“Improvisation enjoys the curious distinction of being both the most widely practised of all musical activities and the least acknowledged and understood. While it is today present in almost every area of music, there is an almost total absence of information about it. Perhaps this is inevitable, even appropriate. Improvisation is always changing and adjusting, never fixed, too elusive for analysis and precise description; essentially non-academic. And, more than that, any attempt to describe improvisation must be, in some respects, a misrepresentation, for there is something central to the spirit of voluntary improvisation which is opposed to the aims and contradicts the idea of documentation.”
Derek Bailey, Improvisation Its Nature and Practice in Music, Da Capo Press, 1993, pag. ix
Manuel Mota (1970) is a Portuguese guitarist, known for the personal vocabulary he has developed around his guitar. Brilliant improviser and scrupulous experimenter, his music is characterized by the absence of any boundary between creation-composition and instrumental performance, drawing inspiration from a multitude of vaguely post-modern references, which give his poetics a curious timeless sense. Little known outside of a close search for enthusiasts, he doesn’t seem to want to do much to get out of a sort of semi-clandestinity, which in the end seems to be a characterizing element of his work, together with an unadorned simplicity, the poverty of the recording media and the painstaking care with which he takes care, in every detail, of each of his record releases.
In December 14, 2021, this new cd, “Cirrus”, was released for his independent record company Headlights, with a limited edition of only 100 copies. This is his eighth album that I buy; I admire Manuel Mota’s tenacity and poetics, I don’t hesitate to call myself one of his fans and I always look forward to every new release. Over the years, Mota has managed to build a rigorous path of personal development and growth; music, for him, does not seem to be a professional career as much as the necessary complement to his life, a kind of philosophical path, of personal creative development. This latest album, “Cirrus”, is no exception. The title refers to both meteorological and zoological factors. The British encyclopedic defines cirrus in these two ways:
1) …may form limblike tufts called cirri. Most ciliates have a flexible pellicle and contractile vacuoles, and many contain toxicysts or other trichocysts, small organelles with thread- or thorn-like structures that can be discharged for anchorage, for defense, or for capturing prey.
2) …form thick conical structures, called cirri, which the ciliate uses to crawl along surfaces, rather like small limbs. In other species the cilia virtually disappear from the main body of the cell, but the circle of cilia around the mouth becomes well developed (as in the oligotrich Strombidium…
Cirrus music has an impalpable, microscopic and ethereal nature, characterized by a marked, almost artificial use of reverberation. I have often and willingly combined the musical figure of Mota with that of a designer or architect, a profession that I believe he actually carries out. I have the feeling that he creates his music as a designer can create his images, drawing quick, light and quick strokes with a soft pencil, a mark here, one there … you don’t understand what is emerging from the sheet … another sign … another note, another sound … the white space of the sheet, like silence, is filled with shapes, structures up to the final shape, where the sign remains the undisputed protagonist. His albums remind me of the Japanese gardens, where you realize that the work of man exists, but where the artist’s ideal is to recreate nature with delicacy and simplicity, without being seen or remembered. In Mota’s music there are no straight lines, no geometries; or yes, there is an intimate, non-Euclidean and subtle geometry, which reaches first to the soul and then to the mind. As in a Japanese garden, everything seems irregular, arranged at random, but as you go inside “Cirrus” you notice an overall harmony that affects you deeply. “Cirrus is a world made of signs. Mota is like that. Notes scattered over a background of silence, something very minimal and even intimate, a long, slow, non-verbal conversation with the listener. His music requires attention and concentration, we start waiting for the next note, the next musical phrase. You are almost afraid of losing it, with that almost rudimentary and artificial reverb that expands and compresses the space. Minimal, but also very severe. A structure which is mostly absent and which is discovered little by little, but only by paying great attention; nothing is given, nothing is explicit. Surely Mota knows what he does and does it very well, here nothing is left to chance and this type of improvisation is a symptom of an excellent preparation and study, a work where the intention is hardly perceived. “Cirrus” is a humble, refined, civil work, far from the noise, the crowd, the smell of the public.