3D Audio Talks: Experimental Musician Francisco Lopez

Francisco López is an avant-garde experimental musician and sound artist. He has released a large amount of sound pieces with record labels from more than fifty countries and realized hundreds of concerts and sound installations worldwide; including some of the main international museums, galleries and festivals, such as: P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (New York City), London Institute of Contemporary Arts and Paris Museum of Modern Art. Let’s talk sound.

Francisco Speaking at Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid. (https://vimeo.com/32312594)

Goal with your pieces – what do you want the listener to experience?

FL: Whether I can attain it or not –perhaps this is for others to say- my answer to that kind of question is always very ambitious: a substantial transformation through listening. Not just interest, joy, pleasure… but a truly transformative experience.

Here’s an interesting quote from an intvw:

“I’m not doing recordings because I want to simulate or re-enact or recompose or listen again to this reality. I don’t believe in this and the more I work with so-called reality the more I’m convinced that this is a futile attempt at reproducing reality. To me, what is interesting in this back andforth between the reality and the sound compositions, artificial ways of reproducing sounds and so on”

…what’s the value of binaural (which is meant to be representational) can it also be experienced phenomenologically? As sonic hyper-reality?

FL: Of course. You just need to get rid of the representational prism (blinkers?) and… there you go!: our simulation tools magically become ontological tools.

Francisco López and guests at London’s Cafe Oto. Photo: © BBC/Mark Allan

Your live performances/installations aim for immersive experiences. Feelings about binaural to achieve this immersion?

FL: To me, this points to the question/distinction between immersion and illusion. Keeping that in mind, tools like binaural technology and headphones are potentially great immersion media.

What’s you favorite recording?

FL: I guess always the one I’m hoping to do in the near future.

I often see you sporting a t-shirt that says “Less Is More”. Can you talk about that?

FL: Mies van der Rohe –among many other classics- would certainly provide a more detailed answer. The most direct reason for this is probably the realization that we always underestimate the contents, potential and scope of any phenomenon when it’s obscured by others. Or, in other words, the reason why we should be wary of multi/trans/inter-media as a general form of precaution. Obvious historial, aesthetic, political corollary for the work with sound: ‘only sound’ is never sound only.

Field recordings are prevalent throughout your work, often taking on different roles depending on the piece. What inspires you to use these recordings?

FL: With its contemporary reductionist connotations, I don’t feel represented by the term (and the concepts and principles behind it) ‘field recordings’. My main interest in working with environmental sound recordings is an inspiring –and always surprising- ‘cooperation’ with ‘reality’. Not simply because of the ‘sounds’ themselves but because they necessarily contain temporal, spatial, spectral, dynamic structures that haven’t been intentionally designed as (or for) ‘music’. From my perspective, this ‘cooperation’ leads to a much deeper connection/exploration of ‘reality’ (not abstraction) than any other prototypical form of representation.

I’m aware that in your early days you almost exclusively used walkman cassette recorders. Was this an artistic choice or one made due to financial constraints?

FL: First the latter, then the former. In any case, a fortunate event for me, as it taught me the lesson that the most essential tools are spiritual, not technical.

Would you say these cassette recorders used early in your career helped shaped the sound of your work today?

FL: Most likely; and in ways that I might not be able to detect myself.

Do you find there is a sound of the rainforest you connect most with? Tell us about your connection to the rainforest.

Francisco Lopez in MIDE (Mexico City, 2007) The space is reconfigured with a multi-channel surround system around the audience, which is placed in seats arranged in concentric circles facing the outside array of speakers. The performer operates from the center of the space (not on stage), in order to be able to control live the sound as is heard by the audience.

FL: To me, one of the most relevant consequences of extended listening and recording in natural environments is the epiphany of sound becoming flow and space, environment and substance, entity and matter. As opposed to individuated ‘sounds’, especially if these are understood –as it’s often sadly the case- as mere properties of other entities, like ‘sources’. My extensive experience in rainforests all over the world, with their intrinsic and intense naturally acousmatic character, greatly helped shape this perception.

Your work is transportive, often making the audience feel like they’re there. Would you say this is one of your major intentions in using the field recordings?

FL: I always hope –as one of my major intentions- that that ‘there’ is somewhere different for every listener.

What are your thoughts on Audio Ecology and the work of audio ecologists like Bernie Krause?

FL: I respect and share the ultimate good intentions but have no interest at all in the perspective, principles, aesthetic consequences of it, etc. An ‘Acoustic Ecology’ based upon representation is in my view a sort of oxymoron. One could also argue that this is a questionable ‘Ecology’, being fundamentally based as it is on a second-rate ontological status for ‘sounds’ relative to their ‘sources’. It’s not only that “as soon as the call is in the air, it doesn’t belong to the frog that produced it anymore” (an older quote of mine), but also that the frog has a ‘source’ as well.

How has your work as a biologist inspired the content you compose?

FL: Most likely by giving me the opportunity of extensive immersion andexperience of a multitude of natural environments. Despite my interest in a lot of different music and work with sound, I believe it’s the past and present experience of those environments what really shapes and influences my understanding of how/what to create with sound.

Francisco López at the ‘Mamori Sound Project’ he directed in the Brazilian Amazon between 2005 and 2011

Your live performances are anything but ordinary. How important is the space when presenting your work? Do acoustics and audience size factor into your decisions?

FL: Absolutely. My choices of sound materials and the ways I work with them live are dependent upon both the specificities of the actual space and those of the actual sound system used. In that sense, what I do in a live performance is a kind of site-specific live composition (not improvisation) that tries to keep a very attentive and sensitive ear to those characteristics. This is not simply to have a ‘good sound’ but rather a consequence of the realization that sound does not exist in any recording or in any generative tool we might have.

Concerning the audience, I always insist on the relevance of sharing the transformative potential of sound and of having a sense of responsibility in your role as ‘medium’ in performance (hence the blindfolds I provide for the audience). These two elements are always vividly present for me in live performances and transform these into extremely intense and rich experiences for me.

Do you have a go to rig for your field recordings? If so, why? Do you have a go to rig for composing on your computer? If so, why?

FL: One of my aesthetic strategies to (I believe) re-focus and increase the potential of listening is to keep a deliberate cryptic stance as to what equipment I use for recordings or for composing. Besides, I sincerely think it would be of no interest for listeners/creators: all the tools I use (hardware, software) are the most common, affordable and widely accessible –even vulgar- pieces of gear around. I use the same rigs that vast numbers of people use today.

What do you think is gained with binaural field recordings? In the last few years we’ve seen more attention being payed to binaural, ambisonics, HRTFs and head tracking playback thanks to Virtual Reality. What are your thoughts on this new space?

FL: I think any ‘Virtual Reality’ endeavor pales in comparison with the depth and the challenge of what I’d call ‘Actual Reality’ (in the ontological sense, not in the ‘normal’, daily sense) 😉 Even more, ‘Virtual Reality’, in its present form of pathological simulation, only bring us farther and farther away from any possible venturing into the true rabbit hole of the scary real… These are not just philosophical / esoteric digressions; they might have very direct and vivid consequences in our understanding of sound, the results of our work with it, and hence our use of any tool, including ambisonics.

A big thank you to Francisco for talking sound with us. You can hear/learn more at his website. And make sure to check out his complete discography of experimental music here.

From One Ear To Another

Anthony Mattana
Hooke Audio Founder