Francisco López
Untitled (2005)






Francisco López is a frequently traveling Spanish sound artist from Madrid. He is probably one of only a hand full of artists about whom can be said that they bring back the ambience into the Ambient genre. As a sound artist, López is keen on the symbiosis between art and music, and while you have surely read sentences like this a few hundred times before, his explorations differs quite much from other artists‘ works . He is often booked for creating the spherical surroundings of sound installations all over the world. And this is what truly amazes me, for since I was a little kid, I have always been amazed at going through maze-like coves while on literally every corner, the soundscapes suddenly shifted into something different. These soundwalls usually attract a large and diverse audience, and since it is almost always Ambient music that is featured on such occasions, my love for this genre has been triggered by these installations … or so goes the legend. Another dinstinctive feature in López's œuvre is the vast – and I really mean tremendously rich – flood of releases, starting from the early 80's onwards. Over 200 albums, EP's and fragments have found their way to the market, often times in strictly limited editions. I doubt that anyone is able to digest the majority of López's tracks in his or her lifetime. Untitled (2005) is reviewed by me as a representative element out of dozens of Untitled releases. It contains 4 long tracks with field recordings from Québec, Bangkok and the Amazon, and oscillates between planned sound structures and happy contingencies, foggy drones and delightful field recordings, meandering noisy waves and pristine majesty. While a lot of his work can be considered dark, I wouldn't use this term myself and much prefer the word mystical, positively introverted or – if you are willed to swallow the following stereotypical description – being in harmony with nature. His vault-like drone pieces flow very slowly and don't change that much, while his nature pieces consist of the compressed depiction of natural laws and beauty.

Untitled #177 begins the album in the most unfavorable way as a whole, as its setting consists of various noises, but also presents alcoves of shelter with a more quiet atmosphere. Gently droning bass lines recorded in Bangkok mark the beginning. The following clanging, high-pitched machine sounds are produced by experimental noise band Building Transmissions. While these noises shift between rumbling deepness and various clicks, their volume grows louder until they reach a white noise climax that stops abruptly and makes room for a much more quiescent setting of howling wind heard from inside a building. If there is one disappointment to be found on Untitled (2006), this would be it. There is not even a glint of a musical element, and mechanics-related field recordings or the purposeful presentation of various noise layers don‘t do anything for me. Luckily, the almost 18 minutes long Untitled #178, recorded at the Mamori Lake in the Brazilian Amazon, washes everything away, as it starts in medias res with heavy rain falls, distant thunders and various swampy frog and cricket noises. Another vignette follows with very distant running waters, the well-known high-pitched buzzing of insects plus the occassional tone shifts and far away bird calls. The noises of wild life increase, the quavering noises become deafening, but the birds also are much more audible now. The atmosphere is dense and intimidating because the rainfall brought everything to life. The next field recording is more muffled and distant and is the most beautiful and soothing part of the bunch. While the blowtorch-like drones of the crickets are sparkling, the mellowness of the distant concert is tremendous. Everything fades out, and only the far away howling of the wind can be heard. After 15 minutes, the last section starts with various coruscating insect noises. At times it feels like being at the otologist, but again, the permanence and harmony of the soundscape causes a relaxing fatigue.

Untitled #111 (For Jani Christou) presents a curious but welcome context, if only for the paradox of denying this piece a title but adding information in brackets right behind it. This installation is a live recording of 2001 in Berlin by the Zeitkratzer collective completely with tubas, accordions, celli and saxophones. You wouldn't know all this by listening to this song, though, as this is a fantastic, heater room-like drone piece that presents the atmosphere of a cave or a large hangar. What is perceived as the monotony of drone sounds is in fact the skillfull warbling and the ongoing pulses of the instruments. The drone grows louder and is strangely metallic, and you still don't recognize one single instrument – it's hyper-eclectic! White noise is added at the end, and the assertion that the drone is being white-washed by it is no bad pun, but a fitting description. In contrast to Untitled #177, the noise factor is quite high, but here, the instruments create a hypnotizing drone whose minute-long sustain is much more comfortable than the clanging bursts of noise. The final 25-minute long Untitled #183 is yet again a nature-related field recording, this time recorded at various locations in Québec over 3 years during summer. It is the most placid track on the album. Gentle chirping and lawn sprinkler-like bird calls are as well a part of this track as the occasional buzzing of insects which take a rest at the immediate surrounding of the recorder. Pouring rain sets in that varies in its amount of precipitation and thus offers an organic upswell and downfall that is both monotonous and yet changing. A very mellow element consists of the dark murmuring of the rain masses in the distance. After 15 minutes, the rain stops and is substituted by the well-known insect drones and echoey bird calls. The collection of field recordings ends in presumably dusky territories with the pulsating repetition of tremoling crickets and the final appearance of a pesky fly.

Francisco López's
Untitled pieces are highly addictive. And they are tremendously soothing. Indeed, not much seems to change over the course of several minutes, but that's the strength and the true nature of Ambient music. With hundeds over hundreds of different songs, there is always the danger for the listener of being put off by his output. Where to start? Are his early works subjectively better than his later sound installations? And did his style change over the decades? I simply cannot answer any of these questions, as I am by no means an expert about López's music (though I keep listening to this particular album for a few years now). I do know, however, that his pieces truly are works of art, not just because they often form a symbiosis with walled gardens and sculptures, but because of the fact that they are just kind of there. Nothing much happens. His music inherits a tranquilizing beauty and calmness. And once I listen to a López piece, I am so glad that there are more pieces out there by him … way more than I could enjoy on a long weekend or a vacation. If you adore the field recordings of Chris Watson, you will be more than happy with Francisco López's ones, as his focus is congruent with Watson's: both artists record the flow of nature but compress the incidents in a meaningful way and tell an aural story. Likewise, if you're fed up with multitextured bubblegum synth Ambient – no offense intended, as I'm a huge admirer of this kind of music! – and want to explore Ambient music with the Far Eastern attitude of cleanliness and soothing settings but sans its typical tone sequences, López's music is made for you as well. Whenever you spot his name next to an Untitled release, be sure to get it. I am quite certain that I will review several more of his albums in the forthcoming years.




Ambient Review 0XX: Artist – Album (XXXX). Originally published on XYZ, 2012 at