Posts Tagged ‘Lawrence English’

Someone Good – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

David Toop enthuses over Haco as ‘weightless, not so much a voice from heaven but a voice that swirls in liquidity, water spirit…’ In this, he probably gets as close to capturing the essence of Haco’s music as its possible. It’s a challenge for any writer when presented with sonic abstraction: how to render the intangible tangible, and at the same time convey the experience of sound in words?

The music on Qoosui is not easy – and in fact almost impossible – to pin down. An analogy to catching a cloud is close, but not right: the seven pieces exist in a state somewhere between liquid and vapour, and flow in multiple directions seemingly simultaneously. Rippling synths slowly bubble as wash aquatically on ‘Kusul’, and paves the way for a sequence of amorphous, drifting compositions which drift and tether. Crystalline shards cut through cloud-like washes on ‘White Letter from Heaven’, and Haco’s voice is seemingly not of the human body, transcendental, and not of this world.

This is, in many respects, the source and heart of Qoosui: inspired by spirit voices, Haco becomes one. The medium is the message on every level.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/224449651

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Room40 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

In certain circles at least, Tony Buck requires little to no introduction as the percussionist of longstanding Australia purveyors of avant-jazz trio The Necks.

Unearth is an immense departure in many respects, not least of all in that it not a percussion-led composition. His first solo work, recorded over a number of years, is an expansive, long-form piece spanning some fifty-one and a half minutes.

It’s a quiet, unsettling composition, with layered sounds building and overlapping, dark rumbles and drones juxtaposing with vague clattering incidentals, hisses, scrapes, hums, drips, plops and thuds.

Around the fifteen-minute mark, conventional instrumentation emerge, with ratting percussion, sonorous bass notes and picked guitar strings drifting across sampled voices and fragmented field recordings. However, it’s clear that the tension isn’t about to break any time soon, and nor is Buck about to unleash a square slice of rock tunage. Plinks, plonks and rattles shade across creaks and yawning ultra-low bass which hangs dense and heavy in the air.

There is a transitory moment of graceful musicality around the half-hour point, where chiming guitars and irregular, delicate percussion combine to create a subtle passage that’s ethereal, atmospheric and pure post-rock. And here comes the build: cymbals clatter and crash in a rising crescendo; gongs boom, and a tempest of sound rises as if from nowhere, as the treble of electronic bleeps cut through the evolving cacophony.

Things to settle into a less disturbing, less abrasive roll of swirling ambience thereafter, with chanks and chinks trembling over skittering sinews of sound stretched over weary, low-end drones which crawl and scratch.

Nothing about Unearth is easy or accessible, although Buck’s grasp on the slow-evolving dynamic of the longform composition is abundantly clear as the gradual transitions flow s effortlessly as to be unnoticeable.

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Tony Buck -Unearth

Room40 – 17th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The title carries an implicit connotation of juxtaposition. It’s also a direct reference to the 2011 text by Lauren Berlant, which explores power and the ‘cruel optimism that has prevailed since the 1980s, as the social-democratic promise of the postwar period in the United States and Europe has retracted’ and the collapse of the liberal-capitalist dream.

English explains the album’s context as follows: ‘Over the course of creating the record, we collectively bore witness to a new wave of humanitarian and refugee crisis (captured so succinctly in the photograph of Alan Kurdi’s tiny body motionless on the shore), the black lives matter movement, the widespread use of sonic weapons on civilians, increased drone strikes in Waziristan, Syria and elsewhere, and record low numbers of voting around Brexit and the US election cycle, suggesting a wider sense of disillusionment and powerlessness. Acutely for me and other Australians, we’ve faced dire intolerance concerning race and continued inequalities related to gender and sexuality. The storm has broken and feels utterly visceral. Cruel Optimism is a meditation on these challenges and an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures.’

For Cruel Optimism, English has enlisted, amongst others, Swans contributors Norman Westberg and Thor Harris. As their recent excursions outside Swans demonstrate, they are both musicians capable of magnificently nuanced sound – a stark contrast to the shuddering power of Swans in full force. They bring subtle, understated performances to the pieces on which they feature here. Tony Buck and Chris Abrahams of The Necks are also featured, although again, their input is suitably muted and the line-up is far from overplayed in the promotional materials which accompany the album.

A sense of contrast and contradiction is woven into the fabric of the soundscapes which combine to form Cruel Optimism, as soft layers drift down over coarser, grainer sonic terrains beneath. There are moments of darkness, shadowy, vaguely unsettling but not overtly eeriy or horrific, tempered equally by moments of tranquillity and light ‘Hammering a Screw’, as its title suggests, is an awkward, jarring piece. Sinister chords jam and jolt abrasively, rupturing the soft tissue of sound which hangs almost invisibly in the air while fluttering heartbeats pulse erratically way down in the mix. ‘Negative Drone’ rumbles ominously, a formless, amorphous cloud of sound which bleeds into the must-like atmospherics of ‘The Somnambulist’. The album ends with the entwined drones of ‘Moribund Territories’, which offers a tone of bleakness which intimates the dissipation of optimism in the face of a chilling future.

Writing in October 2016, English described the album as an album of ‘protest against the immediate threat of abhorrent possible futures’. Depressingly, those futures have arrived, and we are now living in dark, dark times. But for all of the turbulence which motivated the compositions and the underlying anxiety poured into their realisation, Cruel Optimism is a beautifully calm album, in the main – or at least, it maintains a calm exterior. As such it’s a work of peaceful protest, which succeeds in making itself heard in a loud, violent, and ugly world.

 

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‘Negative Drone’ is one third of a final suite on the record, born out of his own research into the sound of fear and the weaponisation of audio over the past few decades. It is a piece about “recognising that technologies with huge promise tend to fall into particular tropes that are pre-existent and reflect cycles of power and capital interests.” Lawrence continues to describe how his research led him to all manner of surveillance and target acquisition footage from drones and other military craft… “Needless to say it was harrowing viewing, but it very much made me recognise the dynamic shifts erupting just beyond our everyday horizons. We don’t tend to think about these things, what they are used for and what it is they could be used for. We just assume that their uses are somehow prefigured. For most of us these machines and the implications they carry are distant and in some way unthinkable, but for other peoples across the world their sound alone is enough to bring terror and anxiety. I found this a powerful question to explore and the composition grew out of it. In fact the final third of the album grew from this particular line of investigation.”

Musically, ‘Negative Drone’, featuring Norman Westberg and Thor Harris of Swans, Werner Defeldecker and The Australian Voices, was one of the final pieces to come be completed on the record. It is also one of a number of pieces in which Lawrence plays pipe organ, recorded on what was once the largest organ in Queensland, the state he resides in.

Expanding investigations into the politics of perception, and exploring the possibilities of new recording processes, technologies, locations and relationships, as well as conveying different sonic textures, Cruel Optimism is ultimately a record that considers power (present and absent). It meditates on how power consumes, augments and ultimately shapes two subsequent human conditions: obsession and fragility.

We’re big fans of Lawrence English and Room40 here at AA (as our many reviews of the label’s output attest) and the indications are that this could be one of his strongest works yet. Check out ’Negative Drone’ here:

 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/194648555

 

ROOM40 – EDRM426 – 4th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one for the David Lynch fans, but also fans of experimental industrial noise, and those who appreciate works which exist in the realms between media.

Factory Photographs was one of a number of commissions made by the curator of the exhibition David Lynch: Between Two Worlds, a retrospective exhibition held at Brisbane’s Galley of Modern Art in 2015. The exhibition featured Lynch’s works in painting, sculpture, installation and photography, and included a large section of his Factory Photographs: shots of factories in various states of disuse, taken over several decades.

Raised in the country, surrounded by woods and farms, Lynch developed a fascination with the architecture, the machines and ‘the smoke and fear’ of factories from his visits to his mother’s native Brooklyn. HEXA is Laurence English and Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), and Factory Photographs is their sonic response to Lynch’s images.

While Lawrence English’s work is often typified by a delicate approach to sound and the use of delicate field recordings, it’s clear that the inspiration and the collaborative input of Stewart have pulled him toward something altogether more visceral: Factory Photographs is an intense and brutal work.

‘Sledge’ rumbles and crashes in with some heavy noise, an amorphous roar barrels and funnels a dense sonic cloud, from amidst which shuddering throbs grind and thrum. Each piece is a blast of earthmoving noise, more evocative of a super-scaled atomic destruction than heavy industry or its demise and dilapidation. Yet as noise without clear definition or shape, it’s still highly evocative, and does correspond with Lynch’s conception of ‘the ideal factory location’, with ‘no real nature…’ This is sound which is brutal, harsh, unrelenting and unnatural, wholly man-man made yet wholly inhuman. The barrage of noise is built from a conglomeration of hums drones and thunderous sounds on sounds, roiling, churning. The rhythms are not percussive, but born from cyclical undulations, the churn of industry at its heaviest, in its earthiest form: the mine, the quarry, the drilling rig, the smelting of ore and the forging of metals. But of course these are only echoes of an industrial past: the factories lie empty now, derelict or inching toward dereliction, and the workers have gone, transferred, replaced, relocated, on the same scrapheap as the rusted machinery or otherwise forced into alternative careers.

As crushingly depressing as the factory may have been, its absence leaves only a lack and the question of progress, but as what cost? But equally, the earth-gouging sounds of Factory Photographs reminds of the finite nature of the earth’s resources, in particular fossil fuels. What is left apart from irreparable scars on the landscape once every last scrap has been excavated? Where is the future?

Dark, sonorous notes hang heavy on ‘A Breath’, and Factory Photographs is rich in gloomy atmosphere. Sheet metal thunder resonates through vast empty spaces, and clusters of clangs reverberate in the grimy darkness to create a bleak and oppressive sensation. The turbulent roar of ‘Vertical Horizons’ is harrowing and unforgiving, building to a shrieking howl of feedback while the regular rhythm of heavy machinery rotating is replicated on ‘Over Horizontal Plains’, while thuds and distant rumbles continue endlessly beneath. Digging, dredging…

It’s unsettling but exciting, and the prospect of an audiovisual work, featuring, with Lynch’s approval, the original visual montage of his photographs in 2017 is a thrilling one. Meanwhile, the album more than works in its own right as a dark, stark and uncomfortable collection of pieces which shake the listener’s sensibilities and leaves a hollow, uneasy sensation in its wake.

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A Guide to Saints – SNT020

James Wells

The coronet the title refers to is not a nobleman’s headwear but a Cornet Phase 2 amplifier, favoured by Brisbane-based musician Leighton Craig on account of its fuzzy tones. The four pieces here, each approximately fifteen minutes on duration, are built around cyclical keyboard motifs which drift, ebb and flow gracefully in a soft-focus sonic aura. They take flight and depart their original structures to float upwards amidst a cadence of chimes, whistles, chirps, chattering birdsong and marshmallow-soft synth squelches.

While the album, released on Lawrence English’s ROOM40 offshoot label dedicated to cassette (and digital) releases is pitched as ‘an unlikely subtropical Harold Budd homage – with a lo-fi suburban edge and noise outro’, the elongated organ drone of ‘Drowned World’ evokes the dystopian bleakness of a Ballard novel, the trilling clarinets adding depths and dimensions of dissonance and alienation. The attention to gradual evolution of textures and shifting tonalities is subtle, but the currents nevertheless run deep beneath the soft, iridescent surfaces.

The stammering fades toward the end of ‘Arc the Solar causeways’ are unexpected, breaking the gentle flow, but as promised, Craig retains the biggest contrast for the final track, as a multitude of howling notes swell together in a void. It’s a graceful, dreamy and ultimately mellow work, imaginatively brought to an uncomfortable and incongruous climax.

 

Leighton Craig - Green Coronet

ROOM40 – RM475

Christopher Nosnibor

If the album’s cumbersome title sounds like a collection of abstractions thrown together by the same random title generator that The Fall use, then the enormously protracted song titles take the form of semi-abstract narratives which evoke mysterious, shadowy scenes.

Many of the tracks are shorter than their titles, and while the soundworks consist largely of rumbles, scrapes, thuds and electrostatic crackles which are essentially abstract, they do develop some kind of implicit meaning when played in context of the titles. The extent to which this is intentional is unclear: Toop explains the album’s development as being born out of ‘three periods of solitude’ and a conversation with composer and ROOM40 label owner Lawrence English which spurred him to reassess his perspective on releasing music in the 21st century.

Gathering sounds drawn from myriad and disparate sources which lay as ‘spores or maybe dormant clusters of digital files’, Toop has created a work which captures and conveys a sense of the ephemerality of all things. Sights, sounds, experiences, spaces, are each experienced by an individual in but a momentary way. Collectively, all the fragments of experience, however minor and seemingly insignificant, form the life lived; in short, life is one vast intertext, and it’s from this array of ‘things’ Entities Inertias Faint Beings is formed. And so one is pushed to contemplate not simply the sounds or words themselves, but their relationships to those in which they coexist, and to consider their contexts.

‘Dry keys echo in the dark and humid early hours’ is in fact a phrase lifted from Clarice Lispector’s Aqua Viva, and Toop references various other texts (Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects and Stephen Mansfield’s book on Japanese stone gardens). Toop also makes mention of a ‘hypnagogic image of ‘a transparent swimming pool suspended over the mouth of a volcano.’

As such, Entities represents a gathering of sources, a cut-up collage of sorts, gathering sound, image, memory, thoughts and ideas together in a melange of drones, thuds, whistles, hums and a miscellany of abstract sounds. There are moments of melody and rhythm, some of which are charming and delicate, but thy fade out and vanish as quickly as they emerge. When a scratchy picked guitar and conventional instrumentation emerges on ‘Compelled to approach’, it sounds almost alien in context. The mournful strings on ‘Ancestral beings, sightless by their own dust’ are draped over soft chimes and the sampled speech on ‘Human skin and stone steps’, overlaid with a solitary woodwind and low gong, takes on a hypnotic tone.

The album ultimately tapers to silence, leaving the listener to ponder and reflect.

 

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