Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lucio Capece - Less Is Less-Music for Flying and Pendulating Speakers (Intonema)

A few weeks ago, having just experienced a couple of electro-acoustic performances and felt a bit oppressed by the phalanx of speakers surrounding the audience, I remarked (on Facebook) about the desirability of small, mobile speakers. Obviously, this wasn't a novel idea but, in my experience, it was all too rarely put into practice. Serendipitous, then, to receive the most recent offering from Lucio Capece consisting of two works, one for balloon-suspended speakers and one for "pendulating" ones, that is, speakers in a motion similar to that of pendulums (pendula?).

To my ears, Capece has produced some of the strongest, most consistently vital work of the last several years and "Less Is Less" is no exception. Two pieces here. The first, "Das Temperierte Berner M√ľnster" benefits from the composer's notes which, since the label site doesn't reproduce them, I think I will (partially) do so here:

I recorded the sound of the Bern Cathedral during the previous day of [sic] the performance by placing a microphone inside cardboard tubes of differing dimensions. The resonance inside the tube produced certain pitches to the recordings. Afterwards, I built a sort of long tone melody with these pitches.

I deduced the harmonic spectra of these pitches, and selected specific frequencies from within the spectra. I also selected frequencies deduced from the room mode, and by making a spectral analysis of the recordings.

I selected freely the frequencies following my intuition and taste. The resultant ones were played by sine waves coming from three wireless speakers hanging from three helium balloons (90 cm. diameter).

While it pretty much goes without saying that one is missing a large portion of the work's substance by virtue of hearing it on disc, I get the impression that this recording does a really excellent job at capturing a great deal of the experience. There's a wonderful sense of volume and physical variation within the space, possibly enhanced by the photos included in the accompanying booklet, the three balloons--red, yellow and blue--aloft in the beautiful, Late Gothic structure, Capece seated solitary and small in one end. There's an amazing, essential buzz in the air, kind of a blurred beehive effect, through which pure, wavering tones pierce and amidst which are muffled thuds, obscure deep tones, the odd harsh bang. It's all darkly majestic somehow and for all its monolithic aspect, things are always shifting, pushing and pulling through the space. The balloons were nudged by assistants every three minutes and Capece takes a stroll with his soprano, though I'm unable to pick it out from the sine tones I'm guessing he's emulating. But the combination of spatial volume and (relative) lightness is truly impressive; you get a real sense of the air in the cathedral being transformed. A fantastic piece, would loved to have been there.

Steve Reich did an early piece for swinging speakers ("Pendulum Music") as did Gordon Mumma ("Speaker Swinging") and, I imagine, others. Capece's "Music for Pendulums and Sine Waves in Different Tuning Systems" is a subtle, lovely variation that, if anything, recalls Lucier. Capece again:

Two of the pendulums played sine waves in three different tuning systems: Twelve Tone Equal Temperament, Just Intonation, and Pythagorean Heptatonic.

The third speaker caused feedback produced by a cassette recorder. The movement of the feedback caused a sort of delicate delay that changed according to the movement of the speakers.

Capece added some synth and other sounds. What you hear is a medium-pitcehd, complex drone, very clear, glasslike. There's both a sustained basic tone (which undulates) and several other threads introduced over the piece's 28 minutes. My sense is that there's more choice on Capece's part, more use of intuition, than Lucier would normally allow himself, thereby nudging the work away from purely an example of acoustic phenomena toward, if you will, an aesthetic judgment. I suppose your tolerance for this end of the spectrum will match up reasonably well with the enjoyment you derive from works like Lucier's "Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families Hyperbolas" (surely one of the great titles!) though, as stated, this has more give to it. Then again, I can see Fripp/Eno heads (guilty as charged) getting deeply into it as well. I enjoy this as much as either though, more than the cathedral composition, it absolutely begs to be experienced in situ.

A superb recording; Capece on a roll...

Wozzeck - Act 5 (Intonema)

OK. This seems to be the fifth effort by Wozzeck which, at least here, consists of Ilia Belorukov (laptop with synths, ipod touch), Mikhail Ershov (bass guitar, effect pedals) and Alexey Zabelin (kick, snare, hi-hat). It's the first to reach my ears. All 200 minutes of it, five "acts" of 40 minutes each, on an audio DVD. Belorukov writes:

I had the idea to compose a slow evolving (or even unmoving at all) 40 minute piece with very similar parts, difficult to grasp, and with a structure packed with unexpectedness carefully disguised as monotony.

"Difficult" not in the Malfattisian or Capeceian sense (both of whom are cited)--at least for this listener--but because Belorukov often chooses to use thin, beat-driven sounds as his stasis field, the kind of sonics that test my patience from the get go. "Act 5.1" contains a pretty basic, techno-like rhythm augmented with a gooey rising and falling synth figure atop which is, gradually, layered various plies of detritus--fuzzed blats and conversational extracts among them. It takes (me) some effort of will to relegate the beats to any kind of beige background, though it's an interesting exercise to attempt to do so. By the time screams appear, they almost blend in with the odd grayness that has formed, the gray of pillow padding where all these speck of color exist but become all but invisible. Pixilated gray, maybe. There are elaborate notes and diagrams included with the disc. For this piece, Belorukov references King Crimson, Webern and Zorn. I can't say I detect them but the next work, "Act 5.2" begins in a manner not too different from some Naked City, particularly the ultra-short pieces featuring Yamatsuka Eye, but looped, sliced and iterated in time signatures based on the first 40 digits of pi. Yep. There's a thrash metal meets the ultimate math rock geek feel to the thing. While the essential grist of the piece is more interesting (to me), the same grayness inevitably sets in. By now, it seems clear that Belorukov is positioning this kind of monotony against that (ostensibly) created by the likes of Malfatti. My problem, of course, is that I don't generally find Malfatti (even as representative of a type) to be monotonous; quite the opposite. The music at hand...almost is. But not quite and not, somehow, in the same sense as Malfatti. It's a different kind of subdued interest, not as deep as some others, to these ears, but akin.

The third act's meat is in adjacent territory--reminded me of things like Blind Idiot God at first (though that likely betrays my lack of knowledge of the genre; the piece had the working title, "Black Metal", doubtless referencing bands other than BIG)--but in alternating snatches of sound/digital silence, 30 seconds each. The least interesting section for me, thus far. Still not sure if that's the point...(caveat: I'm writing this while listening for the first time, apart from a 10-minute dip I took upon receiving it. Maybe not ideal but, 200 minutes is 200 minutes.) "Act 5.4" is the ballad of the set, all spacey ambiance and dead slow beats/throbs, much quieter than the previous tracks. The guts of these pieces are much more complicated than I'm describing and are gone into in great detail by Belarukov though I must confess, often I can't pick out the subtle variations. The final track is probably the most varied here but, oddly, I found myself hankering for the more "monotonous" pieces!

I don't know--a tough release to tackle, but tough in unusual ways, almost aggressively daring you (if your interest is in contemporary experimental music, anyway) to lose patience but in a manner different from, say, Mattin. By citing Malfatti, Belorukov seems to be arguing for a kind of equivalency, at least insofar as elements used, tat extended silence broken by low volume trombone tones isn't essentially different from beat arrangements that blend into an unvariegated whole. It's not a bad question and, if anything, isolates a strong and lingering aestheticism on the part of many listeners, myself included. I'm not sure that's a bad thing, though, moldy fig that I am.


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