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Francisco López

Presque Tout (Quiet Pieces: 1993-2013)
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Presque Tout (Quiet Pieces: 1993-2013)
  • It’s the end of another nauseating year. We’re asphyxiated by bazillions of releases produced by an equal number of artists, genuine or fake – mostly the latter. A desperate search for five minutes of glory characterizes the majority of records (and relative press hype) one can be forced to swallow.

    That’s right, “forced to swallow”.

    It looks like every person on this planet feels that a big injustice will occur if the fruits of their so-called labor remains without a comment. Nobody seems to remotely consider the necessity of non-attendance, at least for a while. Either via some kind of outing or through continuous vacuous posts on social media, it’s all a constant “peep-peep-peep” (to quote Randy Newman’s “Short People”).

    Thus the moment is opportune for reminding of something that came out in 2014, at the same time coming back (after quite a long period) to a tireless researcher who deserves more attention than the bulk of what’s thrown our way nowadays.

    Francisco López lets the others do the useless speaking. The only advice for Presque Tout is that of setting ourselves in a silent environment furnished with high-quality equipment for acoustic perception; the supernatural element is transmitted by a data DVD comprising three hours of immeasurable void. The sort of aural immensity committing the midpoint of a (still) healthy human being to the true significance. The nucleus of knowledge vainly looked for by many students of the “development” of that pitiful little booger known as man over the course of an unspecified amount of existences (psychic deficits not taken into account).

    I am not even bothering to set forth the actual sonic content of these tracks. For decades now, the Spanish explorer has been a firm column in the music ambit that has to do with “deep listening” in its authentic acceptation. When López seizes the gist of a seemingly undistinguished movement, rest assured that a segment of that apparent nothingness constitutes instead the key to the innermost quivering.

    The voiceless frequencies; the staggering murmur of inscrutability. Annihilating silence from which everything is born and to which everything returns.

    You don’t simply “listen” to this material. There must be a natural ability to dissolve any hint to individuality inside the stream of chilling emptiness conveyed by these amazing pieces. The title’s reference (a respectful antithesis to Luc Ferrari’s Presque Rien) becomes a serious clue when realizing that barely outlined yet momentous exhalations – as close to the ultimate discernment as one can get—truly translate as “almost all” to someone not concerned anymore with plain corporeality.
    (Touching Extremes)

  • Spanish sound artist Francisco Lopez, a 30-year veteran of avant-garde sound design, is the focus of a staggeringly comprehensive career retrospective courtesy of Line. To call Lopez’s work minimalist would be something of an understatement. The pieces here range from five minutes to three hours, and are comprised of hushed tones, barely-there frequencies and near silent field recordings. Laptop speaker listeners are advised to procure a decent pair of headphones or speakers, as it’s very possible to entirely miss the arrangements without them. However, this collection is perfect for Lopez disciples and adventurous (and patient) listeners in search of a challenge.

  • Since his earliest releases three decades ago, a good hundred others have flowed from various sources bearing Francisco López’s name—testament to the enduring force of a take on the field recording/found sound lowercase/drone tradition he contributed significantly to establishing. A new wave of dark-ambient-droners are only just catching up on this authentically avant voice, a constant challenge to listeners at the threshold of perception. With processing of organic and synthetic sound sources ranging from pensive to painful, and all points extreme between, this intrepid sonic cartographer has mapped a zone of auscultation replete with arcane, liminal and buried pleasures, out of categorical bounds between industrial, sound art, and wilderness sound environments. López proposes a transcendental deep listening of/to the world, forsaking the ecstasy of communication for other sensory and spiritual gnoses. Said to be capable of ‘shifting with passion from the limits of perception to the most dreadful abyss of sonic power,’ it’s more the former limits that Presque Tout (Quiet Pieces: 1993-2013) treats, title, ‘almost  all,’ aligning it with Luc Ferrari’s landmark, Presque Rien (‘almost  nothing’).

    In sheer scope, it’s already intimidating enough—a data DVD of wave files of works compiled from many OOP editions spanning 20 sonic years along with a new 3-hour work, making seven whole hours—before even considering the extreme lowercase nature of its content. Heed the ‘health warning’ (above) to prevent audio uncertainty: deep listening muscle needs to be well toned for ears to do it justice, as sounds tend to blend/bleed into ambient space/scape— the ear needing to strain to detect detail inaudible to the naked ear. Chronologically, the earlier pieces are the sparsest, and perhaps the most challenging. The opening “El Dia Anterior a la Emergencia de los Adultos de Magicicada” is essentially 15 minutes of low frequency hum. “Untitled #78″ is similarly evacuated, like an empty room being sat in, and “untitled #87″ is as minimal as Being can get in a flirtation with Nothingness. “Untitled #86,” “untitled #118″ and their like host audible elements that are more in line with his nature-based works (cf. La Selva); the former has an inner organic life of upper pitches–possibly remote bird chirp, the latter a distant swarm of something wild whose remotion serves to heighten its ineffability. The more recent works here tend to be less organic and relatively more assertive. Some—cf. “untitled #129″ and “Untitled #216″—are so sub- they’re not so much heard as felt—a discreet eardrum pressure, a tinnitus—the former possessed of a surprisingly conventionally articulated kinetic rattle. “Untitled #309″ is largely an industrial din whose oppressive menace makes it seem positively loud. The closing “Untitled #313″ is truly a listening endurance test wrapped inside an epic closure, drawing on personal experiences listening to the nightscape on the city’s borderlands–distant traffic, perhaps, or subterranean machinery. An hour of predominantly slow bass creep, followed by an indeterminate passage striated with chirping synthetics, beyond which is a hic sunt leones of more distorted digital incursions.

    The Urheimat of López’s  sounds is imponderable—but seeking it is otiose, the spirit of his work profoundly acousmatic in essence. “Untitled#78 (1997)” could be a small piece of furniture being dragged across your head’s carpeted attic. Others could be your plumbing’s hum, your radiator’s judder. Some pieces seem to cease entirely–only mute hummings softly chafing the void signal a spectral stir in the lull. In being assembled they become as if movements in an ongoing continuum of quietude. The act of perception serves as an induction into Extreme Audio, preparing the ground for later blooming into more eloquent rumble and fulsome murmur punctuated with pinspots.

  • In his 29 year career, Francisco López’s work could never be described as accessible. His treatment and processes of both organic and synthetic sound sources have ranged from pensive to painful, and everything in between those extremes.  This, however, may be his most daunting work to date: a data DVD of uncompressed wave files and a total of seven hours. The 17 “quiet” pieces are challenging, yet captivate when experienced in the right context.

    As with many prolific artists such as López, I have largely dabbled in and out of his expansive discography a couple of times a year.  Before, I had considered the 10 disc Nowherebox from 2008 to be quite a difficult collection, but the fact that those were both shorter pieces, as well as ones of significantly varying dynamics made it a bit easier to digest such a wealth of material.

    Presque Tout compiles his most minimalist works imaginable, and thus requires an extreme dedication and attention to detail in order to fully appreciate, because many times it is extremely difficult to even discern that something is playing.  The sleeve warning that it should only be listened to via headphones or a set of high quality speakers is not to be taken lightly, as smaller speakers simply cannot reproduce this material adequately.

    Sequenced in chronological order, the earlier pieces are perhaps the most sparse and also the least engaging.  Opener “El Dia Anterior a la Emergencia de los Adultos de Magicicada” (I am still somewhat surprised to see a titled López piece) is mostly 15 minutes of low frequency humming.  Even via headphones at a relatively loud volume level, it is almost imperceptible that anything is happening.  “Untitled #78” is similarly barren, with only the subtlest of ambience, like a field recording of an empty room.  “Untitled #87” presents a similar sense of stillness and silence, barely crossing the threshold of nothingness.

    Pieces such as “Untitled #86” and “Untitled #118” feature some audible elements, and seem to be in league with López’s nature based works.  The former has an organic life to it, more emphasis on high end and what sounds like possibly birds chirping far away.  The latter resembles a swarm of insects from miles away, with the muted dynamic serving to amplify the ambiguity.  The more recent works here are also the ones that not only seem the most inorganic, but also the most commanding ones, relatively speaking.  “Untitled #129” and “Untitled #216” both focus mostly on ultra low frequencies that are more easily felt than heard.  The former also has the unexpected addition of a rhythmic rattling that is perhaps the most conventional and boisterous sound to be heard anywhere on this compilation.  The latter sticks mostly to its low end, and listening with in-ear headphones results in an uncomfortable feeling of pressure.  “Untitled #309,” mostly made of a creeping industrial din has an oppressive, slowly moving menace about it that almost feels like a non-quiet specific López work, and quite a strong one at that.

    The closing piece, “Untitled #313,” is the album’s centerpiece, and clocking in at three hours exactly also comprises nearly half of this collection.  Featuring many of the elements of what preceded it, the first third is mostly low volume bass swells that slowly creep along, cresting after the first hour as a passage of chirpy synthetic sounds that make for a rather strong contrast.  Beyond that, things become more distorted and textural, with bits of digital noises cutting in and out.  It does quite a bit of evolution throughout, but I cannot help but feel that its extreme duration may partially be to take advantage of the medium more than to convey a specific sound

    I quite enjoyed this collection, but it is admittedly a hard release to recommend to anyone who is not already a López fan.  My go-to artist for this type of work is the rather unprolific Bernhard Günter, and while the dynamics are the same, the actual content is not.  Presque Tout does not make for a good jumping in point to López’s massive discography by any means.  For someone who not only is familiar with his works, but also the more minimalist styles he works in, there is a lot of greatness here to be heard.  Finding the time to fully devote to experiencing, however, may be the biggest stumbling block, because this requires full attention to truly appreciate, as cliché as that may sound.

  • LINE has certainly challenged it’s loyal following with it’s most recent clutch of releases, and in many ways, this perhaps elevates the label to a level much higher than mere CD publication, and defining and crystallizing it’s position as one of the most prominent publishers and documenters of contemporary sound art to date.

    The warning on the sleeve notes of Francisco Lopez’ latest work is perhaps most revealing, indicating that the works contained here are too subtle for ordinary playback via a laptop, or mediocre playback system, and that a completely quiet surrounding environment is best suited for listening to these works.

    The challenges occur on many levels, as the length of the whole collection clocks in at around seven hours, and many of the pieces were indeed far too subtle even for my iPod, which has never had trouble with volume or frequency to date. In some ways, LINE and Lopez are throwing down the gauntlet, challenging our sensibilities and expectations, and presenting the listener with a product that re-defines “quiet” music, as well as asking us to take a sonic journey much longer than most of us are used to. This is a difficult collection that spans a period of experimentation that began around 1993, and continued until 2013. Many of the works here, although separated by time, might well be construed as movements in an ongoing symphony of quietude, part of a continuum, and connected in terms of construction and method.

    The sounds, such as there are, at times barely audible, are often to be perceived as little more than pressure on the eardrum, they hiss and burble through protracted periods of silence. It took me some time to adjust myself for optimum listening conditions, and I expect that we are being invited to interpret these works in our own personal way. “Personal” is the key word for me here, as many of you who are city dwellers, will no doubt find the sounds of their extended environment infringing upon, and overlaying Lopez’s diaphanous soundscape, creating a sonic experience that would be unique to each listener. After several false starts, I eventually chose a good quality stereo system, through which I jacked my iPad, and sat in the stillness of the early hours under quality headphones – about the nearest I can get to a “quiet surrounding environment” in my part of the city – and began to digest segments of the soundscape over several late evenings and early mornings. Although there is little in the sleeve notes or press release that hints at any intentionality on the part of the artist, I feel that once again, this is a deliberate move, deployed intentionally to provoke and stimulate. Passive listening this is not, and the very act of perceiving these works, serves to refine and focus our audible acuity. Certainly, some of the later works in the collection blossom and change, and bass rumbles and murmurs are occasionally peppered with pinspots of activity. The final, epic “Untitled # 313” is a truly long form endurance listen, and for me is informed by Brian Eno’s definition of ambient – a piece that can be as ignorable as it is engaging. It summons up some very personal experiences spent on the city’s edgelands listening to the soundscape in the depths of night. This could be the murmur of distant traffic, or the silky hum and rumble of machinery deep underground. At it’s quietist points, I can hear the throb and hum of my own bloodstream in my earbuds, and Lopez’s sounds merge with the sounds of my own body, my pulse and viscera, the beat of the heart, the odd surges of activity from within my own body, the whistles and whirs of the sinuses and synapses. There comes a point, a very beautiful moment, when it is hard for me to separate what is composed, and what is coming from within me, a kind of spiritual unity that I have rarely felt before. Perhaps this would be part of Lopez’s intention I wonder? In any case, I feel that Lopez has created a unique take on “quiet” sound, which enjoyed some popularity a few years back – this for me, is sonic art of the very highest order, but needs time and optimum conditions to truly appraise, appreciate, and assimilate, but once undertaken, this is a journey that reaps rich rewards.
    (WHITE_LINE reviews)

  • … It’s perhaps the most radical release in ambient sound recording – its extreme minimalism perhaps only surpassed by the well-known ‘4’33″‘ by John Cage.

    Though Francisco López can be “shifting with passion from the limits of perception to the most dreadful abyss of sonic power”, this release strictly deals with the limits of perception. The title, Presque Tout, is a direct reference to Luc Ferrari’s landmark composition(s) Presque Rien (“Almost Nothing”). And this collection presents exactly that: seven hours of ‘almost nothing’.

    A first playing in the background had me thinking there was something wrong: I literally heard nothing at all. Then I read the liner notes: “Due to the extreme subtlety of these recordings, virtually all of the audio content is completely inaudible through laptop or equivalent small speakers. Quality speakers or headphones – as well as a very quiet surrounding environment – are highly recommended for ideal listening”.

    Even when playing on (quality) speakers and turning the volume up quite high it takes a fair amount of concentration to determine what you’re listening to: some tracks felt as if I was listening to the sound of my home’s water pipes in the wall, some other tracks had such extreme low frequencies that I felt it physically more than actually hearing it.
    (At one point I just watched my speaker conusses flapping nervously, as if they were about to explode).

    With headphones, it’s much easier to determine the subtle, almost inaudible, sounds. But it still takes a Zen-like concentration and deep listening to actively listen to these sounds, because it quickly merges with the sounds that are already surrounding you. Francisco López’ “sonic universe is based on a profound listening of the world“.

    As far as minimalist sound goes, this is about the maximum. One step further and we enter the black hole of sound, the anechoic room. Or Cage’s famous composition.
    As usual, there is no clue to determine the original sources of the sounds López used to create these soundscapes. Naming all tracks (but one) “Untitled” also invites listener to use his own imagination.

    Presque Tout is a Data DVD containing 7 hours of (uncompressed) audio files. The tracks are taken from obscure and now out-of-print editions, ranging from 1993 to 2013, but the album also includes the new – 3 hour – piece Untitled#313″.

    Because of it’s sheer length and its content, Presque Tout will obviously be too extreme for most listeners (and most audio systems). But if you take your time, open up your ears and can muster the concentration that is needed, this album will also teach you to listen differently to the world around you.

  • Ce ne vuole di fegato per arrivare a intitolare “Presque Tout” una raccolta di composizioni di Francisco López. Per molti il vero erede di Pierre Schaeffer – ma dare conferma a una simile definizione, considerata la capillare influenza dell’intero e mutevole organico del Grm sull’attuale avanguardia accademica e non, sarebbe impossibile – per altri ancora “uno dei musicisti più prolifici della storia”, di sicuro un’istituzione della scena sperimentale contemporanea.
    Un artista che nella sua carriera ha affrontato gli ambiti più disparati, spalmando su un’infinità di pubblicazioni una lista altrettanto copiosa ed eterogenea di composizioni. Dal noise al minimalismo, passando per field recording ed ecoacustica: un pedigrée infinito e forse, effettivamente, impossibile da inquadrare nella sua interezza e tanto più da riassumere.

    Ad assistere nel comprendere le coordinate del tentativo di sintesi operato dalla Line di Richard Chartier è il sottotitolo del disco, “Quiet Pieces”: il bacino del repertorio di López da cui la tracklist di questo bellissimo documento va a pescare è infatti quello degli studi sull’interazione fra silenzio e forme brade e impercettibili di suono in quella che avrebbe poi assunto, forse impropriamente, la definizione già in voga di non-music.
    Una ricerca che ha impegnato e impegna il compositore spagnolo da circa vent’anni a questa parte e la cui influenza sulla contemporaneità sperimentale può esser trovata persino in opere dalla gestazione recentissima (su tutte l’ultimo Bruce Gilbert e quel “Novaya Zemlya” che ha visto la conversione alla sottrazione estrema di un alfiere dell’ambient-drone come Thomas Köner).

    “Presque Tout” va a radunare diciassette lavori – quasi tutti senza titolo come da storica tradizione per il compositore iberico – in gran parte pubblicati in edizioni oggi quasi impossibili da reperire, riportando di fatto alla luce gli esperimenti nella loro forma primordiale. Il tutto a prendere la forma di un viaggio alle sorgenti ultime del concetto di suono, liberato da qualsiasi coordinata spaziale e la cui unica temporalità mantenuta è quella dell’ordine cronologico su cui la tracklist è rigorosamente costruita.
    Resta giusto un’epoca di partenza, identificata non senza un briciolo di ironia nel “Día anterior a la emergencia de los adultos de magicicada”: anno 1993, prima tappa del percorso di ben quattro anni in anticipo rispetto al suo definitivo sviluppo, rimbombi ancora udibili di un’apocalisse del vuoto di là a venire.

    Tra 1997 e 1998, in ordine, i primi “Untitled” dedicati alla tematica procedono nella fase iniziale della ricerca: nei numeri “78” e “86” il suono è pressoché assente, nel “79” un ronzio alieno si infila in una successione di vortici, nell'”85″ il soffio vitale si riduce ulteriormente trovando però una costanza inedita. Il poker datato 1999 segna forse il cuore del percorso tutto, dal raggiungimento di una sorta di miopia uditiva nell’”87” ai sussurri mutevoli del “97”, passando per le prime forme di battito amorfo del “93”. Nei suoi cinquantotto minuti, il “91” funge da prima fermata intermedia di riepilogo, condensazione delle idee e base di ri-partenza. Il prosieguo, quasi tutto datato 2001, segna l’approdo al silenzio puro, una sorta di “morte della vita del suono”, la cui unica eccezione sta nei venti minuti del “121”.

    Qui si conclude la produzione massiccia, la fase di “semina”: sarebbero dovuti trascorrere anni prima di assistere al primo raccolto, “216” del 2008, una vibrazione sulfurea simile al rumore di un vulcano in eruzione registrato nel punto di massima distanza sensoriale. Risalgono all’anno scorso, invece, le due sintesi definitive con annesso ritorno al suono: quello di bassi in riverbero nel vuoto in “309”, che per la prima volta arrivano ai timpani anche senza il silenzio assoluto, e quella più calligrafica della durata di ben tre ore in “313”, di fatto una “91” estesa e aggiornata. Una perfetta chiusura di un lungo e laborioso tentativo di raggiungere la terra di mezzo fra silenzio e suono, nonché di uno dei percorsi più influenti ed estremi mai affrontati a riguardo. Un viaggio che rappresenta l’imprescindibile base di partenza per chiunque oggi si approcci a ricercare in quel medesimo universo.

  • Francisco López’s Presque Tout gathers up seven hours of pieces on the perimeter of audibility.

    A pair of sunglasses crashes to the floor as I’m listening to Presque Tout, and in the midst of such a subtle and gently rotating soundscape, the impact feels like the loudest sound I’ve ever heard in my life. The collection is a remarkable demonstration of how hearing adjusts focus to accommodate its subject; many of these pieces uncurl under intense and prolonged concentration, as my mind stoops into the low volume to observe the detail that is otherwise too minute to register. To re-emerge into the “real world” is to undergo the process in reverse, and where I’ve spent seven hours accustomed to soft, curvaceous texture – rising outward with the speed and grace of flowers opening up – I must now recalibrate to a harsh, angular soundscape of serration and sudden event.

    At points, I have to stop moving completely to hear what is happening. In one frenzied moment, I consider switching off my fridge to cease the intrusion of its limping motor whirr. I consider requesting that the traffic of the dual carriageway divert for the day, and that the seagulls jeering in the distance take their business elsewhere. The second piece sounds like someone shifting a miniature bookcase through my skull, as shuffles of low frequency announce the lurch of wooden feet grinding against the carpet; there are points at which I think the piece may have ceased entirely, until a gently hum brushes against the silence like a pendulum on downswing, or a tiny shadow perceive in the very corner of my eye. Something is still stirring.

    Elsewhere, I hear the air circulating round an empty church as an idle convection current, sliding against stained glass and rushing through stone arches; a solitary bee navigating the phased, hollow wind of a labyrinthine metallic vent (occasionally coming to the foreground as a reverberant, muffled buzz); paper sliding against itself; simultaneous electronic computations skipping and jittering; glaciers throbbing as they break up beneath me. It unfolds and unfolds again, from an illusion of quiet into the presence of various flickering points activity, which in turn bears earthly texture and context under the delicate, unwavering nurture of attentive ears.