Styles: experimental, conceptual, musique concrete, electro-acoustic
Others: Fennesz, John Cage
Warning: Please read the last paragraph before reading the review. If you are up to the challenge, then buy the CD and then read the review. If you're a sissy, just read the review.
I'm a newcomer when it comes to conceptual sound artist Francisco López. The prolific and elusive composer's pieces are foreign territory for me. But I do know a few things about him: I know that he has provided blindfolds for previous live shows; I know he has erected his own label called .absolute.; and I know that listeners either hate or love his music, even if they are fans of this leftfield experimentalism.
The most difficult aspect of becoming acquainted with López' music is that there is some sort of meaning behind the noise, but López usually isn't willing to reveal it. He has constructed varying pieces, from sound collages of the Costa Rican rainforest to building multi-layered tracks of singer Amy Denio's voice. The basic premise of this particular piece, Untitled #89, is to contrast an overpowering din with complete silence.
Here is my experience:
The piece began just as it ended: in complete silence. Over the course of 40-minutes, an eerie static gradually crescendo'd until listening to it became almost unbearable. Time ticked away, babies were born, glaciers moved, Botox wore off, when all of a sudden, the din came to an abrupt halt. Silence. I sat patiently waiting for something to happen. Nothing did, so I turned the volume all the way up; and to my surprise, I faintly heard the static, which sounded more like an ocean than the previous obtrusive incarnation. And after convincing myself for the next 20 minutes that something would happen, the CD ended.
The first time I listened to the CD, I thought how truly amazing it was to hear the static for so long, only to have it abruptly end. I know it doesn't sound particularly exciting, but it is such a unique and exhilarating experience that it is really hard to express without coming off as a bumpkin. It's something that has to be experienced on your own, something that can touch you on a totally different level than say the dynamic shifts of a GYBE! song or the guitar chops of Jimi Hendrix. You just have to give it a chance.
On the other hand, Untitled #89 can also be deemed an utter disappointment. Many would agree that the idea of contrasting abrasive static with silence is unique and interesting on paper, but they would argue that it doesn't translate well into music. They could say that it's more as a gimmick or ploy than anything of lasting quality (not that López' music is intended for exoteric tastes). And it doesn't help that the CD comes in a clear plastic jewel case with no front or back sleeves. In fact, the only indication that it's a López CD is the really small print on the circumference of the actual CD. Some speculate that López doesn't include visuals with his pieces so listeners can envision his or her own imagery-- which also accounts for the blindfolds at live shows.
In any case, Untitled #89 is highly recommended at least one time through with full concentration, especially if you are looking for a challenge or just something completely unique and refreshing. On the other hand, if you're not going to close your eyes and really concentrate on the music, you'll hear something totally wrong; and truthfully, it will just end up being a chore for you than anything truly substantial. So, if you're pressed for time, impatient, or suffer from ADD, this album is definitely not for you. But if you're looking for an album to make you forget your troubles, if just for 60-minutes, this album can act as that wonderful alcohol.
1. Untitled #89