Francisco Lopez

The leading sound artist on his new BBC Radio 3 commission

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Francisco Lopez
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Francisco Lopez is internationally recognised as a leading sound artist. On Saturday 14 March his new two-part work commissioned by BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now will be premiered at Café Oto.

 

You often ask audiences to listen to your works blindfolded. How do they tend to react to this?

It’s an immersive experience and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. When I do live work, I prefer there to be no visual distractions, people are not looking at a stage but sitting inside an acoustic field surrounded by quadraphonic speakers. Depriving them of a sense requires a physiological and emotional surrender. Of course, the audience are not forced to wear blindfolds, its voluntary but 99% choose to. There’s definitely a collective gain if they commit to this kind of group ritual – the quality of listening is intensified. Of course, the radio is a blind-fold, but switching the lights off would be even better.

 

You’ve done live performances like this before. Is this work especially created for this event?

Yes, Café Oto has a strong following, and an audience experienced in experimental music, as is the Radio 3 audience for Hear and Now. I wouldn’t normally do two contrasting pieces, so it has been a great opportunity: one is based on natural sounds, the other is more abstract. They proposed some elements, but I was given carte blanche to develop it. I always go to a venue and choose sonic elements according to the acoustic features of the space. I work with the materiality of sounds, and that changes with every space.

 

When did you first start ‘capturing’ sounds?

I started recording environmental sounds as a teenager. I used to do a lot of hiking in the mountains outside Madrid, recording nature. I had an intuitive response to listening back to recordings, somehow they revealed a different reality, the way sounds are translated by a ‘listening’ machine alters them, captures something we otherwise miss, makes different connections between the listener, the listener’s memory and the world.

 

You’ve done several major installations: how does that change your approach to sound?

Installations are challenging because you lose control of the time element. I spend as much time in the space as possible, absorbing its changing atmosphere. In a live performance I can react to changes in the moment, in an installation I have to create long pieces that unfold over many hours, which can be tailored to those passing through for a few minutes, or those lingering.

 

What new technological advances have affected your work in the last few years?

I would say not so much technical as economic. The big change has been the new affordability of professional-level field recording equipment. This has democratised the field, both for studio and live recording. Secondly, the autonomy of the recording equipment has made a big difference to me: I can now leave recorders in places for long periods of time: this has given me access to strange places and times – lots of night recordings – and a multiplicity of recordings running simultaneously, which is new and exciting.

 

Francisco Lopez's performances at Café Oto will be broadcast live on Hear and Now on Saturday 14 March at 10.30pm. Visit bbc.co.uk/radio3 to find out more 

 

 

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