The experience, whether spiritual or spatial when visiting a cathedral or similar buildings is often cemented with the unbelievable depth of sound that emanates from the pipe organ. It’s easy to equate the sound as the perfect sonic partnership with the architecture of the space. Whatever your leanings may be, it’s obviously an attempt to link the scale and power of some deity and how that scale relates to us ant like humans. Even without any of that, it’s a H-U-G-E sound.
Another aspect that’s always apparent in the scale and quality of this sound is how drone-like the forms are. This new album by Australian based Lawrence English is a fascinating and focussed meditation in the form of two brain expanding homages. English uses a 19th century organ built in Melbourne and housed in a museum in his home town of Brisbane. This particular instrument allows very slow shifts in tonality which both pieces exploit in different ways.
Saccade (for Elaine Radigue) obviously hovers around the monumental droning joys of the French and still active octogenarians’ huge discography. Radigue’s work, particularly mind popping behemoths like Adnos l-lll and Trilogie de la Mort deal in huge forms that toy with the illusion of static and movement. Sound presented as layers of strata, immovable elements, lava, tectonic plates or as the artist herself describes – the flesh of sound.
The piece itself is named saccade which is the rapid movement of human eyes between two points of fixation. It’s clear that as an aural experience, our brains get that odd sense of existing in two overlapping realms – static infinite forms and at the same time a sense of development, expansion and momentum. Its perfectly measured 20-minute life span feels like the most condensed footprint required to convey this shapeshifting illusion.
The second piece Lassitude is also a homage to another hero, also gladly still with us – the wonderful Phill Niblock. His overall approach, whilst perhaps sharing a similar surface, deals with multiple tracks of similar material teasing out overtones and psychoacoustic effects. He also consistently asks that his music is played loud to highlight the physicality of the sound.
English explains this work, despite his extensive discography is:
“the first piece of music I have ever published that is a performance of one take, on one instrument; no edits, no processing, just a very sore mid-thoracic and pair of thighs after holding the bass pedals and manipulating the stops ever so delicately.”
The results are a thick drone that feels almost perforated. Taking the live element into account, you can almost feel English fighting to keep the huge sound as unwavering as possible but microscopic ebbing and flowing almost permeate the core of the sound like his breathing or heartbeat. Over the 20-minute arc, the sound grows imperceptibly deeper before eventually giving way to silence. As the sound ebbs, illusionary bleeping shadows appear out the saturated vapour.
Ultimately the conciseness of this album does an amazing job as a primer to lovingly frame both artists. It’s heart-warming in these currently challenging times to be able to celebrate two absolutely legendary innovators, as an active process, with them.
Deep but joyous stuff.
Lassitude is out now on Room40