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The Wire #347
by Dan Warburton

"Bon qu'à ça" was Samuel Beckett's typically laconic response to the question "Why do you write?" – and no English translation ("that's all I'm good for") can do justice to its terse, trisyllabic minimalism. There's the same "this is what I do" matter-of-factness to the music of Manuel Mota, a singular figure in the post-Fahey continuum (to misquote Anthony Braxton) of improv guitar heroes, who rarely performs outside a small circle of friends and has released only a handful of recordings, many on his own hard-to-find Headlights imprint, in a career now entering its third decade.

Charting the evolution of Mota's playing, whether on acoustic or electric guitar, is no easy matter. While one can clearly hear, on successive albums, Taku Sugimoto composing himself into near-silence and Loren Connors stripping the blues to the bone and wrapping the skeleton in a shroud of hum and hiss, drop the needle on any of the tracks in this handsome 5-CD box, which contains concert recordings from Lisbon, Ljublana and Paris along with eleven tracks recorded in Mota's own home, and you could easily mistake it for something he released a decade ago. There's a little more space in the music these days, for sure, but Keith Rowe's observations on Mondrian in The Wire #206 come to mind: "[He] just basically did the same thing. Even after the seismic change of going to live in America, his lines just thickened up a bit."

It's well nigh impossible, especially on a guitar, to avoid references to the repertoire you've grown up with, the memory written in the fingers – think of Alan Licht's tasty jam band licks, Derek Bailey's Webernian bebop – but there's there's very little in Mota's playing that reveals the blues rock he was weaned on. It's deceptively cool, studiously avoids excess and seems remarkably relaxed, yet once you start listening you're absolutely spellbound – check out how the ambient murmur and rustle of the punters at Lisbon's Zdb artspace on disc three quickly subsides into rapt attention.

Now that many improvisers arrive at the gig with a bagful of compositional caveats and thou shalt nots, it's refreshing to come across what used to be called "in the moment" playing (you can certainly hear why Bailey admired Mota), where the slightest accident, the tweak of an effects pedal catching the resonance of a harmonic, can send the music off in an entirely different direction. Fellow guitarist and Dromos labelmate Tetuzi Akiyama sums it up well in his affectionate mesostic that consitutes the liner notes: "the hands fooling / encounters new thoughts / after logics abandoned / bringing the distance / toward us away."

Improv Sphere
by Julie Héraud

Je ne connais pas trop Manuel Mota, mais d'après ce que j'en ai déjà entendu (un coffret de cinq disques solo a déjà été publié l'année dernière sur le label Dromos également) il semblerait que ce soit un guitariste très fortement marqué par le mouvement onkyo et notamment par Taku Sugimoto. Voilà qui paraît donc plutôt naturel de le retrouver ici avec Toshimaru Nakamura, autre figure légendaire du mouvement réductionniste japonais. Ce qui est plus surprenant par contre, c'est que ce dernier a délaissé ici sa trop fameuse table de mixage bouclée sur elle-même au profit d'une guitare électrique, à l'image de son partenaire.

En écoutant ce duo de guitares, il paraît difficile de ne pas penser à l'album désormais culte de Sugimoto, son solo Opposite qui est peut-être un des albums les plus influents des nouvelles musiques improvisées. Mota et Nakamura improvisent avec le même mode de jeu aéré et espacé qui dilate et étire la durée. Des lignes mélodiques où tous les paramètres du son (hauteur, intensité, timbre et durée) deviennent aussi important que le silence qui sépare chaque note. Les deux improvisations proposées ici sont plus tendues et agressives néanmoins, Mota utilise pas mal la proximité et la physicalité des micro-contacts tandis que Nakamura explore les retours et les larsens (son expérience de la table de mixage sans sortie oblige). C'est aride et abstrait souvent, mais aussi mélodique et chaleureux. Une belle expérience improvisée teintée de minimalisme et de noise pour deux improvisations entre mélodies bruitistes et improvisations réactives et silencieuses. Un duo qui oscille souvent entre l'exploration sonique et la mélodie dissonante et minimaliste, mais aussi entre le silence, le bruit et l'harmonie.

The Watchful Ear
by Richard Pinnell

The inevitable thing when writing about Manuel Mota’s work is that the usual list of comparisons is pulled out. So, Derek Bailey, Taku Sugimoto, Loren Connors, Tetuzi Akiyama, John Fahey etc… That’s those out of the way first. The thing is, these comparisons are inevitable because of how clear the lineage is here. Mota improvises, plays generally quite quietly and intimately, and plays the guitar, nothing else. So yes, all of those comparisons are valid, though for me it is the first of them, Derek Bailey that stands out the clearest. The link to Bailey however feels closer to the spirit of exploration and freedom I hear in Mota’s music, even if aesthetically it is early Akiyama and particularly Opposite period Sugimoto that initially spring to mind.

This release is a real labour of love. Five (yes, five!) CDrs are enclosed in a white card box adorned with a suitably minimal illustration hand-drawn directly onto the package by Mota himself. Beautifully illustrated slips of paper slid into the box offer us a short, tenderly poetic eulogy from Akiyama and then the barest of information on each disc, but actually I don’t know what else there really would have been to add. Mota’s music probably needs to be listened to and absorbed rather than written about.

So that said, this isn’t easy music to describe with anything other than dull comparisons and links to past genres that don’t come close to encompassing what Mota achieves. The five discs each contain solo recordings, some of them in live settings, some studio (or rather at home) recordings. There is a lot of material, all of it sitting in a similar area, which fortunately is a great pleasure to listen to. He works with little fragments of half-melody, little sections of chiming notes that both work as little enclosed bubbles of activity and as parts of the whole, usually separated by short silences. Its enchanting stuff, and there is rarely a weak moment across more than five hours of music. There are slight stylistic changes from disc to disc, but as everything was recorded in 2011 and 2012, the differences are less in the form of the music and more to do with the different techniques used. There is one disc of acoustic material (which I personally prefer) but the electric guitar pieces occasionally allow wah wah pedals and the like into the equation. Overall though, the feel of the music is all relatively uniform, but its extremely easy and inviting to listen to. Mota has been playing for more than two decades, mostly under the radar of CD releases or wider discussion. His playing is inevitably indebted to the musicians noted above, and his past in more distinctly blues oriented music plays a part as well. What comes across to me across the five discs here though is the personality that forces its way through the mists created by the quietness, the lack of liner notes, the restraint in the playing. I feel and hear a musician living every note at a very personal level. It feels as if each little cluster of notes just flows from the one previous to it, and so the tracks each feel like unbroken narratives rather than carefully composed “pieces”. Here is where the spirit of Bailey shines through for me. While the music sits in a very clear aesthetic area, one feels that Mota concerns himself less with the surface of his work than he does its shape and form.

Do we need all five discs? Probably not. I think the same impact could have come from two, one each of the acoustic and electric material, but hey I’m not complaining. While I don’t think I could listen to all five discs in one long sitting, spending time with Mota’s work here, between more abstract music has been thoroughly enjoyable over the past month or so. It somehow has a cleansing, pure impact that wipes the slate clean and setting you up to listen to something else again. While other releases get played a few times and then head off to a shelf they won’t come back down from in a while, I suspect I may keep Rck to hand to drop into the right moments over coming weeks. Beautiful work from an underrated musician.

Just Outside
by Brian Olewnick

Manuel Mota has always intrigued me, ever since "Leopardo" on Rossbin some ten years ago, but sightings had been few and far between since then. That's been safely remedied with this handsomely produced, five-disc solo set. The recordings are in different circumstances, at home or in concert, and took place between 2009-2012.

Richard covered matters well enough that I'm at pains to add much more. As has been the case in the past, at least with my exposure to his work, Mota uses fairly clear tones in a loosely melodic manner that hints at melodies but never quite states them, instead eddying off to the side with calm, wandering ruminations. For all of the first disc and the first two tracks of the second, the sounds are quite of a piece, pleasantly so, but similar enough to create a strong urge in this listener for, after a while, a change of pace. The third cut on disc II supplies that with a repetition of a single three note figure (two quickly slurred ones and a rising third) that sound like a kind of animal cry before, once again, drifting off into 'Opposite'-era Sugimoto soft ramblings. The live set on Disc III, from Lisbon 2011, benefits from a deeper, fuller room sound, Mota's strongly plucked notes having more air in which to reverberate than in the home recordings, though the music itself continues to reside in that same Mota-space. There's also more of a bluesy, Loren Connors feel here; would have been quite beautiful as a release on its own, my favorite section here. The 2009 Ljubljana set is more abstract, recalling Crimson's "Moonchild" (!) and a bit of Bailey, segueing into some wah wah that ethereally summons 70s Miles. The Instants Chavirés performance is a shade spacier than the prior one, with gentle echoes, velvet soft while the closing piece, home again, returns to the standard mode, albeit with a (relatively) loud section.

There's really very little to criticize--all the music is at the very least enjoyable and, on occasion, very beautiful, if in an elusive manner. Though it's 5 discs, the total time is only around three hours, so it's less to digest than may be immediately apparent. It's satiated by Mota hunger for now. Others who've experienced a pang or two for the same in recent years could do far worse.