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Online e-dition 13 November, 2013

Intensity over pleasure

Greg Hooper: Open Frame, The Future is Noise, Francisco López

Francisco López, Open Frame Francisco López, Open Frame
photo Lawrence English
Noise comes in many flavours—mathematical, aesthetic, seductively transgressive, coolly liberating, unwanted and annoying. For this year’s open frame series from room40 we find “The Future is Noise,” a snappy title that mashes together two classics of the noise-in-music literature: Luigi Russolo’s prophetic The Art of Noises (1913) and John Cage’s astute The Future of Music (1937).

Noise has been around in music for a long time (dogs barked out a hit version of Jingle Bell’s in the 1950s), so maybe the future is just more of the same. I struggled to see how some of the artists on the 2013 Open Frame program could be shoehorned into a sensible framework that either referenced past visions of noise or projected into some increasingly noisy future. Nonetheless, across three nights in September great work was to be heard, and that great work was from Spain’s Francisco López.

López is a master of sounds jemmied away from their source to be heard in and of themselves. As he puts it “I believe in the possibility of a profound, pure, 'blind' listening of sounds, freed (as much as possible) of procedural, contextual or intentional levels of reference.” This is the tradition of acousmatic sound, where all the meanings attributed to a sound come through the sound alone, with no visual or other perceptual linkage. It’s the oracular voice from behind the curtain and the hurry-up of the horn from the cab in the street outside.

For López, though, it is around the fire at night and an unexpected crack of twig outside the circle of light. Everyone goes quiet, heads turn in the direction the sound came from, then are held still, waiting. Bodies shift, ready for action and vision relaxes. Listening is all. There is another crack, the sound of a heavy foot slowly and carefully pressing down on a large dry twig, then another and another, faster and faster, closer and closer …

The López concert, or as he calls it, “our little ceremony,” begins with everyone blindfolded and lying in a circle, heads to the centre, feet to the rim, speakers all around. López stands unseen in the middle, controlling the mix. A ceremony, with no celebrant to pull the focus away from…pure sound. This concert, a single work of about 45 minutes (more? I completely lost track of time), is structured into lengthy sections punctuated by silence and (recorded) spoken voice. The sounds are sometimes clearly recognisable, sometimes not, the recording quality always exceptional.

But this is not pure sound in the Cagean sense of isolated sound events arbitrarily sequenced for our detached contemplation. Tonight’s sounds are deliberately and skilfully pulled into an abstract and emotional narrative. It is perhaps López’ background in biology (entomology) that leads to work that seems to compel emotions deeply connected to survival rather than pleasure. We hear a pig-like beast grunting, snuffling and eating something or other. Interesting sound and a bit funny in the way piggy things tend to be. More pigs join the meal and the noise of their biting, grinding and swallowing is relentless and huge, all around as we lie blindfolded on the floor. The implication is clear—if you are on the ground, pigs up close and voraciously eating, then you are being eaten. From a charming funny sound to being eaten alive.

Or as López asks, “why have happiness when you can have intensity?” But how is that intensity possible when the sound is stripped from all and any visual referent? Sound carries with it information about the world. Objects vibrate for a reason, those vibrations travel through the air, bringing their reason for being to the exquisitely sensitive mechanisms of the ears, which then vibrate in sympathy, delivering information about movement, time and space. While those vibrations may be from the rustle of fabric as it drops to the floor, the drip of water after the rain has stopped, or the sound of leaves in the upper branches as the cool change moves in, they may also be the sounds of an unexpected car, a quick gust of wind, the door slamming shut and a suddenly silent child.

These are the sounds of López, sounds of intensity and not comfort. For while vision might show that a knife looks sharp, sound brings the scrape of knife on bone.

Room40, Open Frame, The Future is Noise, Francisco Lopez, Brisbane Powerhouse, 12, 13, 19 Sept

RealTime issue #117 Oct-Nov 2013 pg. web

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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