus more in my own activity, but this doesn’t mean that some day, I may be involved in some other collective experience. I believe that the beauty of any experience resides in its finitness.

Homepage: Alfredo Costa Monteiro
Homepage: Etude Records

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