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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Simão Costa - Beat With Out Byte (un)Learning Machine (Cipsela, 2021) ****

By Paul Acquaro

First off, this is one of the more creatively packaged CDs that I've opened in a long time. Inside a white cardboard shell with stark simple lettering and black and white images of wood or maybe cut stones, the CD itself is wrapped in a folded plastic envelope. Demanding delicacy in just its appearance, pulling at the corners of the wrapper then reveals that it separates into two halves that envelope the disc. The imagery extends to this wrapper as well. The whole concept lends a bit of mystery to the music, imbuing it with a bit of a magic, so kudos to the design team of Marta Cerqueira & Kátia Sá ! Now to the sounds within ..

Simão Costa is a Portugese pianist with broad artistic and inventive interests, researching sound and designing ways to shape it. On Beat With Out Byte, Costa mentions the use of the piano as well as the (Un)Leaning Machine. The latter is explained on the CD sleeve (or on the less inspiring but easily accessed Bandcamp web page) by: "All sounds are acoustic made by piano strings and magnets using action or induction." This is exactly what you hear in the opening moments of "Beat", the first track. Sounds are drawn from the piano strings, extruded through magnetically induced vibrations, they are quiet, creating a gentle, sinuous waves leading slowly up to the kinetic second half of the album.

So, by the time we get to track three, titled 'Out,' the approach has changed. The first few minutes continue with the aforementioned vibrations, but then a key is struck, sending out a different type of tone, one with some punch behind it. This new attack, this time from the keyboard, increases and a strong rhythmic element is added, of course with other reverberating notes. The closing track begins with a different sort of strident minimalist attack note, but soon other sounds are being triggered, an akimbo loop of notes, symmetrical to a point, but dropping beats hear and there, builds to an agitated crescendo.

An inventive and all around captivating recording of an most curious acoustic piano!