Songs of the Living / And the Lived in. LAWRENCE ENGLISH
(Room40 2012)

Review by Jay-Dea Lopez

Since the advent of affordable digital recorders there has been a boom in people recording the sounds that surround them. A quick search on the Internet reveals a plethora of sites focussing on industrial and environmental sounds; the motivations for recording them being as numerous as the people involved in the practise. As the interest in field recording rises many of those established in the discipline have begun to question the direction, or lack thereof, that field recording is taking. Australian field recordist Lawrence English’s latest double release, “Songs of the Living” “And the Lived in” stems from a self-examination of this question.

“Songs of the Living” contains field recordings with a non-human environmental focus. The audience is privy to sounds from the diverse spaces that Lawrence English has travelled to in recent years. These include monkeys in Brazil; insects in Australia; penguins in Africa. A personal favourite is a recording of an Antarctic fur seal sleeping in Esperanza Bay, its deep slow breath beautifully captured in a truly candid moment. Moments such as these are magical to record. They demonstrate field recording’s ability to convey brief but intimate moments, revealing a “microcosm of activity unto themselves” (English).

“And the Lived in” is English’s exploration of the environmental, domestic and industrial spaces that we negotiate on a daily basis. Here we listen to a bird-caller’s extraordinary vocal virtuosity in the Amazon forest; joyfully manic electronic toys in a Japanese toy store; the very low frequencies of a storm at Lake Pedder, Australia. The recordings in “And the Lived in” are quite potent, highlighting the complex interactions that exist within and between the natural and designed worlds.

In his artist statement English describes a growing frustration with the time consumed listening to the voluminous amount of field recordist’s work. Perhaps the discipline has reached a stage where more curators need to become involved in the production of releases, their role to sift through the large pool of field recordings and grant them a context in which an audience can listen to them. As field recording’s popularity continues to grow these questions need to be considered.

The question English poses regarding the continued relevance of field recording is best answered by listening to the 40 tracks presented here. The recordings trigger a sense of empathy and wonder towards the exotic and mundane. “Songs of the Living” “And the Lived in” celebrate the range of sounds that exist in the early twenty-first century whilst showcasing the talent of one of Australia’s most prominent field recordists. By listening to these recordings an understanding of the earth’s intricate systems is furthered in a way that no scientific text could ever convey.


[Lawrence English, photo courtesy of Neate photos]

Lawrence English website
Room 40 website

Jay-Dea Lopez

Sound artist and journalist at Sounds Like Noise.