This offering by Mantricum is a limited edition split cassette release featuring Francisco López and label owner Carlos Villena. Having reviewed work by both artists in the past, I’m not surprised to see them appearing together on this album.

The sleeve notes tell us that López is working with ‘original environmental sound matter recorded at various locations near Cooktown and Daintree National Park, Queensland, Australia in July 2009.’ Villena’s material was recorded ‘between France and Spain, in October 2010’. In short then, we have compositional work based on field recordings, which already gives us something of a window into the artists’ contributions. I’m not going to compare the two as both have different concerns, but it is possible to work out to some degree the intentions of each artist from the material chosen, the uses made of it and the degree of inventiveness – this is after all composition and not conceptual sound art.

Francisco López – Untitled #229 [19:38]

A silent lead-in gradually reveals a texture of high frequency sounds  and a ‘birdy’ loop . Soon other layers emerge: crickety, iterative, the sound field occupying only at the very high end of the spectrum, and, felt more than heard at the low volume, the very low end. A distinctive bird call heralds the arrival of the midrange and here one is made aware of one of López’ most distinctive attributes, namely his considerable skill at finding and revealing timbral interest in his chosen sounds by means of judicious filtering.

Formally, the work comes over as carefully structured. We experience a sharp break at around 4:30 for what seems like a different presentation of the same material – a similar midrange with foregrounded individual birds.

A huge natural environment is then unveiled: exciting, bright and buzzing with high frequency sounds. Increasing abstraction of the dense textural layers follows as a wash of broadband sound, sea or wind sounds, push their way in, accompanied by activated objects. The emerging sound field is marked by the very effective use of a restricted palette of sounds and by a very confident and (I always think) courageous tendency to let things run and reveal their properties over time.

At around 11:00 we have another abrupt cut, then an examination of watery sounds and layers of further indeterminate activations, again holding that fine line between recognisability and abstraction, all very engaging, hints of this and that, with a very small background whistling wind.  But it is also what López doesn’t do that makes this piece so remarkable – no pitched drones, a rigorous aesthetic of slow unfolding, a close ear on the materiality of the chosen sounds, materiality in the sense of how the sounds ‘feel’ to the ear.

Then a final abrupt cut around 16:00 and back to similar material as we had at the beginning – a pseudo-arch form.

Carlos Villena – Eozoön [19:43]

Villena throws us straight into a dense texture of broadband sound offset with what sounds like high frequency bird sounds. Water sounds come to the fore and the texture holds a uniform thickness with very little movement along the front – back axis. A bold statement, all of which at one level begins to sound like a fine representation of a very nice day by the river.

Then it all softens to water, with a prominent 3.5KHz filtered layer and the felt presence of a low frequency background. We are then treated to hints of a hallmark of Villena’s sound world: ‘tonalised’ layers, prominent in his recent Sensacions Desplaçades. At first these layers appear like monks chanting way back in the mix (I doubt if this was intended though you never can tell what a listener will make of it all, can you?), then coming eventually to prominence,

Finally, everything drops away to background textures, high frequency flutters and an unidentifiable shuffling sound, all presented as a very long decrescendo (over 13 minutes), the end of which disappears into a comforting soundscape of songbirds.

Another fine offering and one that I’ll be playing again and again.

Available from Discogs.

-Caity Kerr

Fransisco López website
Carlos Villena’s label Mantricum website