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.