From its archetypal predecessors, drone music by definition has been a question of vibrations and fascination for extreme minimalism. Sustained tones, harmonic stasis and almost imperceptible sluggish variations make up the grammar of pieces that require an immersive and absolute dive into sound itself. To figure out what we are talking about, artists like the American composer Phill Niblock or French modular synthesizers pioneer Éliane Radigue are a terrific starting point: their avant-garde works in the second half of the twentieth century have drawn a path and still remain a starting point for at least two new generations of artists.
Among the modern ages’ new comers, Lawrence English has definitely been one of the most talented and prolific artists out there for almost two decades now. Three years after his latest LP (Cruel Optimist, an immersive drone rich in saturation and expressiveness) and the well-received 2018 collaborations with William Basinski (Selva Oscura) and Alessandro Cortini (Immediate Horizon), with his new work Lassitude he moves his research towards simplicity and essentiality, paying tribute to the two encoders of the genre.
The key element in the production of this new LP is an old pipe organ, conserved in the former Queensland Museum of his hometown Brisbane, Australia, currently a space for exhibitions and performances. Even if this is not the first time English has used an organ in his pieces, it is the first time he puts such an absolute focus on this instrument: there is no editing or electronic production or field recordings or other instruments, just the no-frills sound of the air through the pipes. English’s interventions are minimal. He merely holds one note and gently moves the organ stops to create slow shifts in tonality. The outcome is overwhelming and primordial.
Even if it can sound like an unicum seamless trip, Lassitude is formally divided into two pieces, each of them around 20 minutes long. The first one, “Saccade”, pays homage to Radigue, who English personally knows and admires, and to her minimalist drone visions. The organ is an amazing substitute for the modular synths, and the track proceeds slowly and peacefully. The following “Lassitude” is more spectral and static, extremely focused on timbres and physical vibrations, as is the music of Niblock, which inspired the piece. Eventually, coming to an extreme essentiality in production and composition, this album provides a chance for surprise and wonders the listener with the infinite shades of the sound.