For years now I’ve been bugged by people asking me what I thought of Francisco Lopez’s
gig last time he was in Melbourne, and then having them yammer on for half an hour or so about what an amazing performance I missed. So I jumped at the chance to catch him this time at Fortyfive Downstairs. Last time he was playing inside a giant empty sewage backup tank somewhere under Hawthorn; I suspect many of the punters there that night were overwhelmed more by the atmosphere than the music.
Lopez likes performing in total darkness, something about the purity of sonic essence unsullied by extrinsic perturburances or somesuch yaffle. This cd be pretty effective inside an unlit, resonant, subterranean tank, but is less so when you’re sitting in a plastic chair on a creaky wooden floor, and asked to wear a piece of cut-up pantyhose over your eyes so you’re not distracted by the EXIT signs over the doors. He had a four-speaker surround sound set-up, with us sitting around the room in a circle, facing away from him in the centre. The size and shape of the room meant that no-one, except maybe Lopez himself, had the benefit of any spatial design in the sound: everyone was either facing into a speaker directly in front of them, or facing a wall and having to settle for the sound bouncing off it.
The trouble with these spatialised gigs is that it’s so often like going to an Imax movie: impressive technology scratching around for a reason to exist. Inevitably for any piece of electronic music with high production values these days, the majority of it sounded like it was recorded inside a well, with lotsa reverb and profound bass rumblings. I’m not sure if this was meant to impress us of its seriousness and importance, or if what with the dark and everything we were supposed to feel like we really were in a well. A very noisy well, filled with lots of clanking machinery that served no apparent purpose. Occasionally there was the mandatory sound suddenly rushing across the room to remind you there were more than two speakers in the room.
There was one section which did a nice job of creating the impression of sitting in a grassy glade on a hot summer day, but you’d have much more fun doing that for real if you like that sort of thing, and – considering I spent the entirety of last summer holed up in the back bar of a darkened pub knocking back G&Ts until I was insensate – I don’t. Then it was back into the gloom of the techhead’s aural lingua franca, the sonic equivalent, in interest and ubiquity, of sewers in computer games
. Really, you can’t win with this stuff: it either sounds like real life only not as interesting, or like the sound design of all those straight-to-video action movies made in the 1980s with a “futuristic” theme, every single one of which has a set with that big fucking industrial fan slowly rotating with a light behind it like in Blade Runner
The August Drag was again present in the form of benign punters yawning and smiling wanly while thinking fond thoughts of their nice warm beds back home.
Beer: Hahn Premium stubbies, $6.
Exciting performance shot of Lopez in concert.