Expanded Listening: An Interview with Francisco López


Francisco López needs no introduction, but let’s take the risk. I guess an introduction to his work is not something he would really prefer, as his perspective is actually fed by avoiding being defined, closed or schematised in a singular point. Similar to Pythagoras, López places himself behind the curtain, in the invisible lands of listening and he seems to be even more radical than the traditional acousmatics, as his figure doesn’t even make a shadow, getting submerged and dissolved in sound in order to conduct the listening experience into unconquered and unconquerable realms, just open to the nakedness of sound and exposing the listener to infinite possibilities of the experience.

López talks about post-music and ways of being aware of the sound on its core, a vision that has been evolving over the years into a radical perspective which characterises his thinking and way of working. López’s perspective lies in an expansion of listening from going to sound-in-itself; seeking, above all, a constant openness, fluency of coming and going of the hearing and its space, its purpose, its dissolution. That’s why his records and listening offerings tend to lack of description and when it comes to performance he invites to cover the eyes of the audience in order to find a working axis in which is possible to bring the sound as such, without add-ons: unprecedented and divested listening; expanded listening, as he says.

The usual exploration of soundscapes and the concepts or practices that come with that activity, inadvertently focus on a seemingly intrinsic relation to the visual, semantic, cultural or political context. But in the case of López, it goes further (or closer) as his work disregards all unnecessary ornaments or predefined representational links in order to establish a portal of listening able of revealing the irrelevant of the definition, thus exposing the need for immersion.

Also, his sound work values ​​the act of field recording outside the common context of sound recording, approaching the recorder as a means of reconstruction and transformation, as a critical and compositional tool in which what is written is pure emergency, spatial virtuality, potentiality for re-construction of reality. And it is in this invisible contract where López aims to engage the listener, inviting us to be invaded by listening and transvaluing the experience hence leading the listener to pass from a role of a simple sound receiver, to one of intimate participant of a direct dialogue with the sound phenomenon in which contrary to enclose the listener, new experiences arises. López puts the listener ‘in brackets’, taking the person outside of the common margins, breaking the schemes that prevents us for truly listening.

At the moment of listening to his works, there’s no artist, no specific message, no conclusions, no fixed expression, but an expansible invitation to listen to the sound in completely unique ways. Better let him exposes it:

How your conception of sound has evolved through the years and how different is it to day compared to what you conceived at first place?

In short: from acoustics to philosophy, from reproduction to immersion, from “interesting” to daring, from representation to sound-in-itself. These shifts are not the result of some “theoretical” machinations but precisely a consequence of my practices of listening, recording and creating with sound.

You seem very focused on the phenomenological reduction towards sound. Do you see as an essential element in order to correctly explore your work? Also, do you approach it specifically in terms of reduced listening or do you think there would be something ‘beyond’ it? Does the reductive process ‘ends’ in a point?

In my view, there is an implicit fundamental wrong assumption here: the effect of the phenomenological reduction is precisely a “something beyond”. You see, there is a common misinterpretation that comes –perhaps understandably- from the term “reduction”. The transcendental Husserlian Epoché is rather an expansion by means of focusing. The temporary suspension of judgment is not a more limited interaction with the world but rather the opposite. If we attend at the practice and its effects, the Schaefferian “reduced listening” should certainly be more aptly called expanded listening.

In that way, you know listening is so subjective that you cannot control anything and the position towards it becomes that of inviting people to the process or mode of listening. That implies someone could, for example, listen to “La selva” as a rainforest as such, imagining certain things. But other person can actually do the phenomenological reduction and listen to a raw sonic texture. From what I know, you suggest to listen in that last way, but, is the first one “wrong” in some way? Why? Would you like listeners to avoid that in the same way you don’t aim to declare for example an ecologist manifesto towards sound, nor a semantic disposition of it, but more this free acusmatic experience?

There is a pretty good reason to explore beyond standard representational listening: we already do that by default. All of us, naturally, all the time, virtually everywhere, and in most circumstances. Consequently, whereas there is obviously nothing “wrong” about this, it is even more important to realize that no approach that digs under this representational (or “semantic”) surface is a menace for our normal listening. Instead, the phenomenological gives access to a different level; one that is less obvious, less mundane, more concerned with a more profound apprehension of reality, more capable of grasping the enormity of things-in- themselves (hence vastly more ecological than the dilettantist clichés we now hear everywhere). And thus it counteracts the perpetuation and the imposition of the epistemological listening program as our only way –some say the only possible way, some others say the only respectful way– to access the sonic world.


Do you think acousmatics could be understood as a dimension of reality and not just a practice? I mean, some kind of acousmatic realm embedded in our common reality, similar to what Pythagoreans placed around the ‘akousma’ concept. Do you think it’s important for us as humans to value this invisible and non-referential aspect of reality that we find through sound and specially in the reduced listening process?

Certainly. This kind of essential scratching under the surface is precisely what such non-referential listening aims at. From phenomenology to object-oriented ontology. Again, not a threat to our daily world –which will stay there in the surface anyhow– but an appealing and promising rabbit hole.

Is there a specific intention you want to trigger in the listeners? How do you see your role as an artist?

In recent times, the term “artist” has become such a dirty word that one doesn’t really know how to handle it anymore. Irony aside, it is a bit unclear to me –as I believe it is for plenty of other “artists”- how to pinpoint a possible “role”. I don’t really think of it as accomplishing or fulfilling a function. Of course, this easily leads into the classic –and perhaps tedious- question of the “political”. In its widest sense of some degree of participation in society we are probably all political, but in its most ideological / populist sense (the “politically-engaged artist”, “no art for the sake of art”, etc.) I am definitely apolitical. That said, I do have a profound commitment to creation and a resolute interest to share it at a level that aims at nothing less than being seriously transformative. I believe that the way something like this might happen should be as personal, varied and unspecific as possible. So, no message, no effects and, most importantly, no “expression”.

Is there a particular reason why you’re not interested in the ecologic aspect of field recording (as you said at 15questions)? It’s because your acousmatic influence or is there another reason you could tell?

I am deeply interested in a possible “ecological aspect of field recording”. Just not the contemporary dilettantist way; neither for the “ecological” nor for “field recording”. As for the values, meanings, practices and paradigms that these terms have come to represent today, I am certainly not interested at all in either of them.

How would you define the concept of sound matter? How do you think we should explore sound as an energy state or a material element?

I like to think of “sound matter” as a term that widens and reinforces the in-itself aspect and value of sound. I believe it directs the attention to the actual substance and away from any imaginable individuated sources (as is the case with the mundane use of “sounds” or “the sound of…”). So, being an obvious expressive expansion of the objet sonore, to me “sound matter” speaks of flow and continuity, of expanse and comprehensiveness, of being the uninterrupted fabric of itself instead of the side-effect or the residual property of something else. After all, for non-cognitive perceptive machines (e.g., a prototypical sound recorder), there is no such thing as individuated “sounds”. Naturally, this is “matter” in the ontological sense, so its ontic manifestation remains indeed delightfully immaterial. That is, when keeping these different levels in mind, what we have is the (only apparently) paradoxical immaterial sound matter (!).

In that way, I see space is very important for that process of developing a sonic experience and actually shaping the sounds you expose. I wonder how is the relationship you find between visual space and the sonic one. Are they different? How they relate? Also, is your blindfold technique concerned with that space or maybe with some kind of mental space that is triggered in the actual atmosphere of listening?

Perhaps a considerable interplay between the real and the virtual –a Baudrillardian blurring- is at the core of our projections and desires involving visual and sonic spaces. Three observations of great relevance for me on the vast theme of sound and space: (i) sound alone makes a more fluid construction of space; (ii) almost all recorded sounds we listen to contain a virtual sonic space; (iii) precisely because of the role of space as medium for re-physicalization (and regardless of whether digital or analog), there is no such thing as “recorded sounds”. My blindfold technique for live performances has to do with the natural immediate surge in the non-visual senses but, more importantly, with the crucial question of commitment to the experience. Being voluntary and optional, the blindfold becomes in this context a tool for transformatve listening through acceptance, surrendering, dedication, trust, engagement. And if we are even more resolute and ambitious, a tool for spiritual expansion.


Do you think the different modes of listening can relate in some way? Or do you think is more necessary to establish some kind of hierarchy and limits towards the various listening approaches?

I would assume as a given that the different modes of listening are in constant flux and crossover among themselves. As for hierarchies and limits I would definitely leave those for everyone to decide on their own.

How much do you think a sound artist needs to care about his/her listeners or audience? You seem to be concerned about that, regarding the space conditions, the blindfold technique or even your position in the place. This way of actually developing techniques to push to the acousmatic listening and the phenomenological reduction, radically alters what your listeners get. Do you think that is all part of the art piece? Do you think your work strictly requires those kinds of conditions?

Yes, I see those techniques as an integral part of the creation that I strive to generate. More than a strict requirement, however, I’d say that they significantly contribute to this goal. Now, I think it is clear that something much more substantial than just darkness, blindfolds and a nice sound system has to be there in order to generate an experience of this nature. The acousmatic per se, as it is understood today (music from speakers without visible instruments or sources, etc.), is sort of irrelevant and clearly insufficient. Small details in the context, anticipation, expectation, atention to intelligibility, deliberate confusion, mystery, a careful dosification of information, a respectul sense of limits… are some of the crucial elements for me. In fact, beyond the obvious synergies, I believe that at the present stage there is a dramatic deficit in innovations (and focus) on the conditions of experience, as compared to the technical or technological innovations (or the current myths about them) that are supposed to be at the service of the experience.

I find very interesting the ‘Presque Tout’ work you released at LINE. I wonder what was behind those pieces and what would you think is the importance of those dynamic ranges in the way we listening. I mean, several of those recordings are vast, almost silent places, often drones with certain feeling of absence, but at the same time so sonic, so present. What’s your position behind that silence-signal synergy?

Presque Tout is a collection of ultra-quiet sound pieces comprising twenty years of sonic exploration of the subtle, the epheremal, the ghostly, the subliminal, the delicate, and yes, the true silent. This is not at all –contrary to what seems to be a very common speculation- a “conceptual” type of work (or even worse, some kind of joke or a hoax). It is truly a full experiential exploration; intutitive, enjoyable and full of passion. Despite the usual tedious traditional claims in music about the relevance of silence (or the less traditional, but already equally tedious, claim on the inexistence of silence), few composers / sound creators have really dealt with it head on, to the core, with true consideration, bringing the silent and the subtle to the level of foreground presence. Whether or not I have managed to do this is for others to say, but that is definitely the way I approach this sonic realm. Interestingly, and unbeknownst to almost everyone, it is also one of the few types of sound work (under fortunately forgotten names such as “lowercase sound”) that is genuinely a consequence of the possibility of digital sound (or perhaps we should say digital silence). That is precisely why it arose in the 1990s. Such a level of subtlely and absence was virtually impossible with any analog medium. Despite current hipster myths, the superiority of the digital is particularly patent in the quiet and the silent. This made technically possible, but also artistically suggested and propelled, a dedicated aesthetic of the quiet.

How do you try to approach workshops such as “Sonic Mmabolela”? How do you think a field recording and listening workshop should be approached? What things not to do? I wonder what would you recommend to those who are dedicated to those educational activities towards sound.

Personally, I think the classic technical conception of a workshop (types of microphones, how to record, gear fests, etc.) is obsolete in a time of nearly complete cyborgization and mega-accessibility of non-cognitive perceptive technology. In other words, everyone knows how to record, can do it, and is actually doing it. I think we are tremendously fortunate to live in a time where the mystique of the techno-specialist has been blatantly exposed in the form of a simple button to be pressed; and that button is in a device that virtually everyone can access. Given that, I believe we have no time to lose to engage ourselves in more substantial tasks, such as improving our typically deficient spiritual tools for recording or asking ourselves –and thereafter assuming the consequences- why on earth are we actually recording at all?

Last but not least, how do you think we all can contribute to expanding the exploration of sound and listening in society?

By doing awesome work! 😉