“Either experience is nothing or it must be total.” These words, a quote from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenologie of Perception, are printed on the cover of this latest outing from the Argentine-born, Berlin-resident Capece. Merleau-Ponty’s words come from a work that focuses on the body as central to our perception. As my good friend Wikipedia explains: “We perceive the world through our bodies; we are embodied subjects, involved in existence.”
What does this mean for an appreciation of Capece’s work, in particular Epoché? My first response is typically – stereotypically – Anglo-Saxon: darned if I know. But these words of Merleau-Ponty’s continue to dance around my lobes as I listen to this compelling work, full of abrupt shifts and rugged surfaces, which is somehow massive in form while also being as weightless as a gas. I’m not normally a fan of delving into an artist’s own intentions to excavate meaning for a work, but I suspect that Capece has deployed his epigraph as a support for our thirsty ears, reminding us to give ourselves up to the sounds on offer in a kind of sensuous, almost submissive listening. We can think about what it all means later.
And guess what – it works. Capece’s minimalist approach gives us beautifully realised expanse of abstract sound within which we can lose ourselves. Two tracks, the first around 26 minutes, the second about five minutes shorter, merge the timestopping properties of long form drone music with a sonic palette, particularly in Part 1, that will be more familiar to fans of electroacoustic composition.
Although previous projects have seen Capece deploy bass clarinet and soprano saxophone, on Epoché he knits together his distinctive sound world using analogue synths, oscillators, ring modulators, various tone and noise generators, a hand fan and a drum machine. It doesn’t really matter what box is making which sound, to be honest, as the results are so compelling that musing on their origin is unimportant.
The first part doesn’t waste any time enveloping the listener in its gritty swirl, its sandy vortex leaving me feeling like I’m trudging through the dunes in the middle of a dust cloud on Tatooine. After about five minutes, the storm recedes, replaced by enigmatic, overlapping tones and brain-aching rapid oscillations. These, in turn are replaced by a fizzing, motorised buzz. It’s almost insectoid at first, then transforming into an airy whirr, then into a nasty hiss, then a high-pitched whistle, and so on, for another 10 minutes or so, before ending in a cheap alarm clock frenzy of buzzing and fizzing. The switches and sounds are thrilling and inventive, even if the logic of the sequencing is opaque.
I saw Capece play a set very similar to the pieces on Epoché at the final Hideous Porta show in London in January. There’s a striking difference between experiencing these pieces live and listening to the recorded versions. Live, Capece augments his set up with wireless speakers mounted on helium balloons that float just above the heads of the audience, like astral guardians. The resulting experience was communal, almost trippy; Capece, almost immobile and nearly invisible behind his gear, his balloons gently swaying as their motors whirred and sighed. The audience, meanwhile, seemed almost hypnotised by proceedings, held rapt by the mesmerizing, incorporeal sounds.
Listening alone, in the luxurious, wood-panelled environs of We Need No Swords HQ, is a different matter. The sounds are more solid, almost overwhelming in places. Part 1 in particular takes on the character of some vast Richard Serra sculpture, its surfaces blistered and rusting, yet massive in form. Its physicality brooks no negotiation, just acceptance.
Part 2 is different again, pristine where its forerunner was corroded, depthless where its predecessor was dense and pitted. At first, it’s all about the tones, stretching out towards the horizon in a curvilinear expanse of endless chrome. Time doesn’t stand still, exactly: the cat still tiptoes along the garden fence and planes still inch across the blue sky. But these seem like moments of an eternal present, past and future melting away into permanent now-ness.
Nine minutes in and Capece starts to bring in some variety, with slowly phasing synths that add some rough to the smooth, and these gradually take over until, at about 14 minutes, a blanket of white static covers everything in noise. It’s a bloody racket all right and all you can do is switch off your mind, relax and let the tumult wash over you. Don’t think, just feel. The experience must be total, or it is nothing.