Switched On – Loscil // Lawrence English: Colours Of Air (Kranky)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This collaboration between Canada and Australia, between composers Loscil and Lawrence English, was born from a long-running conversation on electronic music. It gives both musical minds a chance to explore together the sounds of a pipe organ from the Old Museum in Brisbane. While Lawrence English’s work of the past decade has centred on the sounds of instruments such as this, Loscil’s has tended towards less analogue keyboard instruments.

Here the two combine their unique and deeply personal approach to music, taking the source recordings and manipulating the organ sounds into personal and uniquely colourful responses – hence a different shade for each of the eight tracks.

What’s the music like?

Perhaps inevitably, colourful. However there is something about the way Loscil and English bring colour into their music that sets it well above the ambient ‘standard’. These tracks really do live up to their names, and with eight different hues throughout the album it is certainly one for the mind’s eye.

The Brisbane instrument makes a major contribution, but not just through its resultant music. The mechanical actions are part of the recording process too, so on occasion the very instrument is inhaling and exhaling, providing a white-noise percussion along with the pitches.

Without ado, Cyan allows us to dive straight into these wonderful textures, a glittering array of musical shades that soon become punctuated with soft chimes. The music shimmers in a way that the organ music of Philip Glass does, but the motifs are blanketed, the shape shifting chords taking place like billowing clouds.

As the eight-part suite progresses, so we get to hear more of the nuances of the Brisbane instrument, with varying levels of attack and depth. The pitches stay relatively static, often in a drone-like stasis, but some allow for greater, mysterious movement – such as Aqua, with its ethereal sighing motif. Sharper tones are used for the brightness of Pink, a vivid contrast to the relatively withdrawn colours of Grey and Black that went before.

Black, the longest track of the eight, is a majestic piece of work, dark as space itself but panning out to the edge of perspective. Of a similar dimension is Magenta, whose slight pitch bends create a drawn out and very intense sonic drama.

Yellow is another standout moment, and it just so happened that I experienced this piece of music during a sunrise, which it most certainly evokes – one of those wonderful moments where sound and nature are as one.

Does it all work?

Yes. There are some fascinating processes at work here, and the feeling persists that the outcome is an equal musical agreement between the two parties. The listener still gets Loscil’s uniquely wide, weather-beaten panorama, but the pipe organ adds something special, Lawrence English securing his timeless response in a different and slightly more mechanical way.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. A mandatory purchase for fans of either – and for those in need of some musical balm to mark the end of January.



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