Fifteen Questions Interview with Lucio Capece
Giving the sound back to the space
Lucio Capece is an Argentinian musician and composer who has lived in Berlin since 2004. Although classically trained in the guitar, Capece's attention was drawn towards the soprano saxophone and later the bass clarinet which now, along with the shruti comprise his current instruments of choice. Capece performs and creates with various musicians, composers and artists in the context of long term partnerships with artists such as Radu Malfatti, Toshimaru Nakamura, Axel Dorner, Kevin Drumm, Rhodri Davies, Julia Eckhardt, Phill Niblock and Pauline Oliveros, with the Q-O2 Ensemble. Capece's relationship to music is not simple or orthodox, rather it challenges everyday perceptions at the same time as being inspired by them. A champion of spatial liberation, Capece is on a mission to give sound back to the spaces in which we live and share.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?
I started playing music at the age of 12 years old. Initially I played classical guitar. The first musical impact on my life was Luis Alberto Spinetta, an Argentinian song writer who passed away a few months ago. I keep on listening to his music like in those days. He is a main source of beauty and musical pleasure to me. As a teenager I studied classical music at the Conservatory and jazz with private teachers. Right after the first impact with Spinetta, as a teenager, I was impressed by bandoneón player Dino Saluzzi. As he started recording for the label ECM I began to listen to several musicians involved with that label. Among them, The Hilliard Ensemble versions of Perotin and Gesualdo introduced me to Medieval, Renaissance and early Baroque music, that remains a fundamental influence on me now. Miles Davis was also someone that I was listening to a lot, mainly Kind of Blue, Blue Moods, the 50´s and 60´s quintets. When I was 20 I began to play soprano saxophone and a bit later the bass clarinet. These instruments became my main instruments and I stopped playing the guitar. In those years I was listening to Louis Scalvis (The albums Rouge and Acoustic Quartet) and Tim Berne (his three albums recorded live at Instants Chavirés), Julius Hemphill (Reflections) and Anthony Braxton (his quartet with Marilyn Crispell, Jerry Hemingway and Mark Dresser).
My music development was determined by the information that I could grab in those days in Argentina. Since the age of 18 I had worked as a music teacher in schools. In the 90´s Argentina had a strange law that destroyed it´s economy. The law established that one Argentinian peso had the same value of one dollar. This allowed me to save money with international value. In 1997 I took lessons with Sclavis in Lyon, that he offered me for free. I found a work in a hostel and stayed longer in France, listening to several musicians. I listened live to Evan Parker, Steve Lacy, Voice Crack with Günter Müller, Jacques Di Donato and Xavier Charles, for example. And that was a nice impact. I was listening also to indie rock, Sonic Youth, Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Living Colour. Also Bjork (Homogenic) and Portishead. I found and listened in a public library, for the first time, music by Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi. Then I went back to Argentina. Played with my friends, and saved some money. I got in touch with the music of composers Helmut Lachenmann, Luigi Nono and Mathias Spahlinger .
In 2000 I went to New York, where I could meet several musicians who had played with Braxton and Hemphill, and attended many concerts of the downtown music scene. I listened live to Derek Bailey several times. I perceived the social roots of jazz and its differences with my own history. I got in touch with several beautiful CD´s by the collection World Music Library, getting impressed specially by Gagaku, other traditional Japanese music, music from Korea and Gamelan. I listened to some Spectral music (Gerard Grisey, Tristan Murail) and Pan Sonic. I got in touch with what was later called Electro Acoustic Improvisation. I perceived that it was a young and strong movement with space and possibilities to develop ideas and meet creative musicians. In New York I listened for the first time to music by Morton Feldman playing live: “Piano, violin, viola cello”. One of his last pieces was the beginning of something great for me. I bought my first Radu Malfatti and Keith Rowe CD´s. I moved to Europe in 2002. I perceived that the international isolation caused by the big economical crisis in Argentina and the devaluation of our currency, would oblige me to stay stuck to one place.
I lived in Paris for two years, and in Berlin since 2004.
In Europe I got in touch with a lot of interesting music that I did not know before, and it affected me in a positive way. For several years I did not feel that my music was determined by what I listened to, or what information I obtained, but by my own experience and research into sound and life.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
I would divide it into three moments.
In the 90´s I played a lot with my friends in Argentina (Sergio Merce, Juan Cucurulo, Adrian Fanello, Hernán Vives, Gustavo Nasuti, Gerardo Velikovsky, Zelmar Garin). To play with good friends for years is fundamental, to feel music and friendship as one thing. The music that we did, was related with ideas that were not developed at all in Argentina and I still think that we were offering something good and unique for our social background.
In 2002 I established myself in Europe but only in 2004 could I start working in my music properly. Since that year I have had the chance to meet several amazing musicians and do projects with them including Keith Rowe, Axel Dörner, Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies, Julia Eckhardt, Toshimaru Nakamura, Robin Hayward, Mattin, Franz Hautzinger. Those projects were based in improvisation, but with a specific approach.
In the last 4 years I have worked for a long time on two records, a duo with Mika Vainio (Trahnie, released by Editions Mego) and a solo CD recently released by the label Potlatch called Zero plus Zero. This is an approach to CD production that I will keep on developing, records made carefully over a long period of time.
The solo album is something that I can clearly offer as the music that is me. I worked a lot on it, and the work not only took time and thinking, but also an honest research in my taste and my vision of life and music. I'm developing my solo music as an important subject. My approach to improvisation has changed. It is not far from composition. I meet musicians and we work together, doing occasionally first time meetings.
I have collaborated with Lee Patterson, Chris Abrahams, Christian Kesten, Birgit Ulher, speakers designer Lorenzo Brusci, among others. There is a recent release with Mika Vainio, Kevin Drumm and Axel Dörner ( recorded live in 2008). I am part of a group dedicated to perform Wandelweiser composer´s music. Together with Johnny Chang and Koen Nutters.
I have met and played in a duo with Radu Malfatti several times in the last years (also as a trio with Kevin Drumm). Malfatti released in his own label, B-Boim, recordings of two of our duo live concerts. I have the highest regard for his work. I think that I met him at the exact right moment. It is an immense pleasure and a great step into de void, each time I meet and play with him.
Keith Rowe once asserted that it is often certain people that “give one permission to do things”. How was that for you – in which way did the work of particular artists before you “allow” you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?
Keith Rowe is certainly a liberation agent through his music and his thinking about music, who always offers very deep and moving questions.
I think that several artists that commit honestly to their work, just because of doing that, are liberating agents. But it’s up to us to get free or not, to give ourselves permission to move and be alive, is our decision. It has a lot to do with our capacity and wish to move, check and change.
I think anyway, that it is the births of my children (I have three kids 5 months, 3 and 6 years old) that has been more liberating than anything else for me. I always thought that to have a kid was going to be incredible. And it is, but I could also see the wild aspect of it. It's not only that it was, let’s say a “major chord”, happy and positive. I could feel like heavy sub lows beatings under my feet, when they arrived. Life is an energy that comes wherever and whenever it wants. That independence of anything, even of us, the parents; “that” wish to stay alive, the will of existence, is more liberating than anything else to me. Music became since then, less important in my life, and because of that, I think, much better.
Unticking the boxes
What are currently your main artistic challenges?
I have a permanent challenge that is to make alive, enjoyable music. We are in a moment of over information and fetishism. We can have a strong tendency to fit too well in the specific boxes people are divided in. Or in one box, or to fit in several boxes in order to find work. I think that our lives are more vast and beautiful than those boxes and that it does not fit really in any of them. To do alive music means to be a bit aware of what is going on, to listen and observe society and what other artists do, but mainly to work and enjoy offering in music what is honestly my own life. And that does not come checking this and that but through my own existence.
In concrete terms I am presenting live, the music that I composed for Zero plus Zero, a one hour piece played with soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, preparations, analog electronic devices and Sruti Box. I'm also presenting pieces related to the perception experience. I am using wireless speakers that fly hanging from big balloons filled with Helium, placing Tunebugs in objects in the room, or cardboard boxes, recording familiar spaces placing the microphone inside cardboard tubes of differing dimensions (that gives different pitches, in a natural way, to the field recordings).
I work decomposing the harmonic spectrum of the pitches and check how the different frequencies travel in the space, or how they resonate in different objects in the room. I am fascinated with this. And I can say that working with these devices is beautiful itself, but it is also making me play my usual instruments in a different way. I think of improvisation not only as decisions that I have to take regarding the other musicians, but also and mainly regarding the space, and the social life around me.
I’m doing this work mainly in solo. It interests me and has not very much margin for improvisation, but I do it anyway, and enjoy doing collaborations with other musicians. But it is difficult these days to find time to work together with other people in the way I wish to do that. Musicians have many projects, and I have my family life that makes my time to meet people more tight . So I do it as much as I find it possible. I work alone quite a lot. And this is certainly a challenge after having worked in a dynamic environment that made me more than anything meet and work with other musicians. But I feel also that is a natural tendency, that I’m enjoying a lot.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I think that the idea of improvisation and composition as different disciplines is obsolete. Not the practise of composing in real or not real time, but the separation of these practises as a way to achieve this or that. Neither the fact of deciding to improvise makes the music more fresh, nor deciding to compose makes it more solid. It is a personal choice. What we do before, during or after going on stage, or doing a record, is a personal choice and is up to us to have the talent to achieve satisfying results. There are other aspects of the music practise like density, activity, placement, projection, degree of gesture, expression and weight that are much more crucial to me than if the music is composed or not in real time. Some years ago, I thought that an important aspect of improvising is that each musician can offer material totally personal in a very evident and immediate way. I tend to relativise the importance of this aspect now, probably just because I’m more interested or just as interested in other aspects of music, as I was in material.
How important are practising and instrumental technique for achieving your musical goals?
I think that is very important to spend time with the devices that you enjoy. Not to be crazy about it. To have a real, good life is more important than anything. But in order to find your life in what you do, to find yourself in your instrument I think that it's nice to spend time with it. If it is a regular traditional instrument it's important that a teacher transmits to the student a good technique. The right way to achieve sound, how not to injure your body, how to enjoy playing relaxed and produce good sound. A teacher, a real master, can be totally illuminating. But it's important to know that the deep musical work is personal, alone or with other musicians, but personal. It depends totally and only on you. On your curiosity and tenacity to go beyond many moments of weakness, that appear in different ways. And that there are many ways of learning, that do not come only through a teacher. Listening to good music, attending to shows, sharing music with others…By the other way, many modern or non traditional musical devices are impossible to learn, and many musicians did not learn with anybody and sound great. To learn can be problematic, it can impose on the musician lots of problems. I think that is usually the case.
In the case of the instruments that I play I have a certain basic discipline, that gives me a basic shape to do what I want to do.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance?
I think that it is fundamental. Sound is a living creature and it’s three moments have to be considered as fundamental in the life of this creature: The way the vibration is produced, the way it travels (space) and the way it’s perceived, listened. In the actual situation, our spaces are being constantly besieged by the market logic, as well as the way our bodies have to behave in them. The impact of amplification has been very negative in that sense, in everyday life and in the massive practise of music.
In the first aspect just imagine your city, your public shared life without having unwanted music, so loud, so often. In terms of performing it can be interesting to think how did musicians live with the lack of amplification for centuries and what good musical results they achieved. Renaissance musicians for example, if you check the scores, and the places where they performed their music, how they created music FOR them, you will see that they had a deep sense of space, after centuries of working in an acoustic way. Traditional musicians from India, Bali or Africa are incredible in this sense. People singing in a football stadium in Argentina or Brazil look to me as if they have a wider dimension of that space than the musicians or sound engineers, who amplify bands in a flat way, using amplification as a military weapon almost. In those huge stadiums where it's impossible to listen properly and all you can do is watch their untouchable figures in gigantic screens. Amplification makes some people put an acoustic guitar with a drum set at the same level of intensity, with no consideration to the origin and the characteristics of the instruments. I think that is anti-natural and strange. I’m not of course against the use of amplification, I love electronic music. I mean in massive social terms. Some people manage to do good work with amplification systems pushing them to their extreme. Mika Vainio, Kevin Drumm, Sunn 0))) , Maryanne Amacher have done amazing work combining amplification, perception of sound and the space.
People working with acousmatic diffusion and a handcrafted approach to speaker construction have a lot to offer. The problem is that very often they are restricted to specific institutions and the few people connected to them, or that the devices are just too expensive.
I think that is fundamental, for our work as musicians, and for society to develop an understanding, to think and experience the space, and how the sound inhabits it. To be agents of spatial liberation and proper listening. Many things can be done with basic technology if we develop an intense sense of space. Alvin Lucier has done, in my opinion, some of the most astonishing and beautiful work regarding sound in the space, and in many cases it was with very basic technology. It was his creativity, his sense of the space and understanding of the sound phenomenon, that created those marvellous pieces, and not the technology.
I listened once to Steve Lacy playing live, and I could perceive how the work with the harmonic spectrum that he did with his soprano saxophone made it sound so rich in the space, and it was just him and his instrument, working in the proper direction.
In my personal experience, to play with Radu Malfatti has been wonderful. To experience that playing as quiet as possible you can reach any corner of the room, appealing to the listeners ears. To play inviting people’s ears, to enjoy the room and work together with it. To learn to chose frequencies, which ones are more directional, which ones hug the audience. How to deal with the environmental noise. I have mentioned previously more technically specific experiences that I am doing regarding sound in the space. It is for me a deep experience to work with sound thinking of it from the beginning as a living creature that exists in the space, I try at the moment to live it in an intense, sensual and intelligent way in my music. And try to think of it as a liberation agent of the space and the time that we share.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned out to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Derek Bailey has written and offered so much and so deeply about improvisation. There are many aspects that we can quote and analyse from his texts. I think that any sound is transformable. I cannot say endlessly but in a huge dimension. Even the exact same sound placed in a different spot in time, is already very different. I think that improvisation, and any music, works with material (the space as part of it), but also with structure, form and expression as main aspects. The privilege to material that Bailey mentions in this quote shows a certain approach to improvisation. That makes form and structure somehow depend on the development of the material. I used to think that material had a privilege on the other aspects in improvisation several years ago. Even that if I was interested in form and structure I should compose. I try to focus more on the structure and form now. It makes it necessary probably to establish a basic agreement about the way we will improvise, while Bailey´s approach was certainly more free. By the other way, you can improvise with very limited material, and then the most tiny alterations of it that you make will become more listenable. I work in this way. Asking the ear for special attention to those micro movements.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
I agree with the basic idea of listening to the other musicians carefully. It is certainly a crucial step compared to the tendency to centre the music in your own production. But sometimes it's ok to play louder than the other, or quieter, not all the time. The established idea of everybody playing balanced all the time, makes music sound flat, too often. Personally I like it when that happens but in a subtle way, when the sounds cover and disappear into each other in a subtle way. I love when this happens, and find it fundamental.
The main aspect, I think, is a matter of presence. Usually to play louder too often and to be more present than the others goes against the music. That can happen if you play too active, or expose ideas that have more to do with exposing yourself than putting them at the service of doing good music. Sometimes a non strictly musical decision, but a gesture, or a subtle use of an object can offer a dynamic to the set without having to play louder or adding a dramatic expression to the set. I enjoy doing this.
Regarding the second aspect. I think that is fundamental if you play with people to think the music as a collective production, that means to relate . But the ways we relate should not be the most obvious, It can be boring to play in a very responsive way. To oppose, to disappear, to ignore, to cover the other one can be very interesting. The basic situation, is to be aware of the others' presence at any moment and to decide actually, more than anything, how much we want to relate playing and listening. To stop listening and to stop relating for a while, as a way to create tension and go deeper into the interaction itself can help to produce dynamism and make the music very alive, even if these movements happen in ways that are not easy to perceive in an evident way.
The listeners, the audience
Some people see recording improvised music as a problem. Do you?
Not at all.
In the 20th century, the relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
In my own experience to observe other art disciplines, philosophy, literature, and science helps to understand perception, and existence, in a deeper way. I’m not interested in combining arts so much as digging into perception, in a technical conceptual and poetic way (of sound, space, time), and in perception of life itself.
The combination often can be monumentalist and pretentious, but can be beautiful if we find the right spot where it is necessary to combine the gesture. I think more in cases where the disciplines become transparent and allow each other in an elegant way. Or the case of someone like László Moholy Nagy that suggested art as education, as a development of the best of us, allowing himself not to be imprisoned in an obsessed way in one discipline.
Many artists have impressed me deeply taking me to perceive life and to play music in a different way. Each of them in a different and specific way. Several visual artists that interest me work with the way that our body behaves in the space, and our senses react to lack of light, as well as other aspects like how our eyes can respond to the phenomenon of colour treated in specific ways that trick the organ, like Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Bruce Nauman. This deeply interests me, in similar ways, but regarding sound.
I think in a similar way regarding the way that cinema directors like Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Paradjanov, Robert Bresson and more recently Apichatpong Weerasethakul, work aspects like time, light and the perception of their own spaces. The way Weerasethakul films the forest, how it sounds in his movies, how he perceives the space of a public hospital and its sounds in the movie called Syndromes and a Century is wonderful, for example. The same I can say about the way Tarkovsky works time and light, how Bresson works the expression, the place that a story (that stands alone, but is not actually the main aspect of the film), have in his films, the way Paradjanov searches in the unconscious and transmits it in a poetic, beautiful way.
What is clear to me is that I love doing music, even when I take a concept or an impression that comes from another discipline, I preserve myself into the music production. I think that visual and conceptual arts are overvalued in contrast with music on an intellectual level. But that is not so true in everyday life. In my case I think that it becomes very rich for me to observe those disciplines and to work specific aspects in music.
In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?
Sound does not behave equally in every place because it is produced by different elements, resonates in different spaces and is listened by ears formed in those spaces that listen to vibrations produced by those objects in those spaces. So, even if the sound phenomenon is the same physically, these elements determine in a certain degree the way you create and the way you listen.
This is a basic aspect, there are may aspects in common, though. These common aspects of sound have been always there, and are intriguing. It is actually a mystery, how people so different (apparently) can do music that can mean so much to me. And sounds that are so different to the ones that I produce, can sound so familiar, or even when they do not sound familiar sound so fresh and impact on me in such a natural beautiful way. Both the different and the common aspects are for me an invitation to share sound, with people.
I tend to find a bit strange the idea of cultural difference. It was very important and very useful, after centuries of people killing each other to establish the idea of cultural difference, in order to make relative our own values, and then to be more open to share and change opinions. But the same aspect is being used too often to separate people, used to allow people or not to get in or to oblige to stay out, to accept or not. Fixing a higher value to certain aesthetics, that come from specific places and human groups. We are not free of our own origins and history, but this is a gift and not a limit for me. I see human beings like me, here and there. We are talking about the same thing. I want to listen to everybody as an equal, the differences that we have make us equal agents of beauty sharing, and not the contrary.
To expect someone’s work to be totally different because this person comes from a far away land, focuses the experience on your expectations, and creates limits to the possibility of listening and communicating. To expect this person to sound like your pairs and yourself sound like, is an expression of the same behaviour. The difference exists but it's an expression of equality, we are all different, and because of that, the same. This is the way I try to listen to others and offer my work.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
In my own work I try to let the music stand alone, without needing an explanation. Some artist’s work is related to concepts and these concepts have to be explicit, when it's necessary. Of course when the concept is not to expose it, that’s not necessary. Very recently I explained to the audience, just speaking, how I had done a certain work. It was related to spectralism, and I felt necessary to speak about it, as an invitation to listen, to participate of that specific experience.
It has happened to me to change over the years, my approach to the use of preparations in my instruments. Initially I tried to be creative. Then I began to refuse that idea radically, finding that creativity cliché. Very often, that method did not offer really interesting music, but just a “creative “ approach to the instrument playing, what is not creative as a starting point itself, at least for me nowadays.
Then I began to think that a way to include the external space, the every day space in my music was to use those objects. The difference was subtle but real, I truly think that I began to play better since then. Because I did not care anymore about the interesting idea, but on the concept, that was more basic, but more rich. And in the main aspect of this, that is the quality of the music that you offer.
It also happened to me to feel that people who are not a usual audience of this music relate in a familiar way to the music when they see familiar objects. I am not underestimating their capacity to perceive music saying this. But I’m being realistic thinking that people who do not have the habit of listening to a certain way of sound production can stay out of the situation. I do not place an object with the intention of being readable in an easier way. But I have appreciated this phenomenon and I welcome it.
Another important aspect that I found was related to concentration. It's not possible for anyone to be always concentrated in a delicate and tense concert. I found out that audiences always, even experienced ones, in certain moments (not always at the same time) think about something else. To use one or two objects, or another kind of subtle gesture, can bring the concentration to the music. Someone told me once that it could be distracting, but I like to think that I can chose the distraction, when, and how if I use a few elements properly.
Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
It is an active role, but there is not an equal responsibility. Thanks to the Situationist's liberating ideas, we tend to redefine the audience and open their responsibility to our work. But we have to be careful, the one that is on stage is me, and I have to offer something important to the people that came to listen to me. People make an effort and honour you by coming to listen to you. I prepare myself intensely for each concert, I really think a lot before each performance. I have the highest consideration for the listeners, and I offer the best of my work each time. This does not mean at all to adapt myself to their needs, but just to offer what I truly think is my best, even if I think that doing certain things can make the gig not the most successful one.
Honestly I think that it's not very difficult to satisfy expectations. Audiences are very divided, very specific, and behave in very predictable ways, very often.
It is not my intention to provoke or to challenge the audience. I try to make enjoyable music. But the real enjoyment is not to satisfy expectations. I think that is to produce enjoyment doing something out of it. Enjoyable but not in the determined sense. My last concerts were each quite different from each other. What is problematic in terms of diffusion of my work, because the information that is offered about your work here and there needs to be very precise and very clear in order to make the people that are interested in your work, know what it is about. I try to make it clear that the work is about certain concepts, certain approach to sound. It's not about certain techniques or styles that I have to repeat till I get bored in order to let as many people know as possible what my cliché technique is so it that distinguishes me from other musicians. The personality I think has to stay behind, hidden, not exposed through certain techniques, but present almost in an unconscious way. I have the same approach towards CD production.
Music-sharing sites and blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it?
I think that it's great in one aspect. I have found lots of gems through blogs. When I go to Argentina I find a lot more people informed about experimental music than when I left ten years ago. And is not about being more informed, is about being more free to do something that gives you pleasure. I only download things that cannot be bought anymore, I found gorgeous music that is out of print on several blogs. I think though, that we have to be very careful. There is a very strong tendency to get confused into over information, downloading a bunch of music and listening bad quality mp3s. That is a terrible aspect of it. Many young musicians are enjoying lots of different music, and this is great, but very often it looks to me that they are unable to enjoy their own sounds. There is too strong a tendency to the tribute these days, because of that. That is powered by the fetishist culture we live in. I really take care of what I check and download. Also regarding magazines and information. The real information happens when I go to my studio and play my instruments, when I play with people or alone for an audience, when I listen properly to an album. This just means that I try to limit the amount of information that arrives to me, and to dedicate proper time to it.
Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
Radu Malfatti and Eliane Radigue.