REVIEW: Francisco Lopez at Cafe Oto and on Radio 3

Francisco Lopez at the centre of the action in a darkened Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Francisco Lopez
(Cafe Oto live, and broadcast on Radio 3, 14 March 2015; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

This was a first for Cafe Oto, a live broadcast for BBC Radio 3's Hear and Now, late on a Saturday evening. Spanish sound artist Francisco Lopez's two 40-minute immersive sound works transported the audience in the north-east London venue and the radio audience tuned in to the national network through the imperceptible sound barrier with which he kicked off to the physicality of sternum shaking drones and rotor blade flutters.

With sound source material drawn from the micro-sonic detail of his field recordings in the open spaces of savanna terrain, rain forests and industrialised urban locations, Lopez sifted, shaped and sculpted rich strata of rhythms and atmospherics, all in Surround Sound, channelled through four speakers strategically placed in the venue. The experience could be replicated by those listening at home with appropriate hardware and the compatible browsers.

For Lopez, each performance space is a unique proposition and he spent much of the day working at Cafe Oto to set up the springboard for his live, improvised interaction. The audience, limited to about 60, were seated in a concentric circles around Lopez's mixing desk, with two inner circles outward facing and the third outer circle oriented inwards. In the darkened room with blacked-out windows, the audience were offered the option of wearing eye masks, which Lopez often advocates for the in-depth experience of his sound pieces. To facilitate his efforts in the gloom Lopez wore a headband with a mini-headlight.

With great care and craft Lopez created a seamless flow of orchestral range and stature. In the first piece, passages of dynamic rhythmic lamination with pinch points of tension and dissipation were flashed with the relentless repetitions of the mechanical production line, trumpet timbres, ringing tones, and ominous distant booms. After the short break animal and bird calls were segued unnervingly with gunfire and the sounds of war, shifting to a dreamstate hiatus, finally to admit the influx of a sustained passage of recorded call-and-response tribal chanting.

Lopez brought all of this together with a sophistication that made the complexities of his flowing, multi-layered mix seem almost effortless.

Cafe Oto's venture in to the demands of the live broadcast was a collaborative success which Hear and Now's presenter, Robert Worby, and the BBC team finessed with personable skill and calm professionalism. They will be back at Cafe Oto in the autumn with music from the Cut and Splice electronic music festival.

The broadcast, including live interviews and comment, can be heard for 30 days after transmission at the Hear and Now site

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