Questions For Lawrence English

lawrence english interview
Lawrence English is one of my all time favorite droners, with Kiri No Oto ranking among my favorite records. This year he put out what might be his darkest work yet, Wilderness Of Mirrors on his own Room40 label, and it’s easily a highlight of the genre this year. I’m quite honored to have Lawrence participate in my Q&A series. While most of the questions don’t focus on music or music-making, I think his responses offer a deep look into the ideas and themes behind his work.

What is the best way to die?
With dignity.

How do you think you’ll die?
Wondering if perception, in a sensory way, stops before your brain does. What I want to know is, can silence be realised? I mean real silence, where your ears and body stop their incessant collection of sound. Is there a moment or moments, where your senses are gone or diminished, but your brain remains active? In those moments can we appreciate the experience of no sensory input from sound for example? Is there a final second where we retreat into our mind, into a kind of mute consciousness as a kind of last refuge as the body gives way. That is how I at least hope to die, curious…

What makes you happy?
I talk about this a lot with people. In some respects I think this is a choice, in that we must choose to position ourselves in a way where certain things can make it onto the spectrum of ‘happy’. And this isn’t as easy as it might first appear, not if you want to really experience resounding happiness, and not just a fleeting glimpse.

Some people might find some activities mundane and therefore displeasurable and perhaps this results in them being unhappy. I prefer to drill into these often presumptuous acts. I am amazed by what can make me happy, or for that matter, unhappy. I think happiness becomes much more complex when you start thinking about what happens around us. What does happiness mean for us when we can look around and bare witness to all this suffering, but remain physically, socially and geographically removed from it? Is happiness meaningful beyond the self? I guess that’s the trick, coming to understand that happiness is perhaps best realised by how it radiates out, rather than in…

How can you die happy?
By living in a way that adds value, rather than depletes it. It’s easy to be a resources thief! A vacuum of time, oxygen, energy, everything. Christ knows we all witness enough of that and it’s tedious to say the very least! There’s a whole lot of ‘me, me, me’ that’s possible in life and it’s easy to succumb to it. The age of distraction loves to offer us the chalice of self aggrandizing hollowness. Death to this! The challenge is to refocus your gaze and recognize that the easiness of self and self gratification is perhaps best described as a trap. Ultimately self is singular and frankly, dull. That’s not to deny the importance of self reflection, just to say you must be more than self serving if you want to die happy, at least I feel that way.

How close have you come to death?
Death is a funny old thing. It’s the great certainty, and at the same moment, the great uncertainty. It’s coming, but when? My wife died once when she was a teenager, but she was revived by her teacher. As for me, I was hit by a car in school….I was lucky really. It just slammed into me in a way where I collected myself on the bonnet [hood of a car], but was ok. I got up and just kept running across the road.

I think probably closer to death was being hit by lightning. That was a proper, everything being zapped out of your body experience. Like somehow every possible last breath was erased out of me instantly. I had a burn mark where it entered my body and where it exited. What I didn’t know at the time was that the strike could stop my heart up to three days later. I should have gone to hospital, but didn’t. All for a recording of rain on a metal roof.

What does kindness mean to you?
Realising you need to check your privilege and recognize how lucky you are. By for the grace of god and all that…if you do happen upon this realisation then hopefully it means you can be bothered to give others less fortunate than you some consideration. Meritocracy is cancer. We got lucky, some other people didn’t…be thankful and act accordingly.

Where do you find love?
In the whispered breathing of my family during the stillness of the late night. I am a blessed human.

When were you most afraid?
There are two memories I can think of pretty readily when it comes to fear. One of them is from my childhood, a kind of fear that doesn’t really persist, at least I find, into adulthood. It’s a kind of pure fear, illogical and internal, something coming from inside the mind.

When I was sick, with a fever or something like that, my mother would let me sleep in her room. It was in the middle of the house with very little light coming into it. In that room, on top of a chest of draws was a collection of porcelain dolls from the Victorian era. There were probably about 20 of them, on stands in a couple of glass boxes that were about the size of a large fish tank. I vividly remember how if I started to stare at them, gradually their mouths would start moving and I could hear a murmuring sound, as though they were chattering from within the glass tanks. The sound was tiny, like miniature voice boxes muttering in a language you couldn’t understand, but sounded very human. Still to this day I illogically believe this experience holds some sense of reality to it. It was pure projection of course, but through that projection came a sense of perception and therein lies the human condition.

The other event was about five years ago in a park in Glasgow. It was after midnight and I was walking with my wife. The path curved around a hill about 20 metres from us and it was very dark. Around the corner came two huge dogs, there was no one in sight and they were charging toward us. It was as if they were going to literally leap on top of me. A very primitive thing kicked in. A primal fear and I took a position I have not done before or since, a kind of defensive stance that was just utter instinct. They ran right by us, brushing our legs and as they did that I let out this primal yell – at the same moment the owner strolled around the corner…he walked past looking at us like we were fools. The dark, big dogs and an unfamiliar city are a bad combination.

How do you listen to music?
I am constantly chasing music. I am constantly chasing all sound. It’s beautiful to realise that as soon as I have it, as soon as I perceive that sound, that music, it’s gone. What I am connecting with is memory. A personal filtering, a kind of interior psychological rendering of sensory perception. Music is in a state of constant extinction. But it also contains the promise of resurrection, in memory…albeit a resurrection that barely resembles the complexity of what you actually perceived in the first place. Apparently reductive memory is enough to satiate most of us.

Album Review

Lawrence English – Wilderness Of Mirrors (Room40, 2014)

lawrence english - wilderness of mirrors album cover
Lawrence EnglishThe Liquid Casket (Room40)

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Lawrence English is one of the artists that continuously/impossibly tops himself with each new release and Wilderness Of Mirrors is just fucking jaw dropping. Way more dynamic and aggressive that his recent efforts, this is the drone that smothers all competitors, it’s dark and audacious, intense sounds coming from midnight forest jaunts, swirling static that cuts deep alongside delicate chimes and melodious humming, balancing perfectly the reassuring soft tenderness & sky high soaring bliss with nightmarish gravitas & densely melancholic cacophony, English unleashes a visceral chaos peppered with the sweetest fucking drone, delicate minimalism, and moments of sheer triumph, all mixed together this is full blown euphoria that is unrivaled, dude is at the top of his game on this record and his game can’t be fucked with. This is all time Top Ten stuff. Immerse yourself.

Top 20 Drone Records Of 2013

TWENTY!! Goddamn right. The Top Drone list could no longer be contained by the traditional 10. I’m not doing 20 because there was just too much awesome drone this year. While that’s true, it’s also true every year. No, I’m doing it because there were so few standout albums. Everything was so fucking awesome it’s like everyone juiced their skills but were all stopped by a glass ceiling or something. I mean my Top 5 are almost interchangeable. Well, not really, but sort of.

So, as usual, this list is about my personal favorite droners. Nothing objective going on. And, like AGB in general, I tend to favor the under-represented. And I don’t usually allow reissues, but I had to bend the rules a bit for no other reason than that one reissue is so, so fucking good and I didn’t know it was a reissue until I started making this list.

And you know I only write about the highest quality shit. So anything that was posted this year and tagged as Drone is basically just as good as everything you’ll see on this list. So browse that genre if you’re still jonesing for some more drone.

Onto the list!
Read the rest of this entry »

Album Review

Lawrence English – Lonely Women’s Club (Important, 2013)

lawrence english - lonely women's club album cover
Lawrence English – Lonely Women’s Club (Important)

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This is Lawrence English at his fucking finest, just him and his Elka 30 organ billowing out the most beautiful minimal drone, with a touch of post processing to blur the edges a bit, this becomes a fucking masterpiece of warmth, the very core of life, the bright glimmer that shines even on the darkest days, reality seen through rose tinted glass, a little woozy from the booze, solemn & content, perfect sounds floating and finding their way home in my heart, infinite bliss, the best sounds you’ll hear all year. Only 500 copies from the impeccable Important. Won’t last.

Top 10 Drone Records Of 2011

This year’s list was too damn hard. There was just so much awesomeness, it was almost impossible to keep it to 10. That’s just how lists are, I guess.

Since this is an AGB list and AGB = me, I allowed myself the freedom that an indie blogger should have. Namely, defining “drone” however I damn well please. However, I still had some criteria. If a record had some songs that were hardly drone at all, but still embodied the drone aesthetic as a whole, I kept it. There were plenty of records that I wanted to mold into the list but no matter which way I looked at it, they just couldn’t be considered “drone” (especially the new Ricardo Donoso and Colin Stetson albums).

If you’re new here, there are sound samples on all of the original reviews and I beseech you to listen to anything on this list you have yet to hear. I assure you it will be worth your time 100%. But…

On to the list! On to the heckling!

10. High Aura’dMooncusser (YDLMIER)
“Soaring Windy & Carl euphoria, brief Fahey picks, and a wall of absolute beauty.”

Boston’s killerest scene stomping dude on Boston’s raddest darned tape label.

9. Nicholas SzczepanikAnte Algo Azul (self released)
“There’s mournful Basinski textures, sci-fi tractor beams, static harmonies, Eliane Radigue homages, all wrapped in Szczepanik’s own meditative perspective.”

Technically 12 separate items but they’re all Ante Algo Azul. And the ID3 tags on the official downloads have each one as an individual track of the full 12 song “album.” So suck it. Plus, this shit is the greatest.

8. Mind Over MirrorsThe Voice Rolling (Digitalis)
“Stretched out gauze floating through pink/grey bliss, endless layers of reed textured harmonies, all of the fantastic things about harmoniums but given a new life through Fennelly.”

Harmoniums always do it for me and this is like the harmonium record to destroy all harmonium records.

7. MountainsAir Museum (Thrill Jockey)
“Mountains bounce back and forth between straight up drone and pulsing minimal space techno, keeping a nice balance, never cemented in their textured planar earthly past but not jumping ship for the OPN New Age.”

Always keepin me on my toes. Mountains took it to the next motherfuckin level on this one.

6. EmuulThe Drawing Of The line (Digitalis)
“Blurred & blown out drones that breathe heavy, swaying in the breeze, scorched at the edges.”

Sad n blissful. Zen x100.

5. RaleSome Kissed Charms That Would Not Protect Them (Isounderscore)
“…a heaving sweetheart, giving you massive swells of dense intimidation… conjuring images of watching a thunderstorm roll in on the beach… enjoying it without fear and wallowing in the glory of the lightening sky, the majesty of nature beautifully overwhelming.”

Rale fucking nailed it on this one. And no one knows about it! Only 300 copies made, came out in May, and it’s still available. What’s wrong with you people! This is truly original and has AMAZING packaging.

4. Lawrence EnglishThe Peregrine (Experimedia)
“Like the finest grade sandpaper, with a tooth so smooth, the grit almost disappears and you’re left with drone as glorious as humanly possible.”

Didn’t think Mr. English could make something more satisfying than Kiri No Oto but goddammit he sure did. Unreal.

3. Kyle Bobby DunnWays Of Meaning (Desire Path)
“This is the most delicate bliss I’ve ever experienced. 100% shining purity that doesn’t need to be cranked to 11 to get the job done. It swirls softly & effortlessly turns hearts into puddles of droney delight.”

First of all, KBD on vinyl? YES. Then, the best KBD record yet? Also, YES. It has one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard on it, too. It’s just math, you guys. Of course this is on the list.

2. Andrew Weathers EnsembleWe’re Not Cautious (Sleep On The Floor)
“It’s unbelievably warm, so rich & soft, tender & charming, absolutely beautiful in every way. It can be played at full volume and it won’t overpower, it’ll simply fill your home with the most delicately lush sounds you can imagine.”

Probably the least droney record on this list but it’s got enough to break into the official “Drone” category for me. Either way, this is literally one of the best records I’ve ever heard.

1. Nicholas SzczepanikPlease Stop Loving Me (Streamline)
“As wonderfully serene as it is, the whole time you’re wading waist deep in emotion, the sustained & intertwined tones heavy hearted, cascading heartache, longing, and hope. An elegiac softness matched with poignant massiveness that ends on the brightest, most uplifting note, fading into the horizon.”

This is the one. The best record of the year. Hands down. No contest. One of the best records of all time, in fact. I shit you not. As the kids say these days, unimpeachable. Or is it unfuckwithable? Lets just go with the universally understood: PERFECT.

Album Review

Lawrence English – The Peregrine (Experimedia, 2011)

Lawrence EnglishHeavy Breath Of Silence (Experimedia)

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As someone who counts Kiri No Oto as one of their favorite records of all time (btw humungo props to Digitalis for pressing that on vinyl earlier this year), it takes a lot for me to admit that I might already like The Peregrine more. Not sure yet. Needs some more time in the oven. It’s a step away from Kiri No Oto, something a bit brighter and with more cheer. Just a bit. Like a less dynamic Love Is A Stream. It’s filled with flourishing harmonies, soaring through gray glades, warm as golden hour in June. Like the finest grade cheap viagra cialis levitra sandpaper, with a tooth so smooth, the grit almost disappears and you’re left with drone as glorious as humanly possible. An impenetrably dense wall of a dull roar, working perfectly at low volumes, not insistent on being maxed out, but if it’s not resonating in your core, you’re doing it wrong. The most intensely pleasurable listening experience you should have all year.

A pertinent quote from Lawrence English about J.A. Baker’s book “The Peregrine,” of which this album is an homage to: “He expends as much attention on the shape of clouds or the murmur of a river as on the bird, which inspires him to write.”