Much has been made of Francisco López‘ decision to include what seems like the entirety of his recording sessions at a boiler plant facility outside Paris ~ five hours in all, broken into half-hour segments, topped off by a 20-minute soundscape that incorporates pieces of the source material. Were this a set of six LPs, tapes or discs, the decision might seem like overload, but as a USB card, it works. After all, if one is attracted to a particular sound in a soundscape ~ or in this case, at the Régie de Chauffage Urbain ~ one wants to hear more, not less, and in its purest form.
The ten “MANTRAcks” honor their titles, bearing hints of meditative music or even trance. On the surface, “MANTRAck 01” (like each of these pieces) is a drone, but hides randomly generated static loops that form surprisingly rhythmic patterns. If one were to amplify the static and de-amplify the drone, one might find an IDM piece hidden in the boiler plant. This may not be López’ interpretation, but he leaves the raw material on the table for others to interpret as they see fit, the mind seeking a framework in order to comprehend what it is hearing. It’s important to note that the “intentional clipping” referred to in the liner notes does not apply to the beginning and end of tracks, which rise and fall into silence. Instead, these are sculptures of sound.
“MANTRAck 02” is the “scary” one, imitating the strings of a horror movie. And yet, even here, over time, the scales become sine waves, the terror becomes tame. One thinks of the way in which animals grow acclimated to sounds and presences, how familiarity leads to a sense of safety. The deeper-toned “MANTRAck 03” sounds like rain on a heated plate, evaporating as it lands, creating tiny bubbles of static. This piece possesses the most internal movement, growing ever more agitated as it progresses, curving into a plateau of volume as the pops reach peak intensity. “MANTRAck 04” is more treble-dominant, the final minutes of the most interest as the drizzle dissipates. The fifth track returns to the hidden rhythms of the first, with nearly-imperceptible tempos begging to break through, exposed only in the 27th minute.
At the halfway point, one begins to wonder at the nature of drone: the seemingly constant noises that betray an inner consistency. Some people find such noises disturbing, like tinnitus; others find them comforting. If López were interested in mass audiences, he might have released ten six-minute pieces along with the 20-minute closer, shoving everything onto a single circle of glass. But this is not his interest. How do we hear? How much do we want to hear? At what point does a sonic source outstay its welcome, and at what point do we long to hear it again?
“MANTRAck 06” contains both high and low frequencies, battling very, very slowly, establishing an equilibrium that one might experience when caught between two forces. In contrast, the subsequent piece seems like industrial music, the pops nearly as loud as percussion, inviting the head to bob and causing one to wonder at the intelligence of machines. If these layers represent sections of the boiler plant, this is where I would spend the most time. The higher frequencies of “MANTRAck 08” are a bit of a disappointment after this high, but the penultimate piece comes across as a factory version of plunderphonics, with hidden frequencies all over the map. As the last mantra is the most subtle, it makes for a soft landing.
With this much source material, it’s no surprise that “Exposure” is rich in detail. The lead-up has been long, but the payoff is exquisite. The original audiences to Anne Colod’s “choreographic project” were blindfolded and forced to invent their own internal contexts. The steam blasts of the opening minutes serve as an entry into the boiler plant, but from this point on, recognizing the layers becomes a playful parlor game. The water is finally heard clearly in the eighth minute, an irony given its importance to the facility. So much goes into this piece that one wishes it were longer, perhaps an odd thing to say after five-plus hours; the tumble of sources seems a relief. But at this point, we’ve earned it; and as a result of the preceding five hours, we’re able to “see” inside the recording to intuit its components. The artist could have released this, just this, but had he done so, the soul of the release would have been lost. Here’s to more in-depth presentations that educate as well as entertain. (Richard Allen)