Francisco López ~ Two-Headed Snake

Until recently, sound artist Francisco López has been known for his hundreds of solo releases; that’s about to change with the digital debut of label Two-Headed Snake.  Each album pairs López with a second artist (the two-headed snake), and offers two tracks, one by each, sharing the same source materials.  It’s a slight surprise to see grammatical titles for the albums, as López is famous for his numbered compositions.  But fret not, fans; his track titles are “untitled#380, 383, 390, 393 and 394.”

The first five sets dropped the same day, their order suggested by the numbers.  Dropzone Cryonics is an incredible start, partially based on field recordings of the Aso-San volcano.  Like a volcano, the piece cycles through active and passive parts, beginning with a rising drone, settling to a light fizz, falling into silence and resurfacing with the tropical nighttime birds.  The listener continues to guess what may come next, as a percussive segment lurks nearby.  Then a cold, metallic sheen followed by aquatic gurgles, rounded out by a return to some of the earlier elements.  The dynamic contrast makes #380 one of the artist’s most engaging pieces.

What would Yui Onodera cook using the same sonic ingredients?  “Yuragi” (“Fluctuation”) is a perfect title, both for the piece itself and the nature of the overall project.  Onodera’s piece begins with a soft drone behind a louder chorus of frogs, already a departure from the opener.  Soon an ambient melody begins to develop.  Wind chimes, absent (or barely apparent) in López’ work, claim a major part of the sound scenery, instantly justifying the concept.  Had the second piece been similar to the first, the intentions would have been thwarted.  “Yuragi” drips, dissolves and reforms.  The zipper of the 13th minute and the page turns of the 14th tip the listener to the human touch.  A two-headed snake has four ears.

Neocortical F-Bars (recorded with Alberto Novello) has the distinction of having been released as a CD in 2020 on López’ hard-to-find sister label Nowhere Worldwide (typically distributed through Norman Records).  A much different animal, this release pops and pings like injured playback devices from the last century.  Midway through López’ side, a tempo develops, eventually lifting the piece from abstraction to form before a final reduction to static.  Novello substitutes fizzes and whorls, occasionally slipping into silence while preparing the next movement.  The tone is as cold and septic as its cover, ending in Geiger fuzz.

Conscious Polarize pairs López with Suso Saiz for a third curve ball.  Intimations of wind begin López’ rendition, accompanied by more of that precious static, as if scooped from a bowl.  Building over the course of its first 19:19 (of an even 22), “untitled#390” grows ever more restless, until it is unable to contain itself, like a pot boiling over, popcorn in a microwave, or dueling test tube elements.  The arrow of agitation is reasonably straight, producing a sense of listener anticipation.  “Timbre In – Out” revisits these sounds, but takes them in an entirely different direction.  In the fourth minute, where López heats the pot, Saiz turns down the heat and allows his sounds to simmer.  His take becomes an ambient piece, even losing the static for a stretch in the center.

Shorter and more sedate, Scleractinian L-H Loop Freeze creaks and pings like a lost artifact from Cold Meat Industries. López suggests the rattling chains of untended ghosts, while Thaniel Ion Lee takes up the mantle with an even darker read.  “Glass Moth Wigs” embraces the menace, launching immediately into dark ambient drones.  The rattles remain, joined in the second minute by a more immediate presence, not content to float down corridors but eager to attack, to possess.  Unrelenting terror fills every available space, revealing a loop only in the closing seconds.

Ultimately we arrive at Circadian Polymers, which matches López with Arcane Device ~ curiously, the only one of the five pairings in which López invites the other artist to go first.  “hoarfrost” continues the label’s early fascination with cold (Cryonics, Freeze), which may be a reflection of the time of release.  The piece does seem frozen, conjuring images of Svalbard and the northern tundras, where the only human lives are locked behind thick steel doors, enduring rather than thriving.  A sense of oppression runs throughout the claustrophobic, half-hour piece.  Even when percussion tries to enter, it is unable to last long, frozen by the intense cold.  Will López let it thaw?  Not at all, though he adds “attack segments,” like the maulings of The Terror.  The longest and loudest starts building in the fifteenth minute and ends abruptly at 23:27, as if a life has been cut short.

The success of this series is found in the variety of approaches.  These artists ask each other, “What do you hear in these sounds?” and come up with surprisingly diverse answers.  In most cases, had the concept not been communicated to the listener, one would be hard-put to identify the “same sources” alluded to in the liner notes.  The project has liked sparked mutual admiration between composers, and draws ours as well.  We’re looking forward to the next batch.  (Richard Allen)

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