FRANCISCO LÓPEZ : Live In San Francisco
23five007, Compact Disc
published in 2005
$12.98, plus shipping

With his ongoing pursuit of an "absolute concrète music," Francisco López has recontextualized the sounds of the world around us by pushing these sounds to their polar extremes. At times, he has imposed gaping silences and eradicated all but the slightest traces of musicality; at others, he has turned the placid wash of rainforest insect chatter into mechanically toxic drones and twisted a gentle breeze into a hurricane force blast of raw sound. The ambient din of the urban environment, human voices, the run-out grooves of vinyl, and even propulsive death metal blast beats count as some of the choicest source material with the imposing López catalogue, which includes well over 130 published works. In his illustrious career, López has traveled extensively both recording his source material and giving acousmatic performances for which he insists the audience members wear blindfolds.

Over the years, the sound-arts organization 23five Incorporated has sponsored numerous López performances in and around San Francisco; and it is only fitting that 23five should publish this document of live recordings from San Francisco, with one track culled from the infamous Hexaphonic show at The Lab in August 2000, and the other from an intimate performance at 3feetofftheground in July 2001. The spectral timbres and ominous somatic fluctuations of those performances inspired some audience members to gush: “It was just amazing how he layered the tracks together into massive lump of sonic force. Totally different from what can be heard on many of his releases which tend to be minimal and silent. I was craving for more. López rocks!”

Live in San Francisco comes with a blindfold to enhance the phenomonological experience of López's dramatic composition


The Wire
April 2005, Issue 254

As with Live in 'S-Hertogenbosch (Francisco Lopez's concert recording on Bottrop-Boy), Live in San Francisco comes with a black blindfold. His concerts usually take place under strict regime of sensory deprivation. Having blindfolded his audience in a darkened auditorium, sometimes he also immures himself and his equipment in a black tent. Blindfolding oneself for home listening seems an absurd proposition; nonetheless, I've listened to Live in San Francisco both with and without blindfold. The principal benefit of using it is that distractions are kept to a minimum. But awareness of time passing is also reduced, and one can submit more fully to the music.

What sets Lopez apart from most other electronics / noise composers is, essentially, his boldness of conception and the teasing of ambiguity of his materials. The dense, granular sounds he likes to use (small and large grains, some soft, some hard) are sculpted into striking forms, and it's often difficult to tell whether the material is mechanistic or organic in origin. The first piece here, "Live at The Lab - Hexaphonic" is a whisper of noise which gradually gets louder, until it plunges into a deep and darkly resonant chasm. Eventually it emerges and rises again in volume, achieving an almost orchestral degree of complexity. Having reached a peak of howling, ear-scouring activity, it stops -- there is no detournement, no coda, just an abrupt termination of the signal. In terms of structure, this could hardly be simpler, but it's surprisingly elegant and very, very effective.

11 months later, in 2001, Lopez returned to San Francisco. His performance at 3feetofftheground comprises the second track. It follows on immediately from the first with soft, rhythmically spaced detonations, like distant thunder. Soft noise, especially in Lopez's hands, is a strange phenomenon, rich, subtle, and diffuse - and, above all, alluring. This is a longer piece than the first and its structure is more elaborate, its unfolding more gradual. But what's pleasing is how well the two tracks fit together, how effectively they work as one, as though they were conceived as such. -- Brain Marley

Igloo Magazine
Volume 20a

At Sonar 2003 the most fascinating live performance by far was the limited audience piece by Francisco Lopez at Barcelona's Contemporary Art Museum. He had the audience blindfolded and lying on square ottomans in the complete darkness. Let's just say it was an altering mind/body experience that this reviewer will never forget. Big thanks to San Fran's 23five for making the extra effort to document a precursor piece (that is packaged with, sans instructions, a blindfold). The work is a haze of swarming crickets, a serrated blend of industrial drone. The first piece "Live at the Lab – Hexaphonic" was performed live in the Summer of Y2K. Building and growing it crescendos with a metallic drop and just withers away softly, like a cartoon'ish shy machine. But again, at about ten minutes into this eighteen minute piece, it floods the room with flaring treble, like some massive periscopic field device taking over a major city by night. There's something rather ambitious about the assumed size of the sound as it just oozes all over everything and caresses the hallways and crevices of the space it is released into. "Live at 3feetofftheground" starts off like a distant thunderstorm with a fine, soft hiss like grassy rain migrating through the air. Something about this recording gets me anxious, and I'm a laid back guy. It just quivers for these segments and then you're in the fryer, sizzling like the edge of a raucous cymbal. Lopez plays with the elements in a sensory play of sonic, vibrating revelry that doesn't let go of you. -- TJ Norris

Dusted Magazine
September 11, 2005

Francisco Lopez often blindfolds his concert audience – cloaking them in cloth and sound, without any distractions. It's as close as an artist comes to holding his fans hostage. The deft musique concrete composer can fray nerves with the mundane: insect fields, industrial yards, trade winds, sprinklers, freeway traffic, freezers, etc. As many of his 130-odd records attest, he can make the natural sound utterly extraterrestrial and alienating without much effort or processing, and turn silence into some of the loudest, most intense noise out there. A blindfolded listen of his work could mimic the imagination's pessimism and dread - a new moon wilderness - or it could result in the Stockholm Syndrome and sympathy for wherever Lopez takes you.

San Francisco sound art label and collective 23five compiled such moments from two of Lopez's San Francisco concerts and even packaged blindfolds inside the CDs. This album collects two 23five-hosted performances from 2000 and '01 at The Lab and 3feetofftheground, respectively. Maybe the home blindfold practice should be done with every album; hasn't television and print dominated the public's perception of music for too many years? No offense to Derek Bailey, but perhaps sight depravation really is the best way to listen to music.

That said, it is difficult for me to hear Lopez's two performances on Live in San Francisco and not be troubled by memories of a Sacramento freeway accident that I survived a few weeks ago. I recall spending an hour in an emergency ward's hallway with several other broken bodies, all waiting for a doctor. I stared at the ceiling light and struggled to recall any memory and songs, catching slight fragments and worrying about newspaper deadlines. I could do nothing but let my ears pick up distant conversations: coughing, footsteps, walkie talkies…anything to take my mind off the pieces of glass in my forehead. It felt like I was waiting for a nothing that would never happen.

I revisited that dread when I listened to Live again. Lopez seeks an "absolute concrete music" where he focuses on the music's extremes of cacophony and silence. Both performances begin with long, ominous stretches of silence and faint buzzing, eliciting sadistic anticipation – a common trend in musique concrete. Lopez opts for the drone, one that sounds like a cross between a cricket field and a dishwasher. The minutes drift by, the din's volume and frequency builds and builds until the insects and machinery shriek together, as if crushed the Earth's gravitation pull. Lopez gradually eases the assault down to silence; the images my mind clung to during the past 20-odd minutes mercifully vanish with it. -- Cameron MacDonald

Vital Weekly
Number 460, Week 5

The discography of senor Lopez is an extensive one, but only a few deal with live recordings. The only one that springs to mind is his Live In 'S-Hertogenbosch on Bottrop-boy, which came, just like this new live recording, with a blindfold (which he insists that the audience should wear). Francisco Lopez live is something different than Francisco Lopez studio. In the latter he carefully constructs pieces of silent music, almost inaudible, that only start to make sense if the listener takes over control by adjusting volume, bass, mid and treble. The listener doesn't have this control in the live situation and here Lopez goes for the all out attack on the listener, who, with his blindfold, can do nothing else than sit back and listen. This CD has two pieces (rather unusual for Lopez), both recorded in San Francisco. The first one is from 2000 and starts right away with an oppressive wall of sound, until things collapse with great dramatic care. From there the proceedings start all over again, building up yet again another dramatic crescendo. When it stops, the sounds is literally sucked away. The second track is a different one. Much less present in the space, this is a softer piece, although it doesn't come anywhere near his studio CDs. Here too it can be noted that there is quite a dramatic built, with abrupt changes. Most likely this is built from field recordings made in the jungle, but with an undefinable background drone being present. Two entirely different performances, but both bear the signature of Lopez. And it's great stuff. -- Frans de Waard