hen people ask me about my taste in music, I tell them, somewhat facetiously, that I've gone beyond banal things like rhythm and melody and lyrics moved on to pure noise: recordings of elevators, washing machines, refrigerators, and blenders. Granted, I only tell them this to shut them up and leave me the hell alone. But there is some truth in it. While I do enjoy the occasional beat and melody, when I go to my computer, shuffle through iTunes looking for something to listen to, I find myself more often than not gravitating towards works like Francisco Lopez's Buildings [New York], a work composed entirely of sound fragments Lopez procured while wandering around big buildings in NYC. This is environmental music in its most elemental form: music that has not been processed or altered or edited, just recorded. What's amazing about the disk is the variety of sounds Lopez managed to stuff onto the work's single, one-hour long track. It's remarkable how similar many of the sounds found here are to sounds on other disks by artists who use computers to create, edit, process, reprocess, and otherwise manipulate sound. There's no obvious rhythm, and there's no obvious melody, but there's obviously music floating around in those buildings in New York.
Of course, there's a difference between going to a building in New York (or any city) and listening to the sounds of elevators, air conditioning systems, cables, pipes, air ducts, boilers, clocks, thermostats, video cameras, and so on, and listening to a recording of these sounds that has been carefully compiled by an artist of Lopez's caliber. First, Lopez listened to these sounds before I did; he studied a variety of sounds and chose these specific sounds to include on this disk. I don't know how long he spent doing this, but I'm sure it was longer than an hour. So there were probably lots of boring sounds in those buildings, and he only picked the interesting ones for this disk. Second, if I were in the building listening to these sounds—even the good ones—the sounds would (for the most part) have a clear referent. I would know what object created what sound, or, at the very least, I would know where the sounds came from and could then guess their origin. Because, on a disk, there is some separation between myself and the events recorded, and because I do not know what makes what sound, I can imagine that a droning, hissing sound is the sound of electronic hamburgers grilling on a hot stove, or that the intense humming sound that just builds and builds and builds until it cuts off in mid hum is the sound of a fat man plugged into an electric chair, bursting at the seams until he bursts, all his organs splattering everywhere. I can imagine anything I want on a disk like this; that's much harder to do when I'm face to face with the crashing elevator doors or the humming air duct.
Now, the great problem most people have with music like this is that it is so obviously experimental, so obviously designed not for listeners but to prove a point or explore a concept that belies the actual listening experience. In other words, music like this was made by and for elitist snobs who think that they are better than everyone else because they're willing to sit and listen to this shit. To an extent, I am sympathetic to that particular point of view. As I work in the academic world, I have encountered my share of snobby assholes and have detested every single one of them. The thing is, Francisco Lopez is not one of those assholes, and his music is anything but a challenge or a dare. It is, quite simply, a fun disk because there's so much here to listen to and enjoy. Sure, it's music culled from everyday life, but that's what makes it so interesting. Who knew modern, lifeless buildings could sound like this? Lopez's work puts an acoustic mirror up to our own lives, and challenges us to listen to the noise of our world in a different way. And that's interesting, no matter what your taste in music might be.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01