[ interviews ]

Interview for Fear Drop (France) May 2000

Fear Drop: According to you, what are the unbreakable links between your professional activities as a teacher / scientist and your musical activities?

Francisco López: The link is deeply personal and not explicit in eithe activity. I intentionally avoid direct references from my work in Biology to the sound work. This is an integral part of my conception of absolute music, without dependence upon other referential contexts. My scientific work gives me the chance to explore a multitude of fascinating sound environments all over the planet, and this has indeed a profound influence in my perception and conceptions about sound creation and understanding. The precise form of this influence is unkown to me and I also avoid any analytical approach to these processes of personal change. Other people's experiences can have a similar potential for change and influence; I think they're essential at a personal level, but not for the music.

Fear Drop: More and more, your records are free from any kind of information. Do you consider that this information could become some kind of parasite, and condition the listening of your music? And if you wish to prevent any "a priori" thought (concerning the style of music for instance) with the transparent jewel boxes, the untitled tracks.., don't you fear that in the end, it will become a "Francisco Lopez style"?

Francisco López: I'm fighting against a dissipation of pure sound content into conceptual and referential elements. My music doesn't have a meaning in the traditional sense, there is no message and no intention of communication or expression. I'm trying to reach a transcendental level of profound listening that enforces the crude possibilities of the sound matter by itself; in particular, the openness, the richness of this matter and all the subjective, individual universes that can arise from this kind of listening. As I see it, putting titles or images attached to the sound work has far-reaching consequences in terms of restricting these possibilities and confining the sound creation into specific intentions or meanings. To me, the openness of form in music is an irrelevant concept, while the openness of content is an essential and liberating goal. I have no fear of this becoming a "Francisco Lopez style". It is my statement, not my style. There are no aesthetic or stylistic grounds on these conceptions about sound and music. In this sense, there's a whole lot of misinterpretation in seeing my austere recording's presentations (empty transparent cases, no titles, etc.) as a design issue. It has nothing to do with minimal design, but it's rather a way to leave the sound content open and to emphasize the essential importance of pure, blind listening.

Fear Drop: Your music sounds free from any outer reference, whether cultural or not. Do you think that it has a universal reach?

Francisco López: My music is loaded with a multitude of cultural references, from the soundtrack of "Eraserhead" to some sound approaches in Buddhism. Whether or not these are apparent is more a question of perception than of explicit explanation. What is essential to it, though, is the fact that I don't attach myself to any specific system of aesthetic, conceptual or spiritual beliefs. I think its universal reach potential is dependent upon the individual -more than social or cultural- attitudes concerning listening and creation. Both pop music and rock'n'roll (in a wide sense) are deeply attached to certain cultural references, yet they've made their way into the universal reach realm all over the world.

Fear Drop: On some of your works, the sound level is very low, the events are few, and the listener has to "watch" at the limits of his perceptions (like on the Warszawa restaurant CD). Thus, the listener often has to put the volume up on his hi-fi system. It's even more obvious with tracks that have been released on tapes. Do you consider the consequent increase of blowing noises as an additionnal element to your music (or even as a full part of it)? Something that the listener could measure out as he wants?

Francisco López: There is another alternative for the listening of quiet sounds: to lower the outside sounds, i.e., to have a very quiet surrounding sound environment. This is indeed my preferred option. The essential issue, however, is more about the sound piece by itself, its inner sound, rather than its interaction with the outside sounds. My subtle pieces (or the extremely subtle parts of some of my pieces) are intended to be listened as such, on the limits of audible perception. Why to normalize their sonic quality to the standards of commercial music by putting the volume up? I believe there is a lot of unexplored potential in the dynamics of sound, and I think we should be free to use this as an essential creative element, moving forcefully away from the restrictions of listening standardization promoted by mass-media (which includes, for example, radio and computers). Additionally, one can pose an interesting question: why subtle sounds are perceived as odd features while blurred images in visual arts aren't?

Fear Drop: Some years ago, you declared that you were very interested in the use of lights on stage and in scenography... Now, you try to obliterate any visual aspect in your performances. It's like you consider them as parasites. What was the triggering element to this change of your point of view?

Francisco López: The very experience of sound materialization and the development of a more refined profound listening. Along the years, I realized the immensity of non-specified contents of sound matter, its enormous inner possibilities, the richness of the aural experience, and all the dissipative counter-effects of visual elements, both in a recorded form and in a live performance. I'm aware of the fact that I'm moving against a widespread current trend that seems to be aimed at increasing the amount of sensory information using different media. As I see it, this is scornful towards sound and it also reflects an underestimation of its own possibilities. In my current conception of sound work, this is distractive, dissipative and completely unnecessary. All the concerts I've done in the last 4-5 years have been realized in complete darkness and blindfolding the audiences. The results are strikingly successful in attaining a state of enforced listening.

Fear Drop: Now you have a worldwide fame; can you tell us about the way your music was perceived when it began to be spread in the tape network? Considering its original and radical nature, have you found easily a feedback to your work? What were the artists with whom you felt you were on the same wavelength, even if their music and approach to it were different?

Francisco López: A lot of people in the early cassette network (similarly to what happens today in the experimental music underground scene) were trying to imitate "famous" bands like Esplendor Geometrico, Throbbing Gristle or SPK, to name a few. My sound work was generally considered to be too "simplistic" or "noisy" for those experimental standards (which still happens today in many realms). In the early 80s I found some interesting feedback coming from people with whom I was in touch, like Maurizio Bianchi, Comando Bruno, Hunting Lodge or Zan Hoffman. In many respects, we shared a similar wavelength and this led in some cases to sound collaborations. What I find particularly interesting about those years is the fact that there was already a global network of people exchanging information and sound creations, with complete independence from the official or commercial channels. That is why the advent of internet was not so surprising for me (as I'm sure it wasn't for many other people already involved in the cassette network), since the essential concepts and mechanisms of a global independent network were already present in our activities.

Fear Drop: Many experimental artists work - intentionally or not - as an avant-garde of a more traditional way of composing. Often, the result of a radical experimentation can be felt in more "popular" compositions some years later. Do you think that your music will be "digested" in the same way? Is it something you are looking for?

Francisco López: I have the impression that this kind of "digestion" is only partial and certainly superficial. Most appropiations of experimental elements for popular or mass-media products only take the most superficial and banal features of the original creations. By far, they never dare to go to the core, to the essence of the original. In this sense, I think it's a mistake to label these creations as "avant-garde", since I believe they're not at the front of something that will come in the future. The core of Futurist creations and ideals, for example, has not yet been "digested" at all by the present Western society, 100 years after they were bravely exposed and manifested to the world. I see what is usually labeled as "avant-garde" as a parallel undercurrent flow that is systematically ignored or overlooked by mass-media. I have no desire to be even superficially "digested"; I prefer to digest the world myself, as I do with my work based on environmental recordings.

Fear Drop: How do you see the future of your music?

Francisco López: Difficult question. In terms of evolution, I follow a completely intuitive path with no structural or conceptual goals, and it's been always quite unpredictable to me. I think it'll remain the same in the future and I hope it'll keep my progression towards a transcendental and immersive experience of sound matter.

Fear Drop: you said some years ago that the proportions of time devoted to think and to record a piece were respectively around 90% and 10% and that you begin to work on recordings only when you think the concept has been well shaped. in which measures do these proportions still remain true when you work on pieces like "La Selva", in other words pure "sounds environments"? if the composition work begins with the sound "capture/shot", is there not a more direct, more intimate information relationship between the sound, its recording and the creation in which it will take place ?

Francisco López: This has certainly changed over the years, but the essence of what I then called "think" is basically the same. Today I would probably say "feel" instead. Profound listening and spiritual drifting are key elements of my current creative approach. These can be exerted while recording, editing, processing, mixing, assessing creative steps, etc., and, therefore, the separation of "feeling" and recording is no longer possible for me.

Fear Drop: you can spend several years studying sound spaces, travelling in a lot of countries in order to record sound environments. when you "capture" these sounds on a support, are you thinking about a precise work in progress or is it only their qualities (textures...), the resonance they have for you, according to your only tastes, that urge you to record them, without any idea about the use you will have of them ?

Francisco López: I'm collecting crude sound matter, with no specific intentions or preconceptions regarding potential uses. Once recorded, the sounds immediately become "objets sonores" (in the Schaefferian sense) for me, and I later approach them for my work as such. This doesn't mean at all that I record randomly, but rather that I don't have structural, representative or location-based criteria for my selection. In any case, I'm always driven by the qualities of the sound matter by itself and it's revealing to realize that quite often the most beautiful locations, in terms of visual landscapes, are the most uninteresting from the point of view of sound, and viceversa. The sonic world is a very different realm to the visually-driven conception of the world. Understanding this is a fundamental -and fascinating- step towards the liberation of sound from its sources.

Fear Drop: i think that any composer, through his musical propositions, is looking for a singular language which could be the most able to express his relationship with the world. your work seems to be guided by a real non-hierarchical and purely sensitive compositional approach. anyway, we can notice some formal "recurrences" (evolution of the piece, sound level...) in several of your works. Recently, these "recurrences" are found again up until presentations and titles of your releases. Can this search of a personnal expression, of this singular and sincere as possible language, do without rules or particular processes?

Francisco López: I don't see music as a form of language or as a medium for communication. I don't pursue any form of development of my personal musical "language". And I have no idea of what's my relationship to the world. To me, Emile Cioran is one of the greatest philosophers (if we can call him such a thing), and I think this should explain a whole lot of my approach to creation. I dive in a deep ocean of transcendental immersion, blurred feelings and knowledge-free decisions. The air I need to breathe must be charged with beautiful confusion, with no intentions and with no analytical goals. To me, understanding is one of the poorest forms to approach creation, perception and life in general. I am my processes and rules, and there's little more I could possibly add.

Fear Drop: since several years, you're standing clearly against procedures and formalists way of compositions of music, represented by the classic western music but also, as you said, by modern composers like alvin lucier or john cage. according to your mind, these approaches are diverting composers and listeners from essential music values. What are these values ? Are they the sensations that music can produce on us ? In this sense, apart from all others considerations, do you simply want to provoke like a trance with your music ?

Francisco López: Sensations, feelings, thoughts, discoveries... all what is ineffable, unspeakable and unexplainable. In my conception, music should be an undefined free pure sonic universe, not a ground for proceduralism, structuralism, communication, virtuosism or pragmatism. I pursue the creation of such an undefined "blank" space, where everyone has his/her own chances for creation, interpretation, exploration. It can be a state of trance or fear or happiness or grief or anger or peacefulness; or something not easily classifiable.

Fear Drop: a recent cd called 'untitled (1993)', released by staalplaat, presents some live collaborations with various composers, from john hudak to mic gendreau. how did these meetings and collaborations take place ? and what motivates this frequent way to work in music ? in their personal works, all these artists have in common with you, whatever their gesture is (recycling, concrete music...) to cut sounds from their original context and signification in order to include them in their own musical language. they "re-contextualize" these sound sources. In your mind, is this "method" the basis of the richness of a musical proposition ?

Francisco López: I don't think any "method" can be the basis for the richness of a musical proposition. The spiritual strength of the artist or the listener can. Both these artists and myself move freely through procedures, sound sources or tools for sound manipulation, and we share a more essential perception and appreciation of sonic matter. That's our common ground. To me, "re-contextualization" doesn't have any value by itself. I'm not interested in any theories of representation or meaning, and I try to create a more free world around me.