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Lawrence English - Ghost Towns

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Artist: Lawrence English

Album: Ghost Towns

Label: Room40

Review date: Sep. 29, 2004

Lawrence English is a Brisbane-based composer, writer and artist who also manages his own record label, Room 40. His interest in field recording, sonic collage and found sound has led him to work with other respected sonic alchemists operating in these fields, such as David Toop and Scanner.

Recorded in the latter half of 2003, Ghost Towns is English’s attempt to examine the hidden and remote settlements that litter the vast Australian plains, using only the sounds collected in around the towns. The piece is an abstracted impressionist portrait of sound, emphasising isolated noises that exist mostly unheard, in the remotest realms of the country. Given such a huge geographic and sonic remit it may come as a surprise, and some disappointment, that this attractively decorated disc is comprised of one track just shy of twenty minutes. Despite such paucity, the time is organized well, with plenty of sonic ground covered. Sounds of rattles, animal screams and of course, the classic staple of any field-recording, cicadas, evoke a menacing atmosphere, one untainted by human intrusion. The style of English’s field recording method is such that rich and unexpectedly synthetic sounds emanate from the most common of sources. For instance, you can hear the explosive popping of 44-gallon drums as they lie in the morning sun, and wire fences resonating as they are exposed to battering winds. The latter starts off sounding strangely like the guitar playing of Derek Bailey, all spidery and energetic, full of fits and spurts, before a final metamorphosis into close approximations of Satie-like piano runs.

Like many recent field recordings, most notably Chris Watson’s magnificent Weather Report, English’s Ghost Towns invites the listener to provide their own narrative for the collection of noises they are hearing. However, the brevity of this piece, its only failing, means that the story is deprived of a happy ending, or for that matter, any end at all.

By Spencer Grady

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Find out more about Room40

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