An uncompromising yet nonetheless fascinating excursion into the realm of experimental sound art (concrète music, if you prefer), Francisco López's Machines is true to its title: all four of its thematically-linked pieces are based upon literal sounds of different kinds of machinery: clocks (“Klokken”), elevators (“Fahrstühle”), laboratory equipment (“Labs”), and factory equipment (“Fabrikas”), which López gathered, respectively, in Amsterdam, Leipzig, Barcelona, and Riga. Mechanical and metallic sounds naturally dominate in a quartet of settings totaling more than two-and-a-half hours and spread across two compact discs (the set available in a 500-copy run).
Commissioned by Amsterdam-based STEIM, “Klokken” builds mutliple layers of whirring and ticking patterns into rhythmic form, and by the time it's done one might think that every imagineable sound associated with the inner workings of clock devices has been heard during the piece's thirty-two minutes. While such material might not seem to lend itself naturally to considerations of compositional form, López clearly brings an organizing sensibility to bear upon it. Dynamic contrasts emerge, as sounds swell into dense masses at certain moments and break down into simpler form at others (at the twenty-five-minute mark, the total sound amounts to little more than a distant film projector-like whirr, after which near-total silence sets in), and, in a manner similar to the phasing patterns heard in Steve Reich's music, clock patterns come together and then slowly separate. “Fahrstühle,” based upon recordings of public and private elevators in Leipzig (and premiered in a live performance at the Leipzig Opera in June 2005), uses as source material the creak of elevator movements and the opening and closing of elevator doors. Industrial clank and hydraulic emissions dominate in a piece that over the course of its forty-five-minute running time induces a state of disorientation in the listener. As in “Klokken,” there are contrasts: the relentless activity in the opening twenty minutes gradually decompresses into a quieter central episode—much like the late-night frenzy of a hotel's elevator use settling into a state of near-stasis as the early morning hours set in. The moment passes quickly, however, as rumble sweeps in to violently shatter the stillness and set in motion rhythmic clatter once again. Disc two's heavily rhythmic “Labs” likewise ebs and flows through multiple episodes of industrial churn (twenty-three minutes in, the mass heaves with the kind of 4/4 relentlessness one more associates with techno or schaffel). “Fabrikas” includes passages that resemble a train car rattling along its tracks and, during its middle section, moments of micro-sound quietude that segue into a silent episode before snapping back to attention with slamming noises that López arranges into a—dare I say it—swinging rhythm. The piece's combustible closing section feels like a climax for the entire release, so epic is its mix of gaseous emissions and hydraulic sounds, though it too gradually disappears into silence at track's end.Such a release obviously won't have mass appeal; it's safe to say that only the most adventurous of listeners will embrace the notion of musical material sourced solely from machines. Regardless, within the genre to which it belongs, Machines must represent some kind of zenith. The stark white packaging the material arrives in couldn't be more minimal; by comparison, the material housed within couldn't be more maximal.