Over the past decade, composer, media artist, and curator Lawrence English has been one of the leading international voices in field recording and ambient music. Based in Brisbane, Australia, he has worked extensively across the world, from Antarctica to the Outback and the Amazon to Japan. Through his utterly personal approach to drone and avant-garde music, English's work prompts questions of field and memory and asks audiences to become aware of that which exists at the edge of perception.
We spoke with Lawrence English ahead of his show with Modify and IE at The Cedar on June 2 about pursuing deeper states of auditory perception, building an artistic community, and capturing the world's unrelenting chaos. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.
You describe yourself as a “professional listener.” Can you describe how your work reflects this?
I realise this makes me sound like a second rate therapist, but most of my life is in fact spent in pursuit of deeper and deeper states of audition. Whether that be my studio work - making music or mastering, or my life as a field recordist, listening and listening deeply is at the core of what I do. Even with live performance, I am concerned with this notion, especially with the ideas of how the body can be made to become an ear…through vibration.
Can you describe the sounds and emotions that inspired your latest album, Cruel Optimism?
Cruel Optimism borrows it’s title from Lauren Berlant’s excellent text. I recommend it to anyone who is wanting to understand more about how we have arrived at the current predicaments we find ourselves in. The book really helped me unpack a great deal around issues of political and social friction right now. The album was in some ways a sonifcation of these issues and Ms. Berlant’s text offered a wonderful theoretical basis from which to attack the sound materials.
Lauren Berlant's Cruel Optimism
You founded the label Room40. How has working and collaborating with other artists affected your music?
Collaboration is one of the true joys in music. For me, music and the label more generally is about community. It is about supporting one another and making the possibilities for creation possible. I am fortunate to have the chance to work with so many amazing folks and I am grateful for the privilege of this.
English's record label, Room40
You create field recordings all over the world that you incorporate into your pieces. When you go on these trips, do you have specific sounds or frequencies in mind that you’re hoping to capture?
The world is a beautiful flow of constant and unrelenting chaos. When I make a field recording, I am tapping into those moments as they unfold, I never know what I will capture, but this is the joy of it all. To be open, to be agentive and attendant to the world around you is something we can all do with more of.
What are the similarities between working with field recordings and working with instruments in your music?
Both require practice. Listening is not a given, it is not a right. It is earned.
What role does the performance space have in affecting the music or your performance?
It plays a huge role, as does the PA. The music can only be realised to its full potential through a certain level of sound pressure and a certain quality of reproduction. For people working with electronic music, the PA is our instrument. The room our nexus of engagement between ourselves and the audience.
How much of a role does improvisation play in your live shows?
That varies. Right now, it’s mixed….I am always open to change though….so who knows.
What’s inspiring you lately?
I’ve been reading some of Joanna Demers books recently. I also rewatched a bunch of Adam Curtis’s films…I have a great deal of time for him too!
Musicologist, professor, and author Joanna Demers