Francisco López and Scott Arford: Solid State Flesh/Solid State Sex
Francisco López and Scott Arford bring considerable reputations to this daunting opus from the Greek label Low Impedance. López has amassed a catalog of more than 140 minimal electroacoustic sound works (issued on 100 record labels) which collectively document his attempt to “reach an ideal of absolute concrète music.” A leading new media arts figure in the San Francisco Bay Area and instructor at the California College of Arts, Arford has created numerous sound and video works and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2005 Prix Ars Electronica. On their respective discs, López and Scott Arford transform electrical flow into alternately quiet and sometimes humungous slabs of steely, prickly sound.
One might expect a piece of 73-minute duration to exhaust one's patience yet “Solid State Flesh,” López's methodically modulated monolith, remains engrossing throughout. Though segues from one episode to another transpire slowly, López never succumbs to cheap theatrics (e.g., bludgeoning the listener with sudden blasts) but assumes the listener will be patient enough to stay with the piece throughout its unfolding. Imagine the sonic center of a maelstrom and you'll have some idea of the relentless swirling mass of thrum López generates in the opening section when a detonation transforms soft rumbles and ripples into a seething tornado. The piece intermittently drops to near-silent levels before incrementally building to episodes of churning violence at the 27-minute mark and buzzing noise and thrum after 53 minutes. Eventually deflating to industrial hum that echoes and fades to oblivion, “Solid State Flesh” impresses as a masterful exercise in controlled sound manipulation.
Formally split into six separately titled pieces, Arford's “Solid State Sex” might appear to be the more episodic of the two discs but Lopez's is equally so, despite it having a single title. There is, however, a noticeable difference in mood with Arford's material the more aggressive of the two. The unsettling “Discharge,” for example, puts the listener on edge immediately with grinding drones of rattlesnake thrum and knife-edged ruptures of metallic sound, even if a calmer mood prevails during “Strange Attractor” with its quieter gurgles and soft rumbles. “Aluminum Airway” keeps up a seething beehive of activity throughout its twelve minutes while sparse streams of microwave pops grow into tsunami of screeching static in “Point Loads and Surfaces.” A veritable alarm announces the onset of “CME (Coronal Mass Ejection)” before a deafening ringing drone gradually rises to nightmarish and harrowing levels.
The precise relationship between the “Solid State Flesh” and “Solid State Sex” titles and the aural content is obscure but what's inarguably clear is the uncompromising and challenging character of the artists' sound design.