Cautious Engagement

Lucio Capece / Kevin Drumm / Radu Malfatti
The Volume Surrounding The Task
FRANCE POTLATCH P216 CD (2016)

For all you staunch fans of minimalism out there, here comes a trio of the notorious improviser/sound artist/composer Capece, Drumm and Malfatti, recorded by Fabrice Moinet while on their their 2011 tour of France, Belgium and Switzerland. This is from their date at Q-02 in Brussels; since 2006, Q-02 is a venue specifically for “…experimental contemporary music and sound art”.

Lucio Capece has regular musical partnerships with Axel Dörner and Mika Vainio (RIP) among others. He has also worked with musicians as diverse as Birgit Ulher, Toshimaru Nakamura and the excellent Lee Patterson. More recently, he has extended his practice into the art world by expanding his palette of “…tools like Flying Speakers hanging from Helium Balloons, Speakers as Pendulums, Analog synthesiser, Sine Waves and Noise Generators, Drum Machine, Ultra-Violet Lights”, according to his Wikipedia page. I believe he has a collaboration with Burkhard Beins, Martin Kuchen and Paul Vogel out on Mikroton this year, which would be worth seeking out.

Kevin Drumm is possibly best known for his 2002 album on Mego, Sheer Hellish Miasma, although his first, self-titled, album surfaced in 1997 on Perdition Plastics. He got in on the ground floor; early on in the upward trajectory of the EAI/tabletop/improv/whatever scene – his base in Chicago allowed him access to players like Jim O’Rourke and Ken Vandermark. He has since maintained a supremely prolific recorded output both solo and with varied collaborators.

A member of the Wandelweiser Collective of composers, Radu Malfatti has described one of his compositions as “…quite open architecture of silence and sounds…” 1 which goes some way to describe what is going on in The Volume Surrounding The Task. A further question thrown up by releases of this kind concerns the inevitable series of events set in motion by the demands of the marketplace – consider the following timeline:

Improvisation – live performance – recording – manufacturing – release into the marketplace – purchase/ownership – otherness – repeated listening – familiarity.

All three players are accomplished technicians of the very highest order, and here the term “extended technique” seems hardly sufficient. The overall sound-field is full of sounds seemingly so alien to the instruments which are producing there is no way to say with any certainty who is actually playing what at any given point. The sleevenotes say Malfatti plays trombone, Drumm electronics and Capece bass clarinet and “preparations”. That’s no help. On first listen, the 40 minutes long The Volume Surrounding The Task seems to be a fairly restrained performance but close listening will reveal a busy and immersive micro sound-world.

There is the sense of cautious engagement with each other. Radu Malfatti never one to do anything hastily. The result is a filigree of sine tones; bass clarinet and trombone verdigris. I’m not sure if it is easy to get a sense of the whole on first listening. In fact, the whole piece comes and goes like a phantom at standard hi-fi room volume. Start pushing the volume up and the high-pitched sine tone-like elements become quite aggressive. I have to say that this performance has an air of solemnity which I find unusual for this kind of music. It has the worn, threadbare patina of Kevin Drumms’ Fender Mustang guitar on the cover of his 2013 Alku Tape release. One of the players, I suspect it’s Malfatti, utilizes a device involving the occasional repetition of loud, amplified breath. There is a generous use of quiet passages, as you might expect from Malfatti’s involvement. Kevin Drumm detours from his usual maximalist exploratory intensity. Capece augments his bass clarinet with “preparations”; electronic artefacts and/or field recordings, just out of sight.

  1. The piece the quote is referring to is Malfatti’s northumberland 4 (2008). The quote taken from Jennie Gottschalk’s book Experimental Music Since 1970.

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