May 2009

Francisco López / Joda Clément
May 7, 2009 The Music Gallery Toronto
Blinded in the Totality of Sound
by Tom Sekowski
Anticipation was all over the damn map as people piled into the Music Gallery to check out the sound world of Spanish experimental music guru Francisco López. His was the second concert of the night. Up first was the person who was actually responsible for bringing López to town, Toronto’s own sound manipulator, Joda Clément.

In a set that ran under an hour, Clément moved through a generous heap of sounds generated on his Korg, down the line these were processed on his laptop. Phat, heavy drones of static-like concoctions rubbed shoulders with wisps of an alternate universe. Harmonium provided a perfect backdrop for this alternate reality that Clément drove forward. In slow motion, the sounds moved sideways, forward, backwards, while the pitch was slightly altered and listener’s ears got adjusted to extreme volumes. Funny thing is, the volume level actually added to the performance quality, rather than taking away from it. If anything, loud meant the sounds were extreme without actually busting the eardrums. Anything not nailed down in the Music Gallery space was gyrating with utmost force but the minute details could still be picked up and appreciated. Unlike other performances I had caught with Clément, this one was overtly rich in narrative. There was a very natural flow to his work. Once I closed my eyes, pictures of industrial landscapes landed just beneath the eyelids. I was amazed at the totality of Clément’s work and the connection he was able to establish with those gathered in front of him that night. A very mature artist, Clément showcased an all-around rich piece of sound art.

Following the performance, everyone present was asked to leave their seat and go outside. During the brief intermission, seating arrangements at the Music Gallery were completely altered. One half of the pews were now facing the back of the space, while the other half faced the altar. Everyone returning from intermission was handed a black piece of cloth. This was the blindfold that Francisco López asked everyone to wear for his performance. Prior to his piece, he stated he doesn’t believe in any sort of visual elements in his show. He also reassured everyone that blindfolds were not mandatory but they would give the listeners “another” quality to the sounds. Surely enough, I chose dutifully to put on the blindfold, rested back in the pew (though this is rather hard on one’s back) and waited for the trip to start.

Positioning himself dead centre amongst the audience, López began his aural journey with trinkets of sounds he recorded round the world. Many of these sounds he actually found in nature. As an entomologist, it is no surprise to find López served up generous heaps of insects in the mix. We were also privy to birds, waves, fluttering of wind and concoctions of thunder and dozens of snippets of nature in full force. Rather quickly, this world dissipated and was joined by sounds recorded in industrial settings — swags of hammer blows, scrapes on metal, echoes of abandoned warehouses, voids of pipe hitting other clunky objects, explosive slabs of repetitive motion. Before you knew it, sounds were flying out of the multi channel surround set up at speeds of light. Left to back. Front to right and crisscrossing in every imaginable direction. With the blindfold on, one had no sense of passing time. All “visuals” present were ones that the listeners created for themselves. Harsh moments of explosive energy were interspersed with subdued moments of absolute serenity. As the 70-minute performance wore on, one was tempted to cheat and lift the blindfold from one’s eyes. Though I never gave into the temptation, I dearly wanted to witness López mustering the sounds from the console. Then I thought to myself — would this really add to the performance aspect or take away from it? If the mind held all the imagery we wanted to associate with the mesh of abstract, yet very familiar sounds we were literally bombarded with, what would be the point of opening the eyes? One couldn’t “see” the sounds escaping from the speakers that surround us. Shouldn’t all performances require a blindfold so as to enable the richness available through the power of our minds to be fully utilized? López is infamous for keeping sources of his music-making process a mystery, which may explain the blindfolds.

What I kept asking myself through this audio journey was this: considering López uses thousands of sound snippets (of varying lengths) how does he so assuredly ensure everything gels into one? While chaotic passages were evident, everything seamed so seamless. The composition he formed was one of the most whole and affecting pieces I’ve ever heard in a live setting. How much was preconceived and how much was improvised on the spot is rather insignificant, though for inquiring minds, answers can only assist in understanding the composer’s creative process.

Just prior to the concert, López warned the audience of the abruptness and severity of some of the sounds that would be coming from the speakers, though he added, “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing”. Luckily for us, he sure did. Not one moment was wasted with a throwaway sound or unnecessary, ponderous swoosh. All was seamless in a world that was filled with uncertainty. (“What’s coming up next” is what my mind screamed in confusion!) What seemed like chaos was encircled by very organic juxtapositions of industrial salad with toppings of musique concrète and acumen that could only come from the mind of Mr. López.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tom Sekowski
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