Studies for Stradbroke / Suikinkutsu no katawara ni
Two old/new releases from Lawrence English: “Studies for Stradbroke” is a reprint of a record originally released in 2008, while “Suikinkutsu no katawara ni” is comprised of field recordings made in Japan and Australia between 2003 and 2011. Both come courtesy of Winds Measure Recordings, a label focusing on intelligent and subtly inspired works of field recording and site-responsive sound art.
First up is “Studies for Stradbroke”, in which English conducts a thorough investigation of the sound-making potential of various objects and situations encountered on the island of Stradbroke in Queensland. The titles of the album’s eight tracks hint at the identity of each sound source without being specific, and the sparse presentation, interspersed with plenty of silence, offers little in terms of context or narrative. I found the anonymity of the various swishes, clicks, burbles and rumbles refreshing to listen to: seemingly stripped of the weight of human thought and intention, they recede into the background, gently tugging my ear and mind along with them. To me, this approach points to Wandelweiser-esque notions of silence as a kind of practice (not that I’m overly familiar with the works of that group); patience is certainly required, but the sensation of being released from one’s ego into a world of crackles and whirrs is well worth it.
Like its companion release, “Suikinkutsu no katawara ni” is also a collection of field recordings, but in this case there is a much stronger sense of context and narrative to the work. Two types of sound, resembling wind blowing through a pipe and water dripping inside or onto the same, recur in multiple situations, creating the impression of a circular path or a to-and-fro between the two countries of Japan and Australia. It isn’t clear whether these sound sources were simply found in the locations in which they were recorded, or whether English used some sort of acoustic device that travelled with him from location to location, yet the closer I listen, the more I wonder if the other sounds that occur around the recurring ones are in fact the ones that the artist wanted to emphasise, without changing their status as background. The whistles and metallic plink-plonks could be understood as a kind of avatar for the travelling sound artist, a way of making audible his listening presence in and aesthetic judgement of each environment he finds himself in.
At the moment, the diversity and quiet intensity of “Studies for Stradbroke” is more to my liking than the circularity of “Suikinkutsu”, though this is quite separate from the question of artistic quality: both albums make their respective points coherently and eloquently. In this age of releases limited to runs of a hundred or so, Winds Measure Recordings are doing us, the listening public, a great favour by reprinting “Stradbroke”, something I hope more smaller labels will do with releases that have stood the test of time (now, how about digital versions of some of those cassettes?). Lawrence English has many years of thoughtful and engaged artistic practice to draw upon, and these two releases reflect the consistent depth and passion he puts into his craft; essential listening for fans of field recording and quiet experimental music in general.