Lawrence English: The Peregrine

This latest work by Lawrence English, the highly regarded head of the Australian imprint Room40 and a producer of long-standing in his own right, takes its inspiration from English author J.A. Baker's book The Peregrine. To his credit, English eschews the obvious approach for something more sophisticated and indirect. He doesn't, for example, literally evoke the peregrine—there's no attempt to simulate its cry, for instance—but more evokes the perspectival experience the bird might have soaring through the skies. That broader focus, incidentally, is in keeping with Baker's text, which doesn't limit itself to the bird species but rather encompasses the natural landscape and its clouds, rivers, and trees.

Though the two album sides present seven tracks, each side unfolds in an uninterrupted flow of seventeen minutes duration. “The Hunting Life” begins the album with a low-pitched hum that's a bit reminiscent of Tuvan throat singing. The moment passes quickly, however, when English supplants the sound with a thick, mellotron-like surge and urgent string masses. The intensity level drops slightly when the material moves into a subsequent episode where bass tones intone more prominently and arrest the pace until the piece grows quieter, even meditative. Wasting no time at all, the second side opens with a loud, unearthly rumble (“Grey Lunar Sea”) that eventually reaches a moment of near-stillness (“The Roar Ceasing”) in effecting a transition from one epic setting to the next (“Heavy Breath Of Silence”). In truth, the trajectories followed are much the same on both sides, suggesting that the album's ideal presentation would be as an uninterrupted thirty-four-minute whole, something the vinyl format, of course, can't provide (the recording is available in a twelve-inch vinyl run of 500 copies, with 100 pressed on clear vinyl).

There's a sense of aerodynamic uplift to the album's material, not to mention an ethereal and epic character that lends it a somewhat cosmic quality—not so much of the kind suggestive of the upper stratospheres but one more earthbound in keeping with a creature that commonly hovers above the earth. The majestic blur English fashions in the seven pieces exudes a spirit not dramatically unlike kosmische musik, and in the most mellotron-like moments, one could imagine the music's drift as having been authored by Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze. It's also hard not to be reminded of Popol Vuh during the final moments of side A's “Frost's Bitter Grip.”

Reading Baker's book, English (who describes his recording as an homage to the book) is struck by how the author divulges nothing about himself in his text but is steadfastly “a conduit through which land is rendered.” In fact, much the same could be said of English in his own treatment, as the producer brings a similarly self-effacing spirit to the recording by keeping the focus on the associations with natural phenomena conjured by the musical materials.

November 2011