When Francisco López started working predominantly with cheap cassette players as a recording device in the early 80s, there wasn’t the option to freely experiment with other instruments and methods of audio capture. These other devices were expensive and seldom portable. As such, 1980-82 is a story of perseverance and acquaintance; about negotiating and re-evaluating sound, excavating the merits and characteristics that exist outside of the simplified spectrum of low and high fidelity. While a cassette player cannot capture sound “as is” (if this concept can even be said to exist), it can be a portal into an augmented world; a lens through which the inaudible emerges and the known reshapes into the unfamiliar.
The medium blurs into the message. I lean into the blizzard of the second track – a noise distortion, crisp like crinkled foil, delicate like a thousand rounded plastic pellets dropped on my head – and try to fathom where the line resides between the source material and its method of capture. How much of the timbral quality is inherent to the sound object, and how much is the dents and pimples of the medium? In some instances, the answer seems explicit. Track three is dotted with these little plosives of dust and magnetic wrinkle – the sort of sounds I synonymously attribute to the cassette, bringing back memories of those clunking, popping mixtapes I’d put together as a child. López spent almost a decade working closely with the cassette, and I can only imagine these pops because increasingly characterful and hyper-real. Where I hear little blips of inconsistency, I wonder whether López hears little bursts of happening – musical, characterful interventions, where the cassette announces itself in the only language it knows how.
The sounds themselves are curious and indistinct. I hear the rumble and congregative hum of public spaces – voices and footsteps splashing against marble shopping mall floors – and the strange swirling tones of a data centre server room, as heard from the metallic resonance chamber of a nearby air vent. Many of them start as blankets of faceless noise, which then slip gradually into focus through persevered listening. Track five starts to sound like the propeller of a motorboat chopping through seawater, or the bottom of a waterfall as heard through a gigantic slab of rock. I listen patiently and wait for the details to emerge. Just how López worked with the cassette to gradually uncover the charms of its modus operandi, learning its quirks and habits like a good friend, I strive to experience his music with the same level of understanding.