This short interview took place just before the start of the 2012 edition of the AKOUSMA festival of electroacoustic music in Montreal. I hoped it would give added context to the performance, and indeed it did. My review of that festival, which included performances by Martin Tétreault‘s turntable quartet and Keith Fullerton Whitman, among others, will be posted shortly. Just let it be said that the experience did not disappoint, as we were subjected to (there’s really no better word) an immersive sound world of “42-speaker system live spatialization / editing” via Usine-C’s remarkable performance space.
Francisco Lopez is truly an innovator and is undisputedly a major figure in the world of sound art and experimental music. The Spanish artist has been releasing innovative and challenging compositons (and critical essays) for over 30 years now and has been recognized internationally for his work. He has amassed a vast catalog of work that demonstrates an intense practice of listening to the world, one which stresses a pure engagement with sound as such. He has realized hundreds of concerts, a unique experience as he goes so far as to blindfold audience members to ensure rapt attention and limit distractions from the overly primary visual sense. This almost paradoxically can result in both an emphasis and the sound-in-itself while also grounding the experience in very humanistic terms. After a time, if one submits to the experience, the listener is swept up by the tremendous flow into a transcendent state, but if one resists the result can be quite traumatic.
Over the last three decades the prolific Lopez has published releases on over 250 labels. Recent highlights include KRMN, a recent collaboration with Maurizio Bianchi on the Important label, Untitled #284 for Crónica Electrónica, and an inaugural release for Russia’s Alone at Last label. Francisco Lopez also has a new record coming out soon with Luca Sigurtà which I am eagerly anticipating. Lopez is director and curator of SONM, the Sound Archive of Experimental Music and Sound Art, a physical and virtual public access resource of the entirety of Lopez’s collection of “experimental music and sound art, gathered over the past thirty years of direct exchange with thousands of sound artists worldwide.”
Here’s a sample of a recent performance.
“untitled #284” was created in 2011 by extensive evolutionary transformation of original environmental recordings made in Lisbon during the year of 1992. These sources were recovered for a commission of the Teatro Municipal Maria Matos, where the composition was premiered on 16 July 2011.
Francisco Lopez interviewed by Joseph Sannicandro
Francisco, thank you for taking the time this week to do this interview. You seem to have engaged with the city of Montreal quite a bit. Performances for the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, Mutek, Montreal Sound Matter, Fonderie Darling, now Akousma, and many more. It seems to me there’s something unique, je ne sais quoi (so to speak), about Montreal as a city, and I say this as a New Yorker. Truly, there’s something that cultivates artists and audiences around experimental music. There is a sophisticated audience open to challenging experiences. What is it about Montreal that keeps you engaged? What are your impressions of the city?
Montreal is one of my favourite cities in the world. Great vibe, nice architecture, a sense of open space, amazing contrast of seasons, great people… I lived in Montreal part time from 2001 through 2006. Every time I come back it naturally feels like my second home.
What sort of studio work are you involved in in Montreal on this trip? Any interesting collaborations?
I have a number of collaborations going on with artists/friends in Montreal. A “concrete” sound/music piece with close-miked objects, in collaboration with composer Louis Dufort. A project with multi-screen, multi-channel audio-visual installation involving robotics, with artist Cécile Martin. And an animation film project with film-maker Karl Lemieux, based on visual and sonic materials from old cartoons (1910s to 1940s).
What will you be presenting at Akousma this week?
I always work in a site-specific / system-specific fashion. I don’t do performances of specific pieces, but construct my live shows with live editing, mixing, sound spatialization according to the specific space and the specific sound system of each location. What I have in mind includes a lot of potential sonic materials to be used that I’ve been working over the past two/three years; very wide range of stuff, ranging from close-miking to field recordings from Burma.
I’d like to talk a bit about John Cage. Your essay on Cagean philosophy is a sort of modern manifesto reaffirming the principles of acousmatic music while also assuming a sort of humanistic standpoint. You’ve rather famously declared your opposition to Cage’s procedural music. For his centenary this year there’s been seemingly a never ending slew of programs dedicated to him. His influence is no more apparent then this year. Without even trying I’ve seen pieces from all stages of his career, and even participated in a realization of Empty Words. Benjamin Piekut’s recent book Experimentalism Otherwise makes similar arguments about Cage’s politics being less revolutionary that they may appear. I wonder how, in the face of all these Cage performances, if you’ve been reacting to this at all in your recent work, or found yourself re-articulating your argument against Cageans.
I’m afraid I have not much in talking about Cage, sorry. I’d probably express it today in a more articulated manner, but the essence of my perspective/opinion concerning him and his work remains the same. I tend to focus on the things I’m interested in, not the opposite.
I think that’s entirely reasonable, and I didn’t meant to suggest that you should be. Just that he’s been so unavoidable this season. Thanks for chatting with me.
So there you have it folks. Look for a review of the Akousma festival, and Lopez’s performance, shortly.