Lawrence English

Lawrence English

interview by Matteo Meda

Well, I want to start by asking you something about one of my favourite ambient albums of the last decade: it's, of course, “Wilderness Of Mirrors”... So, what was the path that brought to it?
Honestly, the record was born our of a tireless rage I had burning away inside me, emanating from a range of political incursions we have experienced here in Australia, but also are present elsewhere in the world. Over the past few years, in my country, we've been faced with some fairly dire attacks on the conditions that make the country a liveable one and in my opinion something worth striving for. Issues surrounding our human rights with respect of refugees and our environmental policies leave a great deal to be desired. The frustrations I felt with these issues, and a range of others, is at the core of "Wilderness Of Mirrors".

So, can we talk about a "politician album"? What does the title mean? What's the concept behind these words and the music?
The title ties into two historical reference points. The phrase traces its root from a T.S. Eliot poem, Gerontion, which is an wonderfully dense and considered word play. The second is its use during the cold war, where the CIA and KGB would create 'misinformation', which would result in these feedback cycles forged by nothing. I found this a very powerful metaphor for how music might be created and it was this that I tried to apply to a great deal of the record. The pieces were built in a process of iteration, whereby one part would be recorded, then a second responding to the first and then a thirds, but with each added layer, a layer could be removed or altered. The result was quite curious, what might start as a melody or rhythmic element would be lost through the iteration process and form a kind of harmonic spectre.

Where did you record and conceived the album?
The album was actually a very slow burn. It took a great deal of time to reach a point where I felt it had reached a point of completion. During that time I was giving some very serious thought to what this work was about. I think it's very very easy to make work these days, and with that ease comes a responsibility, well at least I think so, that when you publish something it has the ability to truly affect the listener. I'm a big believer in the idea not everything needs to be public. The private, personal space is still a very powerful one, but I sense it's a space which is not interrogated like it once was. So, those questions also played a role in shaping the record, and indeed the 'live' version of the recorded works are markedly different in their affect.

And what instrumentation do you use to record it?
It was actually a largely acoustic palette, albeit one that was heavily transformed and treated. That first tone for example, is actually a piano being played by an ebow. The recording was done at very close range and also with a rather hot input, so there was some inbuilt saturation there. A good deal of the acoustic recordings used this approach. It was a way of heavily colouring the sound from the very first instance, so there was no way back. It was a way to create something that started rich and just got more harmonically distorted as it went on.

It is, in my opinion, quite a turning point for your soundworld... In particular, you seem to have concentrated in creating a deeper atmosphere. Do you agree?
I think for me, and this is of course entirely subjective, I feel this record resolves a good deal of the questions I have broached with albums like "Kiri No Oto" and "The Peregrine". Both of those records share the same aesthetic interests, verses something like "A Colour For Autumn", which is more tonal and flowing. I think what makes "Wilderness Of Mirrors" different to any other record is the impact of live performance on the work - through my experiences as a performer, but also as an audience member. The sheer physicalness of the saturation on this record very much draws root from the performance and the embodied nature of sound pressure in the air.

I experienced it as if it was a sort of journey into an “holy” soundscape, a different kind of “emotional, interior darkness”. How have you developed this soundscape?
I'm very pleased to read that. I think, with all music, there's a kind of personal, interiority that makes it powerful. It embeds itself within us. When you hear a sound, the moment it's perceived it's extinct, it's gone and can't be revived under the exact same conditions. So what you have, in the absence of that sound, is a memory of it, an internalised rendering of all that complexity and variation. I think that's a very special relationship our aural senses allow us.

Moreover, I noted some common elements with Tim Hecker's “Virgins” and Ben Frost's “A U R O R A”: it's say that, quite like them, you tried to work on impressions as well, but really developing each detail and reaching an incredible balance between form and substance... What do you think about this?
I think what connects Ben, Tim and I is an interest in the physical potentials of sound and the point at which saturation is reached and exceeded. For Ben, with "A U R O R A", that's a saturation of low frequency and rhythm. With Tim, it's about a collision of the melodic and the harmonic. I had the pleasure to be part of both of those recordings in various ways, for Ben as a kind of agitation agent and a post production provocateur, for Tim it was as a sequence editor. I have the utmost respect for both of those gentlemen, I feel they are both creating some utterly breath taking work!

What does “Wilderness Of Mirrors” represent in your artistic path? How do you put it in relationship with your others project and efforts?
For me it represents both a conclusion of some questions around aesthetics and also a beginning of a new approach to the work. One that is differently embedded in a kind of socio/cultural/political sensibility. The second wave feminists were right, the personal is political.

Let's pass now to another, completely different project from you: the collaboration with Werner Dafeldecker... Where, when and how did you decide to start working together?
Werner and I were lucky enough to be invited by the Argentine Antarctic Division to visit two of their bases in the summer of 2010. The curator there, Andrea, was incredibly accommodating of our needs and provided an wonderful situation where we could gather sound and video materials. We were down there for more than a month and the results from that field work are still surfacing. Obviously there's the duet record, but I also have a solo, "Viento", coming early next year on Taiga, which is wind recordings from Patagonia and Antarctica. I'm excited that will finally surface, they are some of my favourite recordings I've ever made, they sound terrifyingly cyclonic!

How did the album take shape?
The recordings made on the continent were very fundamental to the way the project took shape. We wanted to reflect on and expand the kind of sonic experiences we shared there. The very quiet to the geologically loud, down there the land and sea spoke and we wanted to trace a line between those experiences. Some of the final pieces are literally straight untreated field recordings, the very nature of the sounds in Antarctica can be remarkably alien. It was an very profound experience to visit there.

How did you divide the work between you? How much of Lawrence English and how much of
Werner Dafeldecker can we find in the album?
One of the great things about collaborating with someone like Werner is his openness to process. I think we were both primarily focused on making a powerful and considered record. That became the single focus, the the work flow was incredibly organic. On the record are both materials recorded by each of us and processed by each of us. It was a very natural exchange and I put a lot of that down to the generosity and openness of Werner. He is a genius!

How much have your previous researches guided you elaborating it?
Speaking personally, I think the recordings I made on this field trip was the culmination of a good deal of work in other locations like the Amazon or the outback. I was able to put into play a range of techniques and approaches I'd developed over the preceding 10 years. I learned a great deal on that field trip, it was quite something.

Have you worked on “Shadow Of The Monolith” in the same time you were realizing “Wilderness Of Mirrors”?

Actually, much of that record was completed in 2010 and 2011. We had it sitting completed for a while, looking for the best situation for the album. I met Michalis from Holotype last year in Greece and he expressed interest, so it was a very natural and easy fit for us to make the edition with him.

You use to work and publish with a lot of labels... What is, in your experience, the best label you've worked with? And instead what about your experience as a label owner with the wonderful Room40?
I have to say I've had the great fortune to release projects with a wonderful array of labels. I think each and every one of them have been generous and supportive towards the editions. I am yet to have a bad experience. That said, alot of how I operate is in a realm where the interpersonal is as important (or more important) than the business. The work I am interested in is not the kind of work that drifts into the commercial, and that means we can focus on the power of the work and place emphasis on creating the best possible situation for the work to be released. That has driven a good deal of my work with Room40. I believe so very strongly in all the artists that we work with and what I am interested in is creating the best possible home for their wonderful work.

Here in Italy we have some great artists that are working on the fields of ambient, drone and electro-acoustic – the ones you've ride mainly... What's your favourite artists in today's scene, or the ones you usually like to listen to?
That's a tough one (laughs). I've popped my top 15 for the year here. Maybe that's a better answer for right now?

1. Scott Walker + SunnO))) - Soused
2. Ben Frost - A U R O R A
3. Grouper - Ruins
4. Xiu Xiu - Angel Guts
5. Blank Realm - Grassed Inn
6. Alessandro Cortini - Sonno
7. Deru - 1979
8. Tujiko Noriko - My Ghost Comes Back
9. Earth - Primitive And Deadly
10. Andy Stott - Faith In Strangers
11. SWANS - To Be Kind
12. Loscil - Sea Island
13. The Bug - Angels and Devils
14. Einstürzende Neubauten - Lament
15. Black Rain - Dark Pool

I really see “Wilderness Of Mirrors” as the perfect album to be played in a church – maybe I explained better here what I meant when I talked about “holy” before... Do you agree? What kind of locations you prefer to play in?
I would welcome the acoustics of any cathedral or church. I think decay is a very important part of the work. The architecture of performance is a vital consideration. The early choral composers knew this and we need to keep it front and centre in our minds today also.

What about your current live activity?
Right now I am on route to Portugal for some concerts there and then to Iceland to work on a project with Ben Frost. In january I am back for a series of concerts celebrating Room40's 15th anniversary. I'm very much looking forward to the chance to perform "Wilderness Of Mirrors". The dates are:
22/1 Prague, Spectaculare Festival (with John Chantler and Heinz Riegler)
23/1 London, Cafe OTO
28/1 Berlin, CTM
29/1 Copenhagen, Jazzhouse
31/1 Basel, HEK* (with John Chantler and Rafael Anton Irisarri)

What other projects are you going to work on during the next months?
I've just got an invitation to a substantial art exhibition in my home town. That project is going to be a focus for much of the year. Also I've been working with Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu on a new project we've called HEXA. The first performance for that is in April, and I'd say there'll be an album from that before the year is out. Of course, I am in the very early stages of working on the next solo record. It'll be a way off yet, but the early stages are always fun.

Discography
 

DOGMACHINE
(Aaron Cheak, DonnaMatrix, James Clark, Kraig Wilson, Lawrence English, Mark Fink, Stephen Birt)

  
 

Headwound (EP, Oracle, 1995)

  
 

LAWRENCE ENGLISH

  
 CD & LP
  
 Transit (Cajid Media, 2005)
 Happiness Will Befall (Crónica, 2005)
For Varying Degrees Of Winter (Baskaru, 2007)
Kiri No Oto (Touch, 2008)
 Studies For Stradbroke (Winds Measure, 2008)
A Colour For Autumn (12k, 2009)
 It's Up To Us To Live (ltd, Sirr, 2009)
The Peregrine (LP, Experimedia, 2011)
 And The Lived In + Songs Of The Living (Room40, 2012)
 For/Not For John Cage (Line, 2012)
 Lonely Women's Club (Important, 2013)
Wilderness Of Mirrors (Room40, 2014)
 Viento (LP, Taiga, 2015)
 Approaching Nothing (Baskaru, 2016)
Cruel Optimism (Room40, 2017)
  
 

EP, 12", 7", MiniCD, CD-R, Cassette

  
 map51f9 (MiniCD, Room40, 2002)
 Ghost Town (MiniCD, Room40, 2004)
Liminology (CD-R, Autumn, 2005)
 Sukinkutsu (CD-R, Autumn, 2006)
 For Footprints In The Snow (MP3, Grain Of Sounds' "Sonic Scope Quaterly" series, 2006)
 Japan Tour Cassette (Cassette, Room40, 2009)
 Site-Listening: Birsbane (MiniCD, Room40, 2010)
 Incongrous Harmonies (7", Touch, 2010)
 Live At Cafe OTO (MP3, Free Music Archive, 2011)
Sukinkutsu No Katawara Ni (CD-R, Wind Measure, 2013)
Parting Waves (EP, MP3, Room40, 2014)
  
  
 LAWRENCE ENGLISH & STEPHEN VITIELLO
  
 Acute Inbetweens (Crónica, 2011)
 Fable (Dragon's Eye, 2014)
  
  
 ALTRE COLLABORAZIONI (LAWRENCE ENGLISH)
  
 CD & LP
 Plateau (with Ai Yamamoto, Phono-Statique, 2007)
 Merola Shoulders (with Domenico Sciajno, Phono-Statique, 2007)
 Euphonia (with Tom Hall, Presto!?, 2008)
U (with Tujiko Noriko & John Chantler, Room40, 2008)
 HB (with Francisco López, Baskaru, 2009)
 Big Sit (ltd, split with Guy Webster & Tom Hall, !Metro Arts, 2009)
 A Path Less Travelled (with Minamo, Room40, 2010)
Split (split with Alberto Boccardi, Fratto9 Under The Sky, 2012)
Slow Walkers (with Liz Harris/Grouper as Slow Walkers, Peak Oil, 2013)
 Shadow Of The Monolith (with Werner Dafeldecker, Holotype, 2014)
  
 EP, 12", 7", MiniCD, CD-R, Cassette
 Omsess (ltd, MiniCD-R, with Jason Elliott & John Parker as Ubique Trio, Room40, 2003)
 Anyone Can Play.... Anyone Can Sing.... (EP, MP3, with Ben Frost, Dreamland, 2004)
 LERFAUSNZNWSD12006 / LERFAUSNZNWSD22006 (ltd, 7", split with Richard Francis, Autoprodotto, 2006)
 One Plus One (MiniCD, with Philip Samartzis, Room40, 2006)
 Gradually You Feel The Tide At Your Neck / 9 (ltd, MiniCD-R, split with Jeph Jerman, Compost And Height, 2008)
 Less Artists More Condos #8 (ltd, 7", split with Xiu Xiu, Famous Class' "Less Artists More Condos" series, 2013)
  
  
 I/O
  
 Illectronica EP (ltd, EP, Inventing Zero, 2001)
Calm (Room40, 2002)
A Picturesque View, Ignored (L. English, H. Riegler, T. Patton as I/O3, with Toop & Scanner, Room40, 2002)
  
  
 OBJECT
  
 Pandemic (Quatermass, 2003)
Asobi (Sensory Projects, 2006)
  
  
 HOLY FAMILY
(Lawrence English & John Chantler)
  
 Anoint (ltd, cass, Digitalis, 2010)
 A Rising Tide Of Halos (ltd, cass, Sanity Muffin, 2012)
  
  
 HEXA
(Lawrence English & Jamie Stewart)
  
 Factory Photographs (Room40, 2016)
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