: lawrence english

Cajid Media, 2004, CD003

Cajid Media's 2 most recent releases could not be more dissimilar. Bruce Mowson's Static Tones constitutes a dry and unrelenting exploration of the aural perceptual effects created by throbbing, pulsing blocks of rather difficult sound. Lawrence English's Transit however is a seductive, beautiful suite which melds field recordings with airy, epic organ effects, gentle musique concrete atmospheres, and dramatic, punctilious aural flourishes.

English's 7 track set was inspired by the concept of travel and aural specificity, its sources moving from Thailand to Tasmania, the urban fringes of Japan, Northern England and Vietnam. While these samples broadly evoke the concept of place, English lifts these discrete elements out of their original context and mixes them so that no specific sites or aural landscapes are directly evoked. The effect suggests a sense of gradual change or horizontal movement from one environment to another (mostly from track to track), coupled with a strong impression of how these once site-specific sonic motifs have become deeply embedded within the warp and weft of these new, abstract aural realms. The sounds have therefore changed from being field recordings–recorded “in the field”, constituting a form of sonic anthropology or record–to become strongly implicated within and affiliated to a broad, gently cycling and moving field of sound, a cloud-like blanket or nexus of mobile elements within which they sit.

The manipulation of the depth of field makes up one of the primary organizing principles of English's composition. Smaller sounds with a sharper attack and decay, such as plucked strings, tapped tubes, lightly-scraped phonograph needles, distorted vocals, ceramic clicks, bird or insect sounds, short sine wave and beeps, and other fragments, occupy the sonic foreground, while indeterminate rumbles or harmonious tones fill the background, providing a deep yet fluctuating bed into which these lighter elements are placed. If there is a weakness across the pieces overall it is in the use of choral-like organ chords or hummed vocals to convey a sense of the epic, the beautiful and/or the mysterious which at times approaches dated, New Age cliches from Brian Eno or Vangelis. English's wavering sonic fields are however too richly complicated to permit his work to actually conform with such worn motifs. It is indeed partly by skirting such familiar references that English makes his evocative materials so easy and pleasurable to listen to. For those looking for contemporary sound art which largely avoids the impenetrable aural harshness or difficulty of much otherwise fine new work, English's gorgeous, evocative collection should not be missed.

Jonathan Marshall

1 December 2005