After the dynamism of his previous two self released untreated volumes of field recordings it’s interesting that Spanish sound recordist and composer Francisco Lopez’s third self released volume is so subtle, or at the very least undynamic. He’s removed all those ramps in density and volume, those abrupt cuts and instead for the first time in this series we’re left with the raw material relatively untouched, longish recordings unencumbered by the flourishes of sound art that Lopez wields so deftly.
Of course Lopez is know for a ridiculous number of releases on various labels across the world, often untitled, never revealing where he gathered his sounds, which are then processed in various unspecified ways – often in the process losing both any understanding of their location and indeed what they were initially. What tends to remain however is some kind of underlying spirit, even though you’re not sure whether its animal, mineral or vegetable, there’s often something intangible, or even animalistic within the sound that vaguely hints at its source. There’s often a brutality or power that suggests animal or even mother nature, but to be fair, such is Lopez’s compositional skills that even these notions tend to be unnecessary distractions. This of course feeds into his live performances, with the audiences blindfolded in a circle facing outwards with him in the middle and the speakers on the outside.
It’s always been a frustration of this writer as we’ve never know what his original sounds were, where they came from and what he begins with. More than his prior releases Vol. 3 is his unmasking, and to some extent it demonstrates his mastery when he begins to edit. This is what he starts with, flat field recordings, and though there are multiple somewhat cuts, as he converges material gathered from multiple locations in Cuba and the USA between 1999 and 2007, this is our greatest understanding yet of where he begins.
The one 50 odd minute recording begins possibly in a rainforest with birds, and bugs and it sounds lush, full of life, but it remains the same for minutes at a time with little discernable difference. Over time you tune your ears in and begin to become attuned to the slightest change in the sound palette. Lopez though is subtle, introducing his sounds, taking time, placing them in the field, before very slowly ramping them up, such as when he uses the oscillating sounds of cicadas to create a segue between sonic worlds. As he progresses these known sounds begin to become less known, and you start to wonder if you ever really did know what he was working with. It’s one thing to do this behind the camouflage of processing, but to loose your place when he is being so transparent is something else.
Later he is more abrupt, at 17.08 he switches to another cicada pitch. It’s fascinating to think of how subtle he was earlier. Though was he? Perhaps it was merely a field recording of the natural world and this is the first that Lopez has manipulated it. And this is his skill. There are games in his compositions. You will doubt yourself and you will doubt him. His fingerprints are possibly all over this or barely at all.
Some of the cicadas recorded here are piercing, almost synthetic with their own inherent rhythms and Lopez seems particularly attracted to them. In facts his most obvious cuts are between insects. There’s a medley of cicadas here, different pitches, different oscillations, some sound real, others like they were created on a synthesizer. It’s all part of the game. It’s endlessly fascinating, you question yourself and your ears, you question Lopez and with each natural sound you ponder his intentions.
It’s fascinating to think that what is, or should ostensibly be an attempt to be more transparent can create so much confusion and conjecture.