This year, the Grahamstown festival was graced with the presence of Spanish composer Francisco Lopez, who presented his work Untitled #310. For the past few weeks, Lopez has been creating and rehearsing the piece with the South African musicians he is collaborating with. They include Jill Richards, Waldo Alexander, Magda de Vries, Reza Khota, Marcus Wyatt and Siya Makuzeni. Lopez is internationally recognised for his work over the past 30 years and the sonic universe he has developed, which blurs the industrial and the environmental.
“The ensemble is not instrument-specific, but rather we have been chosen because we all have a passion for new music, for experimentation and improvisation, and have all worked together in various combinations,” said Richards. “By following the unorthodox strategy of having the musicians blindfolded, our scores and visual cues are replaced by aural ones.”
To set the scene, all the musicians are on stage, blindfolded, and have to play an hour-long piece by ear alone. The audience sits in a dark room, the only light coming from above Lopez’s head and illuminating the PA system.
The piece begins softly, and it takes a while for your brain to surrender itself to the music. Clicks flare across the stage like comets. They give way to the droning and ticking of industry, some taps screeching. Like an old, stinky laundromat, I imagined rats running around the cold, mouldy floor, skipping over pools of stale water. The rhythms become jittery before giving way to an ambient drone like axle grinders muted to a whisper. We are now deep in the heart of the industrial complex.
As the drone etches its way into my brain, I find the voices and characters from the plays I have seen in the past few days swirling around in my head. Then, at some point, I am gone, deep into the melee. The drone is now a swarm of killer robot bees. They swirl above my head, threatening. Nuts and bolts clank on a concrete workshop floor.
Then, all of a sudden, the scenery changes. Raindrops fall into a pond amid heavy morning dew. Crickets sit on the bank, and their legs have been amplified with contact mics to give off a warm drone as they rub their legs together. The sense of dread is ever present – it’s almost like a weird environmental documentary and dubstep hybrid.
That’s the whole point of this piece – the musicians and Lopez paint a sonic soundtrack and your imagination does the rest. Some people I spoke to saw a sunken ship, some tanks, others factories, abandoned like ghost towns. Everybody loved it. It was a truly amazing experience and offered something at the festival that no one else could.