Francisco Meirino - Anthems For Unsuccessful Winners
CD, Misanthropic Agenda, 2018, MAR 046, 4 panel digipak, matte finish, Ltd 200
From the ruins of hours of multi-channel recordings created during his residency at EMS Stockholm, Francisco Meirino has created a definitive statement of time and discovery. Inspired by the Serge and Buchla modular synthesizers, he felt as if he were standing before ancient ruins, familiar yet unknown. After allowing these recordings to sit and decay over time, he discovered, when he finally came back to them, that all that was left were the pieces and ruins of sonic archives.
The end result is a masterpiece statement, an exercise in abandonment and discovery. The ruins Francisco Meirino has unearthed reach deep into our psyche from seemingly the most unlikely source, machines, evoking a story of damage and resurrection. (Press release)
Assembled and mastered at Shiver Mobile, Lausanne, 2015-2017 and at EMS Elektronmusikstudion, Stockholm, 2016.
Francisco Meirino : synthesizers [ eurorack, serge, buchla ], field recorders, microphones, computer, reel-to-reel tape recorders, homemade electronics and electro-magnetic sensors.
Collages and layout - Francisco Meirino.
(public domain) Paintings - Hubert Robert, Joannes Hermans.
To think of Buchla and Serge synths as the same type of ancient history that is conjured by the Victorian-era paintings of classical ruins is clearly the prerogative of a composer who is only focused on the future. Rather than mindless revelry in the dense, chewy textures of these vintage machines (as more than a few gear fetishists do), Meirino binds the synths and their legacies in amber, allowing modern detritus to coat and discolor the surface.
The five tracks (“Exposition,” “Rising,” “Climax,” “Falling,” and “Denouement,”) allude to the structure ascribed to Reconstruction-era theater, further playing off the past against the future. “Climax” sends waves of distortion whipping back and forth across the stereo field, resolving into electronic crickets and distant voice loops – is that the record or someone calling to you from the next room? “Falling” streaks the Buchla/Serge beeps and boops across a smoky, indigo sunset while a crowded radio frequency rises and sends the calm night into a frenzy of conflicting messages. It feels very little like falling action, unless we’re talking about the action of falling off of earth’s gravity.
Meirino assembles a detailed, clean, portentous landscape from rattling bowls, hovering feedback, and the front-and-center use of these classic synths not as their own compositions but as rich, ancient pigments used to create classically-derived masterworks with modern imagery. Turn a ruin on its side, superimpose it onto another, and what have you got? Visions of the past playing footsie on the canvas of tomorrow.
In A Closer Listen
When one hears the phrase “old tapes,” one thinks of repetitive messages engrained in one’s subconscious. Francisco Meirino owns a more physical set of old tapes, “the pieces and ruins of sonic archives.” These had been set aside and forgotten while they decayed, or more properly matured like fine wine or cheese. Where some might see sonic wreckage, Meirino sees something worth salvaging. When we encounter the ruins of old buildings (as collaged in the cover art), we may admire them more in their decrepitude than we might have in their glory; the same is true of these sounds.
The Ruins taps into our own subconscious, offering alternative readings of sounds clear and concise (such as a cough) to those beyond recognition. The deep bass of “Exposition” makes it the most musical in a common sense, but the ticktocking of “Rising”, with one simple marker to indicate tempo, indicates the way in which a single variable can be enough to form a wider impression. The mind seeks to perceive patterns, even when none are apparent or even present. Only when the dynamic drone that engulfs this piece gives way to a coda of clock does one sense the hand of the composer and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that these constructions are anything but random.
One of the most fascinating segments is one of the album’s quietest: a sequence of high-pitched right-to-left tones that disorient the listener (especially in headphones). Sitting at the center of the album, this sequence serves to highlight the way in which perceptions can shift according to context. Once the longer, stronger tones roll in, the effect is obscured, although one knows that it is still there. This is a testament to the fact that a loud message may not be as important as a soft one. The connection to conversation is made as both dynamics are replaced by a combination of electronic treble (which continue to wander between the poles) and vocal loop.
By “Falling,” the sound of industry has taken over, as metallic grinding meets the buzz of wiped tape. In this piece, the only organic sound is that of an un-oiled creak. Here and in the ensuing track, one comes to the realization that tape squeak and birdsong have much in common; the difference is that while in the 1970s we asked, “Is it live or is it Memorex?”, in 2018 we know that these recordings have been adulterated. The medium, though possessing no consciousness, has become the co-composer.
In Tone Shift
Taken from multi-channel recordings that play like waves traveling from right to left cyclically Francisco Meirino opens his latest, The Ruins, with a twerky set of frequencies on Exposition. What sounds like sorting static becomes a vibrating central nervous system. Instructions: “Continuous playback recommended“. In this deeply layered wave field of sputtering electronic open sources there’s a infinite weave twisting the height and length of any room its played in. I had to literally shutter my office door as the tones leaking into the rest of the house were stirring the others here – it’s a robust live set of tension waves. At its sudden end the residual sonic static bounces off satellites into the rather reserved Rising. The trickling, illuminated static and raw scratching effects are dramatically tactile. But it could easily be in the deep woods of Maine with the chattering of insects in the darkness.Over these fifteen minutes he explores metered time vs. the coursing of electricity through cascading, buzzing wires.
During Climax I’m imagining the state of all of history in terms of what The Ruins actually are meant to be metaphorically. Of course the gorgeously designed coverart that he prepared from paintings by Hubert Robert and Joannes Hermans upend the history of depicting these places of reverence. The distortion of space as we know it, as it’s fabled, and the future of such, rolled into one it seems. The record plays with how we are effected by time, by our own memories, by the histories we are taught – especially in this age of so-called “fake news”. It soars, it retreats. It’s a contemplative piece, for the maker and therefor resonates in this abstract way to the witness.
Falling provides the mirror-view, a counterpoint to Rising and Climax. It creaks and has this free-form sense of reverse movement. But keep s short and to the point as all stops have been unplugged. And in conclusion the bouncy bucket seat movement of Dénouement creates a perfect contradictory restraint. The anonymous field recordings are both ambient and harsh, mumbly and like moon dust, drifting like specks in the darkness of an un/controlled atmosphere. These sound like reel-to-reel tapes of transmissions from a foreign spacelab. A pleasant coursing of microsound tapping away. Layering a motor that sputters over this speckled set of sources is interrupted by a simple cough, leading to the vague beating like a heart. It’s unusual, slightly unsettling and one of the best lunar fantasies I’ve spun this week.