SLW: fifteen point nine grams - REVIEWS

SLW are an electroacoustic quartet operating, like a self-regulating ecosystem, through subtle interactions and dependencies, with extended stretches of placid co-existence and occasional spectacular surges of collective energy. The group features percussionist Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece on soprano sax and bass clarinet with preparations, Rhodri Davies on electric harp and electroacoustic devices and Toshimaru Nakamura generating audio feedback from his autonomous no-input mixing board. Despite the disparate nature of those sound sources, it's rarely obvious exactly who is doing what. Still more rarely does it seem necessary to ask.
Like last year's self-titled release on Formed, this is a single, long and gradually evolving improvisation. About 15 minutes in, a sound like a submarine's echolocation signal initiates a squally episode, broadly reminiscent of many a free jazz climax. But SLW's music doesn't really have a sense of expressive release. It's more like a localised storm in an energy field, passing turbulence soon superseded by the more usual flow of pulsating cross currents, glassy shimmering and gaseous drones. AMM are an obvious precursor of SLW's textural approach to improvisation, but the music reminds me equally of David Dunn's micro-acoustic recordings of pondlife - not in the specific detail, but in the sense of listening in to a self-contained bio-network going about its business, having nothing to say and effectively saying it.
- Julian Cowley, The Wire -

SLW 2 This is the second CD released by the quartet of Burkhard Beins (selected percussion, objects), Lucio Capece (soprano sax, bass clarinet, preparations), Rhodri Davies (electric harp, electro-acoustic devices) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board). It features a live recording from 2007 at the NPAI Festival in Parthenay, France, yet it sounds - for any purpose and effect - like a studio session.
The duration of less than 45 minutes is ideal for the music to expand without unnecessary elongations and repetitions. An event is given the right time to manifest, get understood, acknowledged and - possibly - assimilated. The developing of the various phases is based upon primary colours belonging to two main categories: extensive tones - generally ruthless and quite sinister, now and then subtly stimulating - and transliterations of cryptic messages from some space between expected sound and sheer physicality of a particular vibration. The latter type of manifestation is what mostly outlines our concentration in the performance, the aims that the musicians had set achieved through motorized mechanisms, abrasive procedures or mere sensitiveness when corporeal issues - air, liquids - are a part of the test.
This is not a jovial work waking up a sense of merriment, nor it's supernatural enough to cause the classic feeling of not belonging to reality in a certain moment. The aural symptoms are all very present, in your face, substantial even in their quietest aspects. The rare occasions in which cogitation is allowed are instantly wiped out by powerful surges, the compositeness of the sonic tissue ominously remunerative. Accordingly, the fragment from the 17th to the 21st minute - a potently collective, almost tribal massive growth - is enormously significant. One is afraid that the memory of Beins' monstrous clatter and Capece's piercing squeals will keep the addressee awake and overwrought for many nights to come.
Distress and deduction, explicitness and inquisition, hostility and gratification. The stability of these contrasting elements is utmost, the timbres generated an expression of enthralling cold-heartedness that nonetheless reveals a perceptive intellectual capacity. It's something that transpires continuously from these unwelcoming blends, and becomes clearer - in different points - with each new listen.
- Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes -

Speaking of supergroups but in a quite different vein, here's a release by SLW. Four of our favourite minimal-improv creators (Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece, Rhodri Davies and Toshimaru Nakamura) bump their heads together in non-obtrusive and subtly disarming ways for 45 minutes on Fifteen Point Nine Grams, which was recorded at a French music festival in 2007. The album is largely an unbroken chain of extended textures which gradually evolve and change positions, revealing details of metal, string and plastic from the various instruments (percussion, harp, saxophones, electronics), with the four players getting quite rowdy around the midway point. It's a form of subdued noise, full of presence and purpose, and much constrained emotion. A performance of this quality ought to have appeared on the Erstwhile label. Many thanks to Kostis for sending this.
- Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector -

At first I thought this was a kind of cheapo remake of Alejandro González Inárritu's dreadful melodrama 21 Grams (supposedly the weight of a human soul, according to some very dubious 'experiments' carried out a century ago by one Duncan MacDougall), but it turns out 15.9g is the weight of a CD (does a soul CD weigh 36.9g, then?). Wow.. that means if I chuck all the jewel boxes and digipaks away, my entire CD collection would weigh 74.5551kg. Do the maths to work out how many discs that is. Following on from their debut on Formed a little over a year ago, this is the second release by EAI 'supergroup' (not my words, the label's.. but I guess they're entitled to a little hard sell) SLW: Burkhard Beins on percussion, Lucio Capece on soprano sax and bass clarinet, Rhodri Davies on electric harp and 'electro acoustic devices' (which could, I suppose, mean anything), and Toshimaru Nakamura on no_input mixing board. It's a 44-minute live recording made at the NPAI Festival in Parthenay, France, on July 19th 2007 (Cathnor head honcho and occasional PT chronicler Richard Pinnell was there, and goes into considerable detail about the concert and the album here: ... (see below), which means, like almost all live improv albums, there are occasional dips and hollows. But not many. It's a strong, sometimes surprisingly loud, piece - far too many EAImprovisers in recent years have taken Uncle Radu at his word ('I want to know about the lull in the storm') and rarely get above pianissimo as a result, but SLW head right for the heart of the storm and sit there getting drenched. SLW, as you may recall, stands for Sound Like Water. There are some thrilling moments, many of them (I'm guessing here) coming from Nakamura, who was on a real roll that month: a week later he was tearing up the organ loft with Jean-Luc Guionnet (check out their Map outing on Potlatch). My CD collection now weighs 74.55669kg, by the way.
- Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic -

15,9 g? Für einen Flohhuster zu schwer, für eine Seele zu leicht. Haben da meine '5 g-Päckchen' gewuchert, die ich beim SLW-Debut (BA 60) erschnüffelt hatte? Was Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece, Rhodri Davies & Toshimaru Nakamura - live beim NPAI Festival in Parthenay 2007 - auf die Waagschale legten, bleibt ungewiss. Ich vermute hinter ihrem allerfeinsten Dröhnminimalismus einmal mehr ein neokabbalistisches Simulakrum des schöpferischen Tzimtzum, des Rückzugs der klanglichen Allgegenwart in sich selbst. Das All-Eine hält die Luft an - der letzte Moment vor dem pneumatischen Urknall, vor dem Fall des ersten Sandkorns im universalen Stundenglas, mit dem alle Beseelung und alles Elend anfingen. Um diesen Moment der kreativen Stille nicht dem 4:33-Zufall zu überlassen, gestaltet SLW ihn bewusst als dröhnende, pfeifende, stechende, fingerspitz geschabte, lippenspitz geblasene Latenz, die allen Lärm der Welt in nuce enthält, so wie Weiß alles Kunterbunt. Ich komme mir beim seraphischen Liebeswerk dieser vier Kapuziner, dieser Schwestern des leisen Wortes - ach nee, SLW steht für Sound like water - vor wie positiv auf Anhedonie getestet, wie ein toter Hund, psychostasisch gewogen und für seelenlos befunden.
- Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy -

The press text refers to a previous CD by SLW, which I called back then an instant quartet. Its Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects), Lucio Capece (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, preparations), Rhodri Davies (harp, electro-acoustic devices) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) and back then it seemed an one-of occasion which, in the world of improvisation is a common practice. Imagine a traveling circus of people who meet in a variety of places, perform music on the spot, and then move on. Back then the CD was called 'SLW', now they moved that being their 'band' name and these four meet on a regular basis. The recordings presented here were made in July 2007 in France, and is mixed by Nakamura. Like with this previous releases sustaining sounds play the all important role in this new piece. It sounds to me as if the four agreed upon the following concept to play: let's all imitate sine waves, drones and feedback like sound with our instruments. Only Beins at a very few occasions goes out of that and seems to be hitting instead of rubbing or bowing. Sometimes things seem to explode and go beyond the noise limit, sometimes they play a very soft card. The listener is taken on a great journey by these four excellent players. Forty some refined minutes of improvised music. Improvised music which hardly sounds improvised.
- Frans De Waard, Vital Weekly -

Recorded live in France in July 2007, this is the second release from SLW, the follow-up to its debut, SLW (Formed, 2008), recorded live in October 2006. The quartet, with its line-up of Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece, Rhodri Davies and Toshimaru Nakamura, merits the title 'super group'; however outmoded and gauche that phrase may seem, it does describe the conglomeration of improvising talent on display here.
SLW is short for 'sounds like water', and its debut lived up to that billing; originally intended to be recorded in a disused swimming pool, its music was restrained as well as swirling, flowing and other watery characteristics. This time out, SLW cleverly avoids an action replay of that debut. So, Fifteen point nine grams (the title apparently refers to the weight of a CD) is a more energized and garrulous performance, in which all four players contribute to a vibrant and overlapping panorama of sounds.
As before, it would be difficult to detect that the line-up includes percussion, harp, soprano saxophone or bass clarinet. Instead, led by Nakamura's no-input mixing board, the quartet creates an electronic soundscape that fizzes with energy. The contributions of individual instruments do occasionally surface and linger long enough to make an impression before being subsumed once again by the electronic sound storm surrounding them. The boundaries between electronic and acoustic sounds are blurred. Notably, Capece's sustained reed notes could easily pass as electronic tones; only their timbral qualities subtly betraying their true origins. The overall effect occasionally resembles listening to a shortwave radio through static, an effect heightened by fleeting interjections of Morse code-yes, these four do have a sense of humor.
As good as its debut was, this album indicates that SLW is on an upward trajectory. Its next album should be worth waiting for. Meanwhile, there is plenty here to engage, satisfy and encourage returning for more.
- John Eyles, All About Jazz -

I think I have written here before, a year or two back about how sometimes our memories of live concerts can differ wildly from what we hear on CDs of the same performance released later. In the case of SLW's second CD release named Fifteen point nine grams I can extend this a little further. SLW (the acronym stands for Sound Like Water, the name reportedly originating from the group's first gig in a disused swimming pool) are Burkhard Beins, (percussion) Lucio Capece, (soprano sax and bass clarinet) Rhodri Davies (electric harp and devices) and Toshimaru Nakamura, (no input mixing board) something of a modern improvised music supergroup. Fifteen point nine grams was recorded live at the NPAI festival in Parthenay, France during the summer of 2007. I was lucky enough to have been able to attend the festival and wrote (poorly) about it here. On the day I sat in what was a large, corrugated iron shed, previously used (I think) for holding farm animals to listen to the music. The building had a very high ceiling and its flimsy construction didn't make for a the most resonant of spaces, which, when filled with probably 200 or more people perhaps wasn't the best of places to listen to improvised music. The group then played through a large P.A. quite loudly. The sound in the room seemed to blow about all over the place, and from where I was sat it was a real struggle to make out individual contributions to the music, much of the detail was not clear. Chatting with the musicians afterwards Toshi Nakamura told me that he had hit a technical problem, and that some of the crackling sounds he had made were not intentional. I remember thinking at the time that nothing sounded out of place and being slightly amused that Toshi knew which crackles were intentional and which were not!
On the night I made a rough recording of the gig on my little Edirol recorder, purely for my own reference purposes should I have chosen to write a more detailed review. When I later heard the recording back, when at home in England the music sounded nothing like I remembered. Everything seemed much louder and heavier, but I could also hear the sounds of people on creaking seats etc around me, drawing my attention to them in a way I just hadn't noticed on the night. Still the details in the music were unclear though, despite the increase in volume. Then, maybe six months later one of the group sent me a recording of the concert taken from the mixing desk on the night, and mastered roughly by Toshi. Here the music sounded completely and utterly different. With background sound removed, the four musicians balanced correctly, and crucially, all of the detail in the music crystal clear, it was really like listening to a different performance altogether. Now, the final released version of the music, on the excellent Organised music from Thessaloniki label has arrived, I believe remastered again, and about a year after last hearing the music I have spent a couple of days with it now. Listening closer, with more care, perhaps with a more critical ear I am still hearing new things in there I don't recall, or have remembered incorrectly. I have listened to maybe 400 other CDs since then though, so how accurate could my memory be anyway? I had a great time in Parthenay, and on that night in particular, so I will always remember that SLW's set fondly, but listening to the music now have I gained anything from attending the concert? Certainly no more insight into the music, which sounds here completely different to what I remember, so I might as well have never heard this before.
So how does it sound? Well more detailed, involved and louder than the last SLW CD. That one, which came out last year on the Formed label received a mixed reaction upon its release. People that didn't like it really chose to completely dismiss it, perhaps because it sounded so unlike what many hoped the disc would sound like. The music was really quite spare, a combination of simple extended sounds put together in a very uncomplicated manner, rarely getting loud and avoiding much in the way of dramatic dynamics. To me that release sounded (and still sounds as I played it yesterday) almost composed in the way the music is arranged, an almost Wandelweiseresque feel to it. It certainly wasn't the detailed layering of expressive dialogue the four musicians are capable of and many people hoped for, but then I don't think it was ever really meant to be, at least not in such an obvious fashion. I like the disc anyway, though I can also see why others felt disappointed. Fifteen point nine grams (no idea what this title refer to by the way) is in many ways similar to the first CD, but also quite different as well. The basic structures in the music are similar, the sounds used are mostly (but not entirely) extended ones lasting for a minute or so at a time, and there is still a strong sense of structure to the music. The difference is in the detail though, as there is a lot more grit and grain in the music this time around. the sounds are much more forceful, right from the start when Capece's sax pops firmly into life and following on throughout there is more volume, more urgency and energy in the playing. Although on several occasions things shut down completely into silence there is less space in the music than on the first disc, less of the airy feel and much more of a tense, nervous edge to proceedings.
The choices made by the musicians in the music are very subtle, but these are four of the very best improvisers we have today and it shouldn't come as a surprise for me to say that the balance of the music, the restraint as much as the need to play and the blend of higher and lower register sounds is all done very well indeed. Perhaps this CD is more of an improv record than the first one, the interaction between the quartet is more marked, the tension between different musicians' inputs more noticeable. The fact they were playing amplified (I am guessing they weren't for the first release) and at reasonably high volume in a large room seems to have brought out 'bigger' sounds, and bolder statements. There are often heaving swells in the music where all four musicians seem to be playing, slow motion wave-like crescendoes that have a rousing effect on this listener, but also small, intimate moments where maybe a Beins percussion figure is set against a low tone from one of the others. So yes, I liked the SLW concert in Parthenay. I liked my bootleg I made of it as well, though it sounded nothing like the first mixing desk recording I heard. A year or more after all of these though I like the final CD release which again sounds nothing like I remember. The same music can sound so different depending on how it is heard and under what circumstances. Other people doubtlessly will dislike Fifteen point nine grams, maybe as vehemently as some disliked the first SLW disc, but we all hear things differently depending what state of mind we are in when we listen, or what is going on in our surroundings. Tonight, sat quietly with headphones on it sounded really good to me, exciting, involving and still not what I might expect from this group. Perhaps in a year's time I will come back to the recording and listen again and write about how I feel. Someone remind me.
Oh and the sleeve design on this new release is lovely.
- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear -

The second offering from this high-potential quartet (Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece, Rhodri Davies, Toshi Nakamura), recorded in 2007. One piece, though it falls into two sections. This first, lasting some 25 minutes, is wonderful, beginning in scrabbling fashion, mid-volume, then collecting itself, reducing things to strong, low hum, then gradually piling on sounds until a fine dull roar is achieved, Beins working up a fine lather. Not an unusual approach, but very subtly done here, with tones that often exist in a narrow range but are laid out with a sensitivity that allows each its space. I would have preferred it had ended at that point as the ensuing 19 or so minutes, while not bad, edges a bit into noodling territory and, to my ears, never quite gels until the very end, a keening sequence (I think Capece's buzzing soprano is the main element). Good recording overall, though, entirely worth hearing.
- Brian Olewnick, Just Outside -

SLW: Go wild on 'Fifteen point nine grams'
Lucio Capece interviewed by Tobias Fischer

Hardly anybody speaks favourably about good old CDs anymore, but to Lucio Capece, whose contribution to Vladislav Delay's current album 'Tummaa' is being showered with praise at the moment, releasing in the format is still as special as ever. Perhaps that is why SLW, the improvisatory collective he runs with Toshimaru Nakamura , Rhodri Davies and Burkhard Beins, decided to name their second album 'Fifteen point nine grams' after the weight of a Compact Disc. Recorded live at the NPAI Festival, Parthenay, France in July of 2007, the album captures the formation contemplating a fresh vocabulary. There is a physical energy to their interaction, a tactile concentration, a conscious tension - possibly the result, as Capece now reveals, of not striking any kind of pre-performance deals. Even though SLW has been named a supergroup of EAI (Electroacoustic Improvisation) by some on the merrits of its members, their debut full-length was certainly not without its critics and their projects are still subject to the limited financial means of the scene. This is also, why their output will probably remain firmly within the territory of live-recordings for a bit: 'I could imagine to work in a studio with SLW', Lucio says, 'It is actually something that I deeply wish. But it is difficult to find the proper conditions.' For the time being, however, there is quite enough to explore on 'Fifteen point nine grams'.

There always seem to be two years between recording a performance and the actual album for SLW. Why does it take relatively long for you to release something?

It happens quite often in the area of music that we work in, that labels are one-person-initiatives with a very humble structure. With a non-profit intention, but only the wish of sharing the kind of music this particular person likes. When this person has a full time job and just little savings to be able to release the music, very often it gets delayed because of lack of time or money to publish it straight away. This happened to me with several releases. I'm in any case very thankful for the labels that invest time and money putting out this music. I have to say, though, that in this specific case the reason for the delay is that the organizers of the NPAI Festival, that very kindly recorded the concert, sent us files that had a technical defect. We asked them to send us the files again, and it took them some time to answer. Happily we got them in the end. The rest was due to the time we needed to mix the music, design the cover and the time that the label needed to organize the release.

'Fifteen point nine grams' is said to feature an 'even greater dynamic tension' than its predecessor - a particular quality of the moment or a result of the group communicating more closely through your various performances? The musicians that play in SLW are recognized because of having produced music with a certain approach. To put it simply, they have become known for quiet music, static, non narrative and for approaching the sound experience more as an observer than with the intention of self-expression. Music with a redefinition of the role of the instruments, and the use of microscopic material that seemed to have been hidden from our ears.
What I find more interesting in this approach is not only that is quiet music. But mainly the way the combination of sounds is organized in the discourse. This approach has produced a lot of material in the context of stillness. And I wondered what could happen if we still organize the sounds in this particular way but within the context of music that is loud, or at least more 'in your face'. When you perform at a certain volume, the tendency can be to play in the way of music that has been explored years before, in styles that have an established language (Free Jazz, Noise). When you are in the context of loudness you have to wonder if there is no other way to play instruments that have a huge history, behaving in certain ways in that context.
For several musicians, in the late 90's, the option was to radically avoid that context. After this experience, however, I find it interesting to re-explore the context of loudness. Also, to play at high volume puts you immediately in the position of behaving in a spectacular way. Finding yourself obliged to try to shock the audience. I wonder if we can play loud music observing sound as we do when we play quiet sounds. This is very difficult to do. And it is just as difficult to also find the musicians to be able to explore this possibility.

How, do you feel, have you been able to capture this idea on 'Fifteen point nine grams' compared to your first release?
On the first CD we did, released by Formed Records, we used acousmatic diffusion in the live performance, and the audience was sitting down in the center of the space. The stereo mix lost a bit of the power that we experienced that evening. But we all felt that the tension was present on the record. And that we had managed to build the music in the way that we had decided to work on stage. One hour of well-constructed music, permanently present, that never falls down, music as one idea. Not ideas that you build, have a climax, fall dow before you begin working on another possible idea, using fades in and out. In my opinion, achieving what we did that evening it is much more difficult than one might think. It is not easy to understand neither, but we completely achieved it as I see it.
I find that the first album is especially enjoyable in an intimate listening situation. While this new one shares the power of a specific evening where we went much further in terms of dynamic tension. It is much wilder and spontaneous. We did not talk one word before we played - while the first one was the result of a short residency where we had talked , decided to do some things and not to do others.

You said 'Fifteen point nine grams' reflects your performance at the NPAI Festival. What do you still remember about the performance of the night the album was recorded?
I remember every second of it. To play, work, travel and hang out with Toshimaru Nakamura , Rhodri Davies and Burkhard Beins is a deep pleasure each time. And this concert was for me one of the most enjoyable I ever played. It's all in how things worked between us, how the musicians and my instruments surprised me. That unique experience of roaming much further from what you know how to do, but things are working by themselves. The audience, including the other musicians that played in the festival, and the organizers were lovely as well. Very supportive.

You've played with a variety of musicians over the years. What makes SLW special to you?
With all the people that I play with, we work with a specific idea. There is a frame within which we decide to work, or at least I do it knowing what these musicians do, and try to work with that idea in mind. Sometimes this idea comes working with a musician that I like to play with. Sometimes I find out something interesting playing alone, and I try to find the person with whom this idea can be shared working together. What I try to do is not to repeat myself, to avoid playing in the same way with different musicians, and to check the results. But to work in something, with an specific partner or alone. In this sense every project I do has its own interests and personality. To give also a general idea I can say that in the greatest part of them I work in a context of quietness and austerity.
SLW is the group of people with whom I would dare to check any possible direction that interests us. Or we just naturally go out on stage to play. I think that whatever direction we go is going to be fascinating to me. Even playing in the context of loudness, that is an area of work where I find that so much has been done. Our next work will be probably very different. I think that we all trust that nobody is going to take the easiest way, nor necessarily the most difficult. But the one we all like.
- Lucio Capece/Tobias Fischer, tokafi -

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