With untitled #370, we notice a milestone has been passed. One can now listen to a different untitled Francisco López composition every day for a year without repetition. Next year we’ll celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original untitled; good reason, we believe, for a party.
We credit the artist for sticking to a theme. Although López has also released works with titles, much of the impetus is to remove sound from context, to allow it to be enjoyed on its own merits. We do know that these sounds will likely be a mixture of field recordings and electro-acoustic compositions; that densities will vary; and that this particular piece was commissioned for the Conde Duque Center in Madrid as the inaugural part of a new installation series called El Muro. This series seeks to “experiment with the possibilities of sensory and emotional immersion offered by listening,” which matches up perfectly with our site. The specific location, lodged between an 18th century stone wall and a 21st century staircase, synchs with López’ artistic vision, a blend of the old and new.
The cover looks like a white label 12″, although the release is available on CD. But make no mistake, López has never been generic. If anything, he’s the opposite. He wants live audiences to experience the visceral thrill of sound, from lean-in intricacies to gut-shaking intensities. The sonic interaction is different at home, and one wonders if some part of López prefers it: now the artist himself has been removed from context as well. There are only these sounds, interacting with whatever other sounds happen to be around the home. (We say this because it is unlikely one would play this disc in a car.)
It takes less than two minutes for one form of grittiness to switch to another, implying hydroponic recording, such as the crunching of brine shrimp. Other plausible interpretations might include a Geiger counter or the electronic manipulation of runoff through a drain pipe. Without answers, the reception is in the ear of the beholder. This leads to the more basic question, do we like these sounds? and to others, such as “why or why not?” Several years ago, I told the artist that I preferred differing viscosities and a generous allotment of density. Somehow he remembered this and wrote of untitled #370, “I think you’ll like this one.” He was right.
By the ninth minute, a sort of pulse has developed: a loop that might be received as percussion, a “natural” version of a slow techno track. This imposition of form allows the ensuing dissonance to be received as a new instrument: a dark, low rumble that outlasts its competition. By the time the loop returns, the backdrop has changed, leading to a different understanding of interaction, like blue on yellow followed by yellow on red. The composition continues to grow in thickness, making its next declarative mark in the sixteenth minute as a motorized intrusion.
The twenty-fourth minute marks the beginning of a second movement characterized by sheets rather than dots: a low hum offset by shimmering, high-pitched waves. Seven lovely minutes pass before an animalistic visitor begins to snort about the place, challenging any assumptions of “prettiness.” One wonders if those in Madrid will look around for the wart hog or realize he’s living in the speakers. In time, he’ll have the place to himself, but not for long; the third movement returns to the pointillistic, with grains of sound alternating with near-silences before taking over with timbres of factories and film reels. Eventually it all returns to water, or the impression of water, the dripping gutter after a storm, fading as the flow diminishes. At home, there is silence. In Madrid, the cycle begins again. (Richard Allen)