Atlantic Waves Festival – 3

Various Improvisations

John Duncan
Alfredo Costa Monteiro
Stefan Mathieu
Paulo Raposo
Oren Ambarchi
Margarida Garcia

Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt

Reviewed: 26 November, 2006
Venue: St Giles Cripplegate, London

This instalment of the Atlantic Waves festival of “Exploratory Music from Portugal and Beyond” saw a greater emphasis placed on electronics and with it a greater level of patience, understanding and intuition from performers. If a lot of the sound heard was elusive, it was also loud, overwhelming – and frequently moving.

This programme consisted of a selection of duets. First, American sound-artist John Duncan was paired with Alfredo Costa Monteiro, from Portugal, who here performed on some sort of feedback device. Standing in darkness at the centre of the stage, the two appeared to be closely monitoring one another’s output, Duncan ‘sculpting’ and relaying the signals provided him by Monteiro who tinkered away at a collection of wires and antennae, making small discernible static noises and louder pops, these then growing into fierce walls of noise after feeding through Duncan’s mixer.

Opening (appropriate to the weather) with vast howling gales of white noise, it was as though a thunder-storm was about to tear the church to shreds – I wasn’t alone in looking to the windows to confirm everything was all right! These grew louder and more dense, swaying from speaker to speaker and around the room, before suddenly giving out. Monteiro then tinkered away at his wires, making small, uninvolving drill sounds, but he seemed to be enjoying it like a dentist in awe of his tools’ sound-making properties. Things then grew louder again, here involving repeated oscillating and shuddering, before slowly fading out like slowly scattered sand.

Next up was a laptop duet, German Stefan Mathieu and Paulo Raposo from Portugal. Mathieu is a regular on the drone laptop circuit, an increasingly crowded field; his most recent recording took place at John Tavener’s house and involved field recordings, instrumental performances and samples all taken from time spent there. Raposo is concerned with the relationship between sound and architectural space, using custom-built software to produce dense, shifting sound blocks not dissimilar to Mathieu.

Hence, when the duo started performing, it was often difficult to discern one from the other. Moving from sparse shivering sine-tones through busier low-end whirring the music built up into thick rumbling fields of sound, difficult to penetrate. Occasionally one would attempt to pierce this web, Mathieu (I think) introducing washed-out samples of choral and orchestral music; later some water droplets and bells made an appearance, but it would perhaps have been better to have them individually. Nonetheless, there was something involving in their chaotic aural flood.

The last instrumental duet was the strongest of the evening, pairing Australian guitarist Oren Ambarchi with Portuguese double bassist Margarida Garcia. Their success can be put down largely to similar approaches to instrumental performance and sound production. Ambarchi began in his trademark manner, coaxing low notes, painfully slowly, from his instrument, cloaking them in coats of reverb and sustained until they started circling the room. Garcia introduced some scraped bowings and taps upon her instrument, aligning comfortably with Ambarchi’s fondness for the crackle of his input jack. A regular, repeated note was looped from the guitar offering an anchor for further, deeper explorations, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by cycling sheets of increasingly ominous low-pitched noise. Where Ambarchi patiently, and voluminously, dragged, Garcia spewed reams of insectoid chatter, eventually calming down and focusing upon small shards of decaying grit. Ambarchi and Garcia worked extremely well together, providing an exciting finale to an energized, noisy evening.

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