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Interview for Montreal Mirror (Canada) October 2000

Montreal Mirror: You're coming to Montreal to "play the Silo," so to speak. How did this performance come about, and what do you expect you'll be doing there?

Francisco López: I met Thomas McIntosh of [The User] in Berlin after a concert I did at Staalplaat there last year. He told me about the Silophone project and I was instantly fascinated by it. The physical experience of sound in space has always been a major concern in my soundwork, both in the field recordings and in the live performances. In the early 90s I did a project with German architect Klaus Shuwerk on a sound building ("Tonhaus") designed to transmit the sound through the inner structure of the building. Also, during the last three years I've been developing a project called "Buildings[New York]" using sounds from broad-band droning inner sound environments from several buildings in Manhattan, which will presented in 2001 at the Anchorage space of the Brooklyn bridge. So, when [The User] invited me to participate in the Silophone project it was a very natural and straightforward collaboration. I was working in the Silophone last June. I did many hours of recordings processing different broad-band sound sources through theSilophone direct set up inside the building. It was a fascinating listening work and the building itself is an outstanding and very inspirational space. I'll be using these and other sound materials for the concert I'll be doing next saturday at the Darling Foundry, where the Silophone will be used real-time to process the sounds. A profound sound immersion and the rendering of an intense sense of immensity are two main goals I'll be trying to attain for that concert.

MM: I'm curious to know a bit more about your time as a biologist in Central America, and how that affected your aesthetics and perception of sound.

FL: I've been doing research field work in biology for the past 15 years all over the world. This obviously gives me an exceptional chance to experience all sorts of amazing sound environments. Intentionally, I'm not an analytical person, but I'm sure this experience has provided some guidelines and has also created a particular way of listening to the world that has probably influenced my work in an essential way. The complexity of the sound environments, their natural richness, the unusual pace of the flow of sound events -all these features have influenced my way of understanding the creation of soundworks. I use dramatically slow changes, extreme level dynamics (from the limits of hearing perception to the treshold of pain), an intense focus on broad-band sounds and their complexity -all the things you find in the sonic reality of nature. During some years I was living between Costa Rica and Spain, with frequent travels to the US and different places in Europe. The constant back and forth travelling between, for example, the Costa Rican jungle and New York was a very influential experience, as it is my errant travelling over the world now; sort of a gigantic real global sound mix that challenges categorizations and perceptions. The result of this in my personal experience and work is not an aesthetic of "globalization" or an "everything-goes" wild mix, but rather the opposite: a deep appreciation of the details, nuances and qualities of the sonic flow in the world.

MM: I like your idea of blank, untitled releases, thereby freeing the material up from as much reference as possible. Do you want to expand on that?

FL: I'm seriously pursuing the creation of what I call a "blank territory of confusing freedom" for myself and for the listener. It's very much a purist and intense extension of the idea of absolute music in early Romanticism. I believe (and live) in a transcendental conception of sound matter, in which its potential is not blurred or dissipated by mundane things such as meaning or purpose. To me, visual elements and titles (as many other dissipative agents), both in the recorded releases and in the live performances, are just barriers for the freedom to create a profound immersive experience in the sonic universe, restrictions for the many (even unkown) possibilities of the "crude" essence of sound. The better is the quality of these added elements, the more they act as barriers. I am not interested at all in the contemporary concern about openness of form in music. I actually think this is an annoying futile distraction. I want to develop a music that shows the possibilities of the openness in content. In this quest, the role of the listener is as important as (if not more than) that of the composer. A piece of music is nothing without the attention and dedication it deserves (if it deserves it). Music is listening to any sound with dedication. Any listener can be an absolute composer, and for this is advisable not to go to a music school.

MM: I also like the idea of dense, seemingly-singular sounds being broken down into a multitude of smaller elements (a trick that's fun to apply in the graphic arts as well). However, I'm inclined to think that doing this break-down, as a listener, requires a certain discipline, even (should I say it?) training. Do you agree? How do you coerce people into the profound-listening environment?

FL: I had never had the need or the intention to coerce anyone. Those who have innate sensibility for deep appreciation, even without any prior exposure to such sound material, get easily involved in the experience and find their own way in that territory. My experience with a wide variety of audiences (from Cuba to Japan) has shown me this very vividly. Of course, personal experience and discipline can increase the potential and unfold new possibilities, but the essence of the attitute cannot be taught or imposed. In other words, I don't believe in endeavours such as proselityzing, marketing or teaching.