The 80’s tend to be remembered as the bastard child of all the decades, where things went a little haywire musically thanks to gated drums and too much cocaine. Less documented are the effect of the 80’s on sound art, musique concrete and experimental practice. 1980 – 82 doesn’t answer these questions so much, rather it’s much more personal. For Spanish experimental artist Francisco Lopez the 80’s were all about attempting to do as much as he could with the limited tools at his disposal, and using these tools to create something entirely new.
“With hindsight, this limitation turned out to be a great advantage and an important lesson,” he offers in his liner notes, “that has remained vividly present for me until today: the most essential tools are spiritual, not technical.”
He’s trawled back over his cassette tapes and gathered pieces that demonstrate an early appetite for crafting entirely new sonic worlds. The worlds are intrinsically linked to his cassette recording techniques, utilising its inherent characteristics and limitations for his own ends. Listening to his pieces some 33 years later is a curious experience. Firstly they’re entirely out of step sonically with our current listening, the amorphous wooliness flies in the face of our crisp new digital world where everything is over articulated, and secondly there’s a strange nostalgia at play.
It’s hard to know whether the nostalgia will be present for those who didn’t live through the world of cogs and tape spools, or whether it’s somehow implied in the differentness of the sound – nostalgia by proxy if you will. Regardless the takeaway in 2015 is that this is very different.
Cassettes remove the high frequency precision of digital, cloaking everything in a warm ill-defined cocoon of mid frequencies and hiss. It’s not an unpleasant character, and its inherent compression serves to wash out any sharp edges. The length of Lopez’s pieces too serve to create this kind of hypnotic effect, where over a short period they’re merely vaguely interesting sounds, yet over time there’s a certain reassuring quality to the repetitive randomness of the sounds.
The environments, as Lopez’s previous work stresses are not important, in fact more than ever these pieces are about abstraction, or perhaps its better to suggests that Lopez’s technique, his tools, and its the sonic limitations all conspire to create a new environment – one far removed from whatever Lopez’s original sound source was. And it’s this new world that’s important. What’s fascinating is that even early on Lopez’s theoretical approach seems remarkably coherent, all he’s done over the intervening years is further refine it, and perhaps become more playful and increase the complexity of his approach.
Sonically there’s lots of amorphous rumbling, a kind of fluttering bass that pushes against the medium, and despite the somewhat cumbersome expression of his tools, Lopez is adept enough to display both patience and subtlety in his approach. Nothing is rushed, everything plays out over time. There’s a just out of earshot quality to his pieces, where you think with just a little more information you will be able to gather some more context and be able work out just what you are listening to. Yet to be fair we’ve always felt that with Lopez, and will no doubt continue to, because although as the fidelity has increased, the abstraction remains and if anything we feel further from the source than ever.