Lawrence English


he digital clock gives off a sickly green light. You turn over in your half-sleep and try to read the numbers, but they blur before your bleary eyes. A jumble of senses confronts you: the sounds of an insomniac city out the window, the buzz and whir of your heart and head, shadows stretching like languid ghosts over the furniture.

How different this strange sleepy night world is from the one you encounter wide-awake. How incomprehensible it is. . .

Interpretations of reality are always acts of imagination, but normally they follow principles of reason that, if limited, are familiar and comprehensible. But on the verge of sleep, the mind loses its grip on familiar structures, and the logic of dreams seeps into real life. Think of the bizarre history of nocturnal hallucinations. The boundary between waking life and unconsciousness is the prime space for the mixture of fantasy and reality, mysticism and lucidity.

Lawrence English’s Transit is a sonic portrait of this process. Mr. English captures the simple sounds of life—insect buzzes, bird chirps, passing cars, alarms, and incidental vocal snippets—but with the help of a posse of like-minded sound artists, he transforms them into surreal transmissions from a dream plane. The world he interprets is normal (his sound sources will be familiar to any listener), but his interpretation of it is magical. Transit is his hallucination—a vision of a foggy perma-night inhabited by solemn, torch-wielding prophets, living storm clouds, and somnambulant hordes of brooding wildlife.

Opener “Oceanic Drift” layers deep and oceanic drones over Mike Cooper’s voice and guitar, which sound distantly as if they drifting in from a far off room to die at the foot of Mr. English’s bed. A haunting wind whispers through the track and crackles of electronic manipulation blister the surface of the solid drones. The track defines Mr. English’s aesthetic; much of the album is superficially similar—somber and grand, with a sense of dark mystery. Luckily his sound is so rich and complex that it truly is an aesthetic rather than stylistic water-treading.

Despite this over-arching mood, some tracks break the mold. “Closing Frame” forsakes the open spaces of the ambient soundscape for the claustrophobia of noise. The track opens with two field-recording classics: cricket chirps and bird songs. A faint drum intones a simple rhythm underneath them. The beat brings forth a swell of crickets that overwhelms all other sound besides the insistent thump. I picture a crazed shaman summoning a plague of insects to ravage an enemy. The sound amplifies from a cacophony of crickets to a menacing blizzard of noise until a thick patch of electronic angel-voices clears the air and invites the birds to sing again.

Mr. English turns a dreamer’s ear to the real world. Listen to this album as you stare out the window and watch as the cars take flight. Listen to this as you fall asleep and feel your mind melt. Search for the magic hidden beneath our common defenses against an overwhelming reality.

Reviewed by: Bryan Berge

Reviewed on: 2005-02-14

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