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CD Feature/ Lawrence English: "Kiri No Oto"

img  Tobias
There are several good reasons why “Kiri No Oto” should be perceived and appreciated as programmatic music. With a cover image depicting a solitary catboat steering towards the promising horizon of the ocean’s infinite greyness, track titles like “Organs Lost At Sea”, “White Spray”, “Waves Sheer Light” and “Oamura” (a lovely coastal town on New Zealand’s South Island) as well as a closing sequence of a passionate tide coming in on the listener, it is more than apparent that Lawrence English has set his sails for the sea.

This is not exactly a revelation: English’s personal biography has previously revealed a deep personal affinity for the mysterious pull of vast water-planes. As the inhabitant of an island in general and a former resident of Wellington in particular, the ocean was never far off and the secrets of its enigmatic pull undeniably forced itself upon him more insistently than any old longshore lubber could ever understand. As head of the Room40 imprint, he also authored a solemn and heartfelt press release to Chris Abrahams’ and Mike Cooper’s hauntingly ephemeral “Oceanic Feeling”, which spoke about “island-like compositions”, a “divergent sound archipelago” and “a picturesque horizon of melodic ocean swell” – in his heart of hearts, this man is a nautical romantic.

It is all the more remarkable, then, that neither “Oceanic Feeling” nor “Kiri No Oto” have succumbed to the temptation of depicting their subject matter in the all too familarly soft light of sweetly scented cliches: The anthemic rusty foghorn drones that crush through the floodgates of the album’s opening seconds are testimony to the sea’s brutal primeval powers and in its uncomfortable finale, humming bass clusters are rubbing against each other in a violent display of uncompromising undertones. The Pacific (nor the Tasman, nor any other sea for that matter) is no dreamy, constant, evenly liquid surface – it is a ceaslessly morphing scape, capable both of lulling you to sleep with silent whispers and of roaring like a mad and infuriated beast.

English is particularly interested in the characteristics of mist and spray and the challenging situations they force upon the human physique and mind: What happens, when our perceptional horizon shrinks to a radius of a few metres? How do we cope with the growing share of unpredictability, uncertainty and fuzziness that permeates our world? And, most importantly: In an environment which defies clear-cut centres, can we still see ourselves as individuals and rely on the consolation of the Descartian “Cogito Ergo Sum”? These – at least metaphorically and without the slightest whiff of philosophical pretence – are the kind of questions that he sets out dealing with.

Entire labels have built their catalogue on these reflections and just as much as clarity is a Leitmotif of the drone genre, so is opaqueness. The mere fact alone that these tracks are built from various, intertwined harmonic layers, whose positional shifts against each other create flurry fields of oscillation rather than monotonous tonal stability is therefore hardly worth mentioning. Nor, necessarily, is the concept of using quiet feedback and silenced distortion, usually the products of extreme levels of volume, as a timbral tool.

What is, however, is the ambition of taking this concept to the length of an entire album while simultaneously forcing himself to get to the point quickly. Every single piece on “Kiri No Oto” could easily have been rolled out into a blissfull ambient epic. Instead, English ends the budding ethereal vision of “Soft Fuse” after a mere six minutes, takes the delirious cavernous reverberations of “Commentary” to an early (but not premature) resolution and floods the droning two-tone pattern of “Oamura” with gushing field recordings at the three and a half minute mark.

It is therefore individual compositions themselves which are starting to move against each other, not just their constituent musical building blocks. It is here, too, that the record attains a layer of meaning that goes far beyond its initial concept. English doesn’t seemlessly segue his pieces, but allows them to breathe into each other, with the first note of a new track picking up the pieces where its predecessor has left them. Contrasts between movements are therefore high by default already and yet he amplifies the effect even more by placing rough works next to smooth ones and juxtaposing serene and silent emanations with forceful sonic gail-storms. The approach forces listeners to avoid settling in too much, to stay alert and watch their back.

Instead of a peaceful flow, someting completely different emerges from this rhythm of contrasts: Absolute stillness. In a world where there don’t seem be any centres and certainties, the only safety lies in concentrating on ourselves and our sensory perception of what surrounds us. If you follow English down all the way into the hypnotic ramifications of his idea, all elements will suddenly start to make sense on a purely intuitive level. There is no such thing as chaos, English appears to suggest, if you choose the right angle. It is a deeply satisfying and consoling thought and you don’t even need to listen to “Kiri No Oto” as programmatic music to arrive at this conclusion.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lawrence English
Homepage: Touch

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