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untitled #22812. untitled #228 [ rec. 2009 ]

> rel. 2009 – LP ini.itu, Belgium (website)
Francisco López "Uuntitled #228" (LP ini-itu, Belgium 2009)
Every now and then Francisco López is in for quite a surprise. While a vast majority of his work is called 'Untitled', followed by a number, there is a smaller part of his work which have a title. [...] At the same time there is also a new solo López LP, the first since 'Untitled #92' by Mego in 2000. You could think its strange to have his music on vinyl, but here he is also not silent. In the meantime I learned that Brussels based label Ini.Itu releases only LPs, always limited to 250 copies and there is always a link to Indonesia. Here López worked with field recordings provided by Blindhead (who were also responsible for the first LP, and perhaps is also responsible for the label). López works here in two directions. On the first side he creates a densely layered pattern of those field recordings, using loops of the material, which he seems to be continuously be filtering, thus altering and changing the sound material. Its not just calls from the rainforest, but also those of people and cities. Of course one could argue wether this sounds Indonesian at all, but its a very nice side. On the b-side he uses gamelan sounds. What he did to those gamelan sounds is very hard to say, but its a damn great piece. It seems like he has cut out all the attacks and uses the decaying sound which he has set around in loops and then puts on some extreme filtering, making the whole thing into a very gentle, almost ambient piece. Very musical, with some heavy microtonal shifts. One of the best López pieces I heard. Two highly different López releases and both are great. Vital Weekly (The Netherlands), December 2009

Francisco López "Uuntitled #228" (LP ini-itu, Belgium 2009)
Along with Anaphoria's latest release ini itu kindly sent me a copy of Francisco López' Untitled #228, another 250 copy vinyl album. It might be my imagination, or perhaps the fact that I'm not listening to everything these days over critical studio monitors, but vinyl does seem to sound so much warmer. That's what I enjoyed most about this album – no harsh sounds, everything well balanced and finely equalised.

I found myself on first litening doing a lot of sound source identification and singling out the techniques used to separate the various strands of material on side A. This is a 22 minute track composed from a range of representational material, field recordings in other words, carried out in Indonesia. In terms of getting the best out of his resources, selecting and combining, López has an excellent technical ear. After several listens you come to appreciate what a fine musical ear he has as well.

Music made from environmental sound. The concept is very simple and López keeps his work simple, this in my opinion being his greatest strength as a composer. For example he likes to let things run, to allow the material to develop itself, giving the ear time to take in the spectral and dynamic complexity of the evolving sounds. This is done with great skill – I've heard some fairly monotonous results from less able composers using similar approaches.

Musicality in general and in particular a sense of orchestration began to assert themselves. At times, both background and foreground layers would reveal repeated tonal figures or emphatic percussive passages. A particularly lively knitting needle click-clack sort of sound came and went throughout the mix, layered at one point with a ‘real world' drum figure. All overshadowed by a shifting texture of recordings of  voices speaking announcements through loudspeakers, again captured from various ‘real-life' contexts.

The music fades to a very tiny buzzing sound, a bluebottle on cocaine. This builds slowly and meticulously to reveal, again, a counterpoint of well separated layers, including a watery whooshing sound, encouraging all sorts of narrative responses in the listener, mine being a particularly stormy night in a bothy somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.

Side B is fairly straightforward for those with a background in acousmatic music. Here, according to the sleeve notes, López is offering us a 'spectral take on gamelan'. It would stand up well against other pieces in the idiom. There's nothing original or radical here, just  a very beautiful and well considered use of the source material, offering us a slow crescendo of complex inharmonic spectra as the sounds of the processed struck metal percussion reveal their sonic riches.

So far, so good. A thoroughly enjoyable album which I'd strongly recommend to anyone. But I have some serious reservations about some of the claims made on the sleeve notes. We are told, for example, that ‘his reflection on the phenomenology of the act of listening has led him to develop a form of ‘absolute musique concrete', paralleling the richness, complexity, slow changes and extreme level dynamics of nature. It also leads him to detach his pieces from narrative developments, referential associations of sounds with reality, and psychological resonances. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: a sound is a sound is a sound is a sound'.

Emotion could be considered as a form of psychological resonance. Does López mean that we should attempt to suppress our emotional response to music, more specifically to his music?

There are several problems here. If a sound is a sound, etc., we'd all report the same experience after listening to music made from representational material, which we don't. We'd never be able to play Chinese whispers either. So somebody is confusing poiesis with esthesis (check it out).

There's something Newtonian about this particular claim. Perhaps it's an attempt at certainty, even determinism, in the very uncertain and chaotic world of the making and reception of sound and music.

I accept of course that you can have a music which parallels the richness and complexity of the sounds of nature and the environment. Although I don't know off the top of my head what ‘absolute musique concrete' is, I can make an informed guess. My real problem is with the bit about detaching oneself from narrative developments and so on.

I'm also prepared to accept any or all of the following: that the statement might not be from López himself, but from representatives of the label, though I doubt it from what I've read elsewhere; that this is a piece of aesthetic rhetoric, a unique selling point to assist in marketing the product, not unexpected perhaps given such a prodigious output of recorded material; that the artist himself has indeed succeeded in listening with a level of detachment which rejects narrative and the other features mentioned. This strategic skill has been theorised and discussed intensively in academic circles for many years now.

Of course you cannot argue with someone who sees the whole world as painted brown, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us don't see everything in multiple shades of colour. I don't believe that a sound is just a sound (what's a sound anyway, a collection of sine waves?) and I don't believe that this is the way human beings listen in the context of appreciating music. I'm particularly surprised to find such a theory, if that's what it is, associated with music which relies on representational material as raw material. I'd have thought that the richness of the listening experience depended largely on those very associations and resonances that the composer seeks to eliminate. Furthermore, I can't for the life of me figure out how you would begin to avoid psychological resonances in listening to organised sound. After all, ears are not microphones – they're (usually) attached to a brain which processes the incoming stream.

In addition, why bother to mention or attribute any significance to the source of the sounds used in a given piece? Unless of course you wanted to encourage psychological resonance through the complex processes of sound source recognition.

But please don't just take my word for it. Decide for yourself  by listening to any music made with representational material, however mimetic or abstracted. Then figure out if you can detach yourself from narrative developments, referential associations of sounds with reality, and psychological resonances, and if you find this natural, enjoyable or positive in any way. Then have a think about what 'sound' really is.

Next, go to the source of all the trouble, Pierre Schaeffer, and read his Traité des objets musicaux (Treatise on Musical Objects). After that have a good read of Michel Chion's  theoretical writing on sound, most of which is available in English translation. Then have a look at Luke Windsor's PhD thesis. Then at reception theory and then everything that's been written in the last five years, which will take you forever. My enthusiasm for this topic stems from having been at it for about ten years and from having discussed and worked in depth with composers who have been at it for up to three decades, some going back to the source.

Why make so much of this? Well, if you want to be taken seriously, and many people do take López' work seriously, you have to be prepared for nitpickers like me who will scrutinise what you say about your work. The point I'm trying to make is that this whole discussion on the nature of sound, listening and the psychological or additional ‘baggage' associated with sound has been researched intensively by some very clever people and has been top of the agenda in electroacoustic musicology for many years now. Hopefully one day, should our paths ever cross, I'll be able to discuss all this with Francisco López himself.

Yet, they are only sleeve notes. In appreciating good music, the theoretical stuff is a probably no more than a storm in a teacup so please don't let any of it tarnish a beautifully composed album, one that I'm delighted to have in my collection. Vinyl is very special – as an objet d'art it makes the ubiquitous CD look and feel like a beermat. And strangely, to my ears it sound warmer, as if the substance itself carries more information.

All in all I congratulate ini itu on another excellent release. James Wyness / Fouter & Swick (USA) January 2010

Francisco López "Uuntitled #228" (LP ini-itu, Belgium 2009)
The first side here is a hyperreal contextual collage, starting with an amniotic drone embedded with fragments of filigree metallic structures like a chrysalis shattering, before birthing us into an entirely alien psychoacoustic environment peopled by ghostly figures moving across, above and through the stereo field. The stunning second side is just a jawdropping exercise in acousmatic listening, divorcing the listener from the original source material of a gamelan performance, veiled in various filtering and processing techniques until what we receive is an assortment of spherical sub-bass shapes and hi-frequency elemental tones placed in a bewildering constellation of arrangement. We're encouraged to see with our ears, perceiving the morphing sounds as (sur)real objects within our own sound sphere, making for an intensely hallucinogenic experience. If you've been enraptured with the alternate sound worlds of Thomas Köner, Russell Haswell and Florian Hecker, David Toop or The Hafler Trio/Chris Watson, this album is as essential a listening experience as it gets - seriously, snap one of these up while you can.Boomkat, January 2010