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Francisco Lopez - Live in San Francisco

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Artist: Francisco Lopez

Album: Live in San Francisco

Label: 23five, Inc.

Review date: Sep. 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.

By Cameron Macdonald

Other Reviews of Francisco Lopez

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Find out more about 23five, Inc.

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