Francisco Lopez's vast collection of experimental audio

Interviews 22.12.2023

With over 40 years' experience and environmental recordings in more than a hundred countries, Francisco Lopez has developed a personal and iconoclastic artistic universe. Year after year, he attempts to feel the sound membrane that envelops the world. However, his deep listening does not aim to pass through the surface, but to plunge into the roots of sound matter in order to make it resonate within us.

Francisco Lopez, to what extent did your training as a biologist influence your artistic side? Did the two attitudes emerge at the same time? Do they complement each other?
My fascination with nature and sound, as well as my research and creative activities in both fields, have always run parallel throughout my life. My career as a biologist-ecologist gave me the exceptional opportunity to experience natural environments intensively and extensively. This has had a crucial influence on my understanding of sound creation, composition and sound ontology, among other aspects. Not simply as a form of metaphorical or allegorical "inspiration" (the usual form of the traditional relationship between music and nature), but literally in the intimate interaction with the very sound matter that comes from the natural world.

Your work spans more than 40 years of sound exploration of the world. Throughout this immersion, how did your artistic proposal evolve? Did you work in stages according to certain aspects you wanted to explore, or did you move around according to your obsessions and preoccupations?
My compositional perspective and practice developed intuitively on the basis of deep, conscientious listening to the world. This includes environmental recordings,listening in the field, evolving studio work, immersive-immanent concerts and sound installations, and so on. But fundamentally, it's about an unrepresentative understanding of our most relevant relationship with sound matter. It is from this - from the most intense phenomenological-ontological realism - that my sound work emerges and develops (a more detailed explanation can be found in my essay Sonic Creatures ).

Why do you feel that the social history of sound creation is not well addressed, and why do the most common ways of defining it fail?
From my point of view, the most relevant transformation that has occurred in recent decades is the emergence - undirected, regulated or controlled - of the social practice of experimental audio (understood in its broadest sense, encompassing the usual categories of experimental music, audio art, noise, etc.).) Contrary to the usual interpretation, I argue that this development is pre-digital and pre-internet; that it is part of a much broader techno-social process that represents an atomization of technical capacities and mechanisms for the evaluation, performance and distribution of creative activities, as well as their aesthetic and ethical evolution.
In my view, a social history would redirect attention from a chronology of personalities (traditionally the most common in music) to a kairology of processes. In my essay on social experimental audio, I first offer suggestions on what I see as key processes for such a reorientation towards a social history of sound creation.

Why do you attribute to the contemporary art public a lack of awareness of the very characteristics of experimental music and sound art? It seems contradictory that the social history of experimental sound creation has paralleled the history of contemporary art. So what would it take to make these characteristics known?
With rare exceptions, the mainstream contemporary art public has little interest in, or knowledge of, the music and sound practices that have developed chronologically in parallel. The visual-objective artistic domains consolidated during the 20th century, such as pictorial abstraction or artistic photography, although not shared, are socially understood as such. On the other hand, possible sound equivalents, such as musique concrète or artistic phonography, are totally unknown to the general public. At best, knowledge is limited to the usual, repetitive "ABC" of historical figures such as Russolo, Cage, etc. (the opposite equivalent would be for an experimental composer to know only Picasso and Pollock, to give two contemporary examples). Added to this is an almost absolute ignorance of, and unusual lack of sensitivity to, the essential aspects of sound in a creative practice other than the more traditional one of music (which naturally includes pop and rock).

And given your personal experience, how do you approach it?
This kind of interest in sound can be encouraged, amplified and made more sophisticated, but it cannot be initiated or sustained in the absence of a prior intuitive sensibility. All the notable exceptions I've come across are sustained by a solid ferment of personal interest, not by an "explanation" or an effort at proselytizing.

Your concerts propose and emphasize above all the act (or almost the liturgy) of receiving and listening. Why is this? This attitude is very reminiscent of Roland Barthes' Death of the Reader. In this sense, you propose a profound listening to the world: how can this experience be transformative?
For the same reason as the myth of Pythagorean acousmatics. In my concerts, not only are there no visual elements or stage presence, but I also provide blindfolds for the audience - on a voluntary basis, of course! (more details in my essay Against the stage ). This is by no means a liturgy, but rather a deliberate strategy aimed at deepening the phenomenology and ontology of sound and, through them, considerably enriching our relationship with the world. This transformation can reorient our interaction and experience from the semantic-representational to the ontological-metaphysical realm.

In the profound sonic experience that is spiritual experience, is it the absence of referentiality or, on the contrary, a different kind of referentiality? In other words, is it possible to experience art without the notion of referentiality, or does any experience, however varied, necessarily imply referentiality?
In my opinion, the usual referentiality in most current sound practices is of a simplistic semantic and allegorical level. It's imbued with an unnecessary, simplifying literality that detracts from a richer, more sophisticated experience of the world.

You travel the world recording the sounds that emerge. How has globalization affected sound? And in this sense, are there any regional characteristics in experimental creation?
As is the case in other musical fields widespread in the so-called Western world, such as (Western) classical music, jazz or pop, the "regional" characteristics of experimental sound practices tend to be superficial, where they exist. The globalization of musical sounds is obviously not a recent phenomenon; there have always been historical examples of this globalization for different practices and in different geographical contexts. In the case of historically more recent experimental creation, I have the impression that the "peripheral" unfortunately tends above all to imitate or simply add superficial layers of "non-Westernity". I hope this will change in the future.

Finally, I'd like to talk about the Super-Sonicexhibition in Valencia: what does it mean to you to be giving away over 50,000 digitized audio recordings? How would you like the public to approach the exhibition?
This is not a sample, but my collection of experimental music and audio art ( Super-Sonic: Francisco López Collection of Experimental Music and Audio-Art ).
Paradoxically, I'm not a collector, but I have amassed this enormous quantity of sound works - in micro-editions and artists' self-publications - over decades of direct exchange with thousands of artists from all over the world. Since pre-digital and pre-internet times, this exchange has been inseparable from the popular, if fundamentally underground, practice of an immense international community of sound creators. The collection is now on deposit at the Las Naves cultural center in Valencia (Spain), under a temporary loan agreement for public use for cultural purposes of consultation, research, exhibition, generation of new creations and so on. This is probably one of the largest collections of its kind in the world, and I consider that it could constitute a very valuable resource for the development of the social history of experimental audio for which I always advocate.

Interview by Txema Seglers

Photos © Francisco López
Dundee 2008 concert photo © David Olmio


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