Lawrence English is one of my all time favorite droners, with Kiri No Oto ranking among my favorite records. This year he put out what might be his darkest work yet, Wilderness Of Mirrors on his own Room40 label, and it’s easily a highlight of the genre this year. I’m quite honored to have Lawrence participate in my Q&A series. While most of the questions don’t focus on music or music-making, I think his responses offer a deep look into the ideas and themes behind his work.
What is the best way to die?
How do you think you’ll die?
Wondering if perception, in a sensory way, stops before your brain does. What I want to know is, can silence be realised? I mean real silence, where your ears and body stop their incessant collection of sound. Is there a moment or moments, where your senses are gone or diminished, but your brain remains active? In those moments can we appreciate the experience of no sensory input from sound for example? Is there a final second where we retreat into our mind, into a kind of mute consciousness as a kind of last refuge as the body gives way. That is how I at least hope to die, curious…
What makes you happy?
I talk about this a lot with people. In some respects I think this is a choice, in that we must choose to position ourselves in a way where certain things can make it onto the spectrum of ‘happy’. And this isn’t as easy as it might first appear, not if you want to really experience resounding happiness, and not just a fleeting glimpse.
Some people might find some activities mundane and therefore displeasurable and perhaps this results in them being unhappy. I prefer to drill into these often presumptuous acts. I am amazed by what can make me happy, or for that matter, unhappy. I think happiness becomes much more complex when you start thinking about what happens around us. What does happiness mean for us when we can look around and bare witness to all this suffering, but remain physically, socially and geographically removed from it? Is happiness meaningful beyond the self? I guess that’s the trick, coming to understand that happiness is perhaps best realised by how it radiates out, rather than in…
How can you die happy?
By living in a way that adds value, rather than depletes it. It’s easy to be a resources thief! A vacuum of time, oxygen, energy, everything. Christ knows we all witness enough of that and it’s tedious to say the very least! There’s a whole lot of ‘me, me, me’ that’s possible in life and it’s easy to succumb to it. The age of distraction loves to offer us the chalice of self aggrandizing hollowness. Death to this! The challenge is to refocus your gaze and recognize that the easiness of self and self gratification is perhaps best described as a trap. Ultimately self is singular and frankly, dull. That’s not to deny the importance of self reflection, just to say you must be more than self serving if you want to die happy, at least I feel that way.
How close have you come to death?
Death is a funny old thing. It’s the great certainty, and at the same moment, the great uncertainty. It’s coming, but when? My wife died once when she was a teenager, but she was revived by her teacher. As for me, I was hit by a car in school….I was lucky really. It just slammed into me in a way where I collected myself on the bonnet [hood of a car], but was ok. I got up and just kept running across the road.
I think probably closer to death was being hit by lightning. That was a proper, everything being zapped out of your body experience. Like somehow every possible last breath was erased out of me instantly. I had a burn mark where it entered my body and where it exited. What I didn’t know at the time was that the strike could stop my heart up to three days later. I should have gone to hospital, but didn’t. All for a recording of rain on a metal roof.
What does kindness mean to you?
Realising you need to check your privilege and recognize how lucky you are. By for the grace of god and all that…if you do happen upon this realisation then hopefully it means you can be bothered to give others less fortunate than you some consideration. Meritocracy is cancer. We got lucky, some other people didn’t…be thankful and act accordingly.
Where do you find love?
In the whispered breathing of my family during the stillness of the late night. I am a blessed human.
When were you most afraid?
There are two memories I can think of pretty readily when it comes to fear. One of them is from my childhood, a kind of fear that doesn’t really persist, at least I find, into adulthood. It’s a kind of pure fear, illogical and internal, something coming from inside the mind.
When I was sick, with a fever or something like that, my mother would let me sleep in her room. It was in the middle of the house with very little light coming into it. In that room, on top of a chest of draws was a collection of porcelain dolls from the Victorian era. There were probably about 20 of them, on stands in a couple of glass boxes that were about the size of a large fish tank. I vividly remember how if I started to stare at them, gradually their mouths would start moving and I could hear a murmuring sound, as though they were chattering from within the glass tanks. The sound was tiny, like miniature voice boxes muttering in a language you couldn’t understand, but sounded very human. Still to this day I illogically believe this experience holds some sense of reality to it. It was pure projection of course, but through that projection came a sense of perception and therein lies the human condition.
The other event was about five years ago in a park in Glasgow. It was after midnight and I was walking with my wife. The path curved around a hill about 20 metres from us and it was very dark. Around the corner came two huge dogs, there was no one in sight and they were charging toward us. It was as if they were going to literally leap on top of me. A very primitive thing kicked in. A primal fear and I took a position I have not done before or since, a kind of defensive stance that was just utter instinct. They ran right by us, brushing our legs and as they did that I let out this primal yell – at the same moment the owner strolled around the corner…he walked past looking at us like we were fools. The dark, big dogs and an unfamiliar city are a bad combination.
How do you listen to music?
I am constantly chasing music. I am constantly chasing all sound. It’s beautiful to realise that as soon as I have it, as soon as I perceive that sound, that music, it’s gone. What I am connecting with is memory. A personal filtering, a kind of interior psychological rendering of sensory perception. Music is in a state of constant extinction. But it also contains the promise of resurrection, in memory…albeit a resurrection that barely resembles the complexity of what you actually perceived in the first place. Apparently reductive memory is enough to satiate most of us.