Thuistezien 264 — 13.05.2021

Lucio Capece
Musical Material #3

Originally hailing from Argentina, Lucio Capece has been based in Europe for most of the last two decades. In these years his primary base has been Berlin, where he has been active in the minimalist music scene related to the – often controversial – collective Wandelwieser. He has also continued to be active in Argentina, and has also been active in the U.S.A. and Japan.

His output is greatly varied, but some of the recurring elements in his work include: his performing on saxophone and bass clarinet (on both of which he is an accomplished performer and on which he has also performed many contemporary classical works), a use of small suspended speakers (which in some performances can be seen hanging from floating balloons and which he then refers to as ‘flying speakers’, or can be seen suspended mid-air from strings kept in motion with the use of small fans, which he then refers to as ‘speakers as pendulums’), as well use of field recordings, spoken word, and electronics (usually hardware-based and controlled by a physical mixing console on stage). Several of these are seen in his performance at West, which took place in 2016, at West’s previous location at Huis Huguetan on Lange Voorhout. His performance was featured in the event ‘Musical Material #3’, as part of a concert series which is created in collaboration with Rewire.

Capece’s work has been presented all across the world, has appeared on endless recordings and albums, has been created alongside many other musicians that make up the long list of collaborators he is associated with, and taken many different forms ranging from solo performances, to works for ensembles, to installations. Although his work can on the one hand be quite intense, yet it remains strangely calm in many ways: it often features long sustained sounds, and also long drawn-out pauses (which some listeners may find calming and contemplative and others may find tense and aggravating), often his minimalist performances happen at quiet volumes, and his improvised instrumental performances seem more interested in slowly exploring timbre instead of showcasing a virtuosic flurry of notes. But even when he creates sounds gently and slowly there is always a feeling of tension inherent in them, especially as many of the sounds he explores are somewhat discordant, rough and relatively unusual, and seemingly lacking a clear sense of direction. Ultimately there seems to be something enigmatic and intangible about his work: it is difficult to accurately categorise it or to get a hold on it as a listener and viewer, and seems to always be morphing while staying stagnant. It is also difficult to get a hold of his intentions as an artist: It is often easier to conjure up questions about his work than to describe it.

His work has often been described online as being ‘focused on the perception experience’. And it is interesting to consider this when he prefaces his performance at West by stating that his performance isn’t about ‘psychoacoustics or anything like that, it is about things’. He follows this by reciting the following quote by French phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, from his 1945 work Phenomenology of Perception: ‘To return to the things themselves is to return to this world prior to knowledge, this world of which knowledge always speaks […]’. Capece doesn’t go further with the text, but the original quote continues: ‘ […] and this world with regard to which every scientific determination is abstract, signitive, and dependent, just like geography with regard to the landscape where we first learned what a forest, a meadow, or a river is.’ So it might appear the ‘things’ Capece refers to implies physical ‘things’, stripped from the ideas that may be imposed upon them by human consciousness. And that despite the aforementioned and often-used statement that his music is about the ‘perception experience’, Capece seems to be preparing us for a performance which isn’t meant to play on our perceptual experiences. It’s just about ‘things’.

This seems convincing considering how much of Capece’s work often highlights his interest in the many sound creating objects he uses for his performances. For example, his solo performances on saxophone or clarinet are listed as ‘[saxophone or clarinet] and preparations’. This emphasizes his approach to exploring the many sonic possibilities that arise from augmenting the capabilities of his instruments with other objects, which range from cardboard tubes, to metal cans, to violin bows, to small speakers and electronics. This way a saxophone or a clarinet isn’t as much a vehicle for an abstract musical idea, or even a melody, or a series of pitches, nor is it a tool to show off musical virtuosity. It is instead a musical object that is complemented with and juxtaposed against other objects. In this light, it seems much of Capece’s interest is in inviting the audience to watch him demonstrate these explorations of how the ‘things’ he brings on stage respond to one another and the interesting sounds he can draw out of them as a result.

We see this element in his performance at West, as he uses an electronic music system which is originally intended to create synthesized vocal lines. As he mentions, this system had been used to create the artificially-generated singing of the virtual Japanese cultural phenomenon which – for legal reasons – he calls ‘M.’. ‘M.’, had her humble beginnings in a niche user-generated online music platform, but soon took on a holographic existence in live performances, fronting a band consisting of live (human) performers, which then started performing to packed stadiums in Japan, and more recently also in Europe and North America.

Capece refers to this interesting fact about the technology he uses, and he also mentions the idea of animism in Japanese culture and how it may have contributed to the creation of this artificial singer and its ability to take hold in Japanese contemporary popular culture. He mentions these ideas almost in passing, and when he uses this system in his performance he seems to strip away its original intention to conjure up a singing anime character, and instead seems to explore it simply as an object that can alter a sound fed into it. By introducing it to the sound of his slide saxophone he seems to be exploring the interaction of the two and inviting us to experience these sound-making ‘objects’ responding to one another in strange and interesting ways. And it can be calming, fun and attractive to watch his exploration.

Yet, the question of ‘M.’ is complex, touching on the idea of a digital versus a physical world and how we can relate to it. A question which only becomes more poignant for our lives today as time goes by. Capece may use this voice-emulating electronic apparatus only for the sake of its sonic possibilities, but it inevitably feels inseparable from the connotations of “M” as we hear garbled traces of her voice throughout his performance. It becomes tempting to ponder the cultural and perceptual shifts in our digital-minded 21st century culture that “M” seems to expose.

Capece’s aforementioned reference to Marleau-Ponty as a continuation of his statement that his performance is simply about ‘things’, arguably seems only to complicate matters more: He indirectly touches also on the work also of philosopher Edmund Husserl (who established the school of phenomenology and was a great influence on Merleau-Ponty) and his statement: ‘We must go back to the ‘things themselves’!’. And as a result, also touches arguably on the Kantian idea of noumena (i.e. objects or events that exist independently of human sense and/or perception as opposed to the idea of a phenomenona, which in philosophy refer to any objects of the senses), which is related to Kant’s idea of the unknowable ‘thing-in-itself’. It’s difficult to quote a philosopher such as Marleau-Ponty without indirectly touching on the far-reaching phenomenological questions he explored (and which have the potential to lead someone down into a deep Wikipedia-fueled web-surfing wormhole). These are questions which have been repeatedly explored, revised and heavily debated across generations of philosophers. A simple form of possibly one of the central questions these aforementioned thinkers explored (and which arguably are indirectly touched upon by Capece) may be: do things exist independently of our human consciousness, or do they exist only because of our human consciousness? It’s the kind of stuff that can keep you up at night. And then with the case of the artificially generated ‘M.’, which to an extent only exists in human imagination yet somehow also holds a physical – and also hyper-sexualised as it happens – existence, how does that then affect contemporary phenomenological discussions?

In his opening remarks Capece mentions that animism has the desire to ‘[make] notice of the life behind things’. Is there a deeper ‘life’ or network of ideas in Capece’s work that he is trying to draw our attention to? Is there something more behind the interesting yet somewhat uneventful exterior of his performance? Is his performance mainly about his fascination in physical things, which manifest on stage as sound making objects which he then explores during his set? Or are the ‘things’ and objects he makes sound with more significant and intellectually stimulating than they initially seem? Maybe he is consciously creating a situation of confusion and ambiguity that his work can conjure up, and then only further encouraging it through the philosophically-loaded references he mentions when prefacing his performance. Or maybe this is just up to the perception of the listener / viewer.

Text: James Alexandropoulos - McEwan

Photo: Maurice Jean Jacques Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961). French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.