CD Reviews

Two from Lucio Capece

December 16, 2014

Less is less

Factors of space inconstancy
Drone Sweet Drone

Two releases, one from late 2013 and one from late 2014, but i have chosen to go back and write about the earlier release in combination with the newer one simply because they both feature recent developments in the work of Lucio Capece, the Argentinian born, Berlin dwelling clarinetist that have seen him investigate areas away from, and in combination with his recognised instrument. Less is less is the earlier release, from the Russian Intonema label. It contains two pieces, the first of which, named Das temperierte Berner Münster sees Capece interacting in a live performance with Bern Cathedral, obviously a very large and resonant space. The day before the concert, Capece made recordings of the cathedral’s space, but used microphones placed in cardboard tubes, so presumably an altered, perhaps feedback affected tone was recorded. Capece then made what he described as a “long tone melody” from the pitches these microphones gathered, which he played into the room via both good quality speakers and also “contact speakers” attached to cardboard boxes in front of the attendant audience. Alongside this, Capece created three sine wave frequencies based on a spectral analysis of the same recordings, and played each of these from three speakers suspended from helium balloons allowed to float around the space, nudged by a team of assistants every three minutes. At one point in the proceedings Capece sets about walking around the space playing soprano sax, his sound appending perfectly to the tones and whispers in the space. Even without hearing the music this is an impressive description of a remarkable performance by a sensitive musician. The trouble would always be how you could capture and represent the event as an audio recording. The result is a fascinating and beautiful listen, but how much it falls short of experiencing the actual event only those in attendance could know. What we hear is clearly a recording of a large space, and the sense of movement around the hall is subtle yet present in the recording. There is an almost always present field of grey, murmured rustling present for the bulk of the piece, presumably as the cardboard box speakers provide a backdrop for the soft sinetones we hear drift in and out of earshot, but six or seven minutes from the end these fade out and the thin tones are met by Capece’s soprano in a very subtle and yet oddly majestic manner. Das temperierte is a beautiful work that pitches the listener into that cathedral and for thirty-five minutes gets them down amongst a framework of steadily evolving but always fragile and gentle beauty.

The second track on Less is less, is descriptively titled Music for pendulums and sine waves in different tuning systems. Again here we see three tiny speakers put to use, this time attached to swinging pendulums set up in Capece’s studio. I don’t really understand the mathematical differences between different tuning systems, but two of the speakers projected sine waves set in three different systems; Twelve tone equal temperament, Just intonation and Pythagorean Heptatonic. The third speaker played back feedback generated from a small cassette recorder, the speaker presumably plugged into the microphone socket as the tape deck was set to record. An additional element was added as Capece played an analog synth, its signal broadcast through the contact speaker, this time attached to the surface of a helium balloon. This piece is quite different to the cathedral piece in that its all about the subtle inflections as the various tones cross past one another, a swarm of slow throbs that sometimes sit apart, sometimes meet in direct confrontation and heavy beating patterns. Its a gentle, warming piece that does indeed give the sense of mechanisms going about their way, until gravity plays its inevitable hand and everything converges into one heavy tone at its ultimate conclusion. What makes the piece more interesting than other “systems” works is the way the sounds change as the different tones are played through the speakers, so affecting the progress of the overall experience. This isn’t just a case of listening to gravity play its own little composition using a few simple tones- the speakers progress through assorted sinewaves over time, and Capece adds a further element with the synth, so the work is constantly shifting and evolving throughout. It doesn’t quite have the captivating sense of space that the cathedral recording offers but its a beautiful and delicate work all the same, recorded exceptionally well.

Similar techniques are put to use on the first, and title track of the two pieces that make up the new album Factors of space inconstancy released on the Drone sweet drone label. Here two speakers rock back and forth past each other, each playing back feedback tones from the cassette recorder, set in recording mode. This time Capece not only plays along with his soprano sax, but also controls the output of the swinging pendulums via a volume pedal. The mini speakers are wireless affairs, and so a few seconds delay occurs between the cassette recorder creating feedback and the speakers playing it back, which according to Capece’s sleeve notes also then adds a further reverberation to the sounds we hear. With this piece, as I suspect with much of Capece’s recent work, I find myself trying to forget the systems used to create the music, such is the physicality of the process and the impossibility of imagining how it may appear, and instead I just tried to stop and listen to the sounds as alienated music. While such a disconnection isn’t entirely possible, listening as blindly as possible reveals a real delicacy to the work- subtle inflections in the tones as they pass each other, gigantic leaps as the tones change form over time, a gentle roughness to Capece’s sax when compared to the purity of the feedback, and above all a wonderful sense of negative space when the use of the pedal cuts out much of the sound. This is remarkable work. While other composers such as Lucier etc can be found working with the physics of sound along similar lines, few of them produce music that is improvised to the same degree as Factors of space inconstancy and so have quite the same sense of immediacy as Capece conjures up in this work.

The second half of the album is taken up by a piece for analogue synths and equalisers in feedback named Eyes don’t see simultaneously. Lucio here explores the way we as listeners can perceive sound as foreground or background- something I find myself doing and writing about with great frequency. For the first ten minutes or so of the piece’s forty minute duration a two note sequence is repeated continually, always at a high pitch, but with the timbre and quality of the sound shifting continually. Behind this (note, the immediate reaction is to say behind though below may also suffice) lies a deep, roughly hewn hum that comes and goes in pulses lasting from a few seconds to several minutes at a time, sometimes staying well away in the background, sometimes pushing its way past the high pitched two note sequence. Capece plays with our perceptions of how we should be ordering the sounds here as the alternating high pitched notes give way to the heavier hum, which takes the foreground for a long while, plumbing extreme depths whilst itself being pierced by a new stream of even higher sizzling synth. The piece progresses in this vein, continually shifting but with real subtlety, requiring attentive and immersive listening to really get the most from the track. As with all of this new work there is a feeling of constant change and a strong sense of spatial activity as one wonders if, in the room that the music took place that the additional third dimension may have added to the sense of foreground and background that Capece explores.

This new approach to Lucio Capece’s work is at once both rewarding and slightly frustrating as it is obvious that, as captivating as these CDs may be, one feels that this is music best caught in a live setting. Fortunately for UK based readers this can be done soon here, and I very much look forward to experiencing anything I may have been missing. For now though, these are both essential and fascinating documents of some really quite original and focused work.

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