Lawrence English: Observation of the Breathing Album Review


The world calmed down during the lockdown. Lawrence English, on the other hand, took the opportunity to make himself heard. When not busy running his Room40 label, a gathering place for experimental musicians like David Toop, Merzbow, and Beatriz Ferreyra, or editing archival field recordings from the Amazon rainforest, the Englishman has spent many hours sitting in front of a 132 year old pipe. organ in his hometown of Brisbane, Australia, blowing air into it until the walls shake.

It was not his first time at the organ. English had previously incorporated recordings of the same instrument in his 2014 album The desert of mirrors and 2017 Cruel optimism, digitally sandblasting its source material into blackened fluff similar to the work of Ben Frost and Tim Hecker. But for the 2020s Weariness, he took a different path. Rather than covering his sounds with layers of distortion, he simply let the tones be, filling the empty concert hall with chords held so long they came to sound more like weather systems than compositions. Instead of musical motifs or events – melodic figures, rhythmic patterns, even something as simple as an audible step between notes –WearinessThe two 20-minute pieces are simply suspended in the air, sullen like the silence between two people who no longer speak to each other.

Recorded during the same sessions, Breath observation shifts the emphasis from minimalism to maximalism, turning up the volume and reveling in the rumble. There is still not much going on in these rooms. “And a Twist”, by far the shortest track at less than three minutes, is the only one that contains something that looks like a melody: with furrowed brows. On the remaining three tracks, English applies varying pressures, leaning over his mass tones as if slowly squeezing the crank on an iron vise. All three are similar in shape to Wearinessis spectral drones, but they differ in strength.

“A Torso” could be Sunn O))) unplugged: Anchored by a glowing pedal sound for the duration of its 10-minute span, it’s a charcoal fog bass. But as you become accustomed to the darkness, you begin to perceive a world of detail. The bass sound pulses slowly, like the breathing of a resting beast. At the high end, a soft hissing stings the air and is gradually joined by quietly screaming parents, a confederation of tea kettles. The buzzing hairs resemble those of the porcupine; as a layer of tones, they create secondary impulses, a moiré overlay of quivering air. It is an extremely physical sound, which orients you in the peculiarities of the space in which you are listening. Move your head and the room turns.

“A Binding”, lasting six minutes, is simpler: a single consonant chord that seems to shine from within, like light through a forest; ghostly tones gently spring from nowhere before disappearing into the darkness. It’s soft, soothing. The “Observation of Breath” fence, on the other hand, revisits the dark ambiance of Weariness. Twenty-one minutes long, it is the most patient song on the album; outwardly, it looks like a single held note. It begins muted, like a tone wrapped in cotton wool. But, as with “A Torso”, it comes to life over time, thickening almost inaudibly. Points of light pierce the darkness; the harmonics unfold in shimmering rays. The edge of the mixture crackles like a thing on fire. It changes so gradually that it’s almost imperceptible, but if you scroll through the song you’ll immediately hear how it evolves, the sections stacking up like a handful of Pantone shades of varying shades of gray.

“Observation of Breath” sparks interest in English for the combined powers of density and duration: tones so dense you can barely pull them apart, prolonged until they eclipse all other inputs . They may not be particularly original ideas; drone and doom musicians have been attacking similar techniques for years. And other recent recordings – by FUJI |||||||||| TA and Kali Malone, for example – have done more to explore the expressive dimension of the organ. But these comparisons don’t diminish Breath observationIt’s pure raw power, especially when heard loud and clear, so that the ground shakes and the walls shake, just as the English intended.

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