Cristián Alvear Montecino

Cristián Alvear Montecino - Quatre Pièces Pour Guitare & Ondes Sinusoïdales (Rhizome.s)


Hear excerpts from the album here
Purchase Quatre Pièces Pour Guitare & Ondes Sinusoïdales here

As if one record from Alvear wasn’t enough, Rhizome.s released a collection of tracks for guitar and sine waves that further proves the Chilean musician’s versatility and refined playing style (check his bandcamp for even more). The first piece is one composed by Alvin Lucier entitled “on the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon, for guitar and pure wave oscillator”. The composition itself is straightforward: a sine tone plays throughout the entire piece as a string instrument (Ryuko Mizutani’s koto on the Lucier recording, a guitar here) interjects with a single note every few seconds. The result is another one of Lucier’s exploration in the physicality of sound. We hear how each note affects the sine wave and how this process also differs with pitch. The main difference between these two pieces lies in the panning of its instruments. Lucier’s piece has the sine wave and koto mixed strictly in the left and right channel, respectively, forcing the listener to mentally follow this cause-and-effect path. Alvear’s realization isn’t as extreme in its mixing but the collision of sound is just as perceptible, making it a bit more palatable.

The following tracks are decidedly less austere. The sine tones on Ryoko Akama’s ”, for guitar and sinewaves” are lively and ripple in an almost whimsical fashion while those on Bruno Duplant’s “premières et dernières pensées (avant de s’endormir)” stay at a relatively low volume. The latter is especially great; the sine tones function as a bed of sound for the emotive guitar playing to build upon but the comfort of their presence never feels as strong as when they’re removed and we hear complete silence. In those moments, the song feels intensely lonely. Sine waves eventually return but it’s only with the thoughtful structure of this composition that they can continually increase in frequency yet feel so soothing. Santiago Astaburuaga’s “pieza de escucha III” closes the record on a high note. It’s a lush 23 minute epic that features Alvear creatively “playing” his guitar, drawing out interesting sonic qualities in the instrument’s body and strings. Actually seeing him perform the composition is thrilling and insightful but being restricted to an aural experience proves just as enthralling because of the song’s unique sound palette.

Michael Pisaro (performed by Cristián Alvear Montecino) - Melody, Silence (Potlatch)

Purchase Melody, Silence here

About four minutes into Melody, Silence, Cristián Alvear plays a chord on his guitar and it resonates accordingly. What isn’t immediately perceptible, however, is that the resulting hum is from both the guitar and a sine tone. The tone then extends for nine minutes before leading into another passage of sparse guitar plucks. What once seemed clear in the record’s first passage is now ambiguous: are there sine tones here? Is this going to be the final note of the section? That there exists any sense of mystery within this skeletal composition comprised of sine tones, guitar, and silence is a testament to its understated beauty. Funny enough, this five minute piece only segues into one with silence. But in the careful examination of each plucked note comes a larger appreciation for them and an understanding of their weight. Sure enough, the final chord in this portion of the recording is dissonant and it feels potent.

I was initially disappointed that Melody, Silence was a single track; that I couldn’t participate in the reordering of its twelve parts seemed less than ideal. Now, that notion seems silly. Pisaro composed these twelve parts such that they “allow for various transformations, cuts, extensions and silences” so not only is Alvear’s realization wholly unique but the recording is specifically edited and sequenced to allow the listener to engage with it in the way Alvear sees fit. Case in point: a sine tone plays for six minutes around 26 minutes into the record. This time, there’s a deeper warmth and serenity to it and it can clearly be attributed to 1) the fact it’s simply played for a shorter period of time than the first 2) is at a relatively lower frequency and 3) is bookended by periods of silence. As with other Wandelweiser compositions, silence is understood as both “material and a disturbance of material”. These passages of silence function as more than repose; there’s a depth to them and they interact with the listener as well as the other instrumentation. Because of this, each guitar pluck and sine tone is sensed to their fullest capacity.