LAWRENCE ENGLISH is composer, media artist and curator based in Australia. Working across an array of aesthetic investigations, English’s work explores the politics of perception and prompts questions of field, perception and memory. English utilises a variety of approaches including visceral live performance and installation to create works that ask audiences to consider their relationship to space, place and experiential embodiment. Over the past decade he has worked across sound as a medium for embodied experience, determined to share his interests in the transformative possibilities of sound.
As a composer, English’s 2014 album Wilderness of Mirrors resonated strongly across Australia and the Northern Hemisphere. The album was widely praised and recognised as one of the most provocative and individual voices of adventurous Australian music in recent times. His compositions occupy a unique position where acoustic and electronic sources share similar textual and timbral qualities, blurring the nature of the source and creating a relative sonic tabula rasa. As a curator, English is actively involved in the development and increased recognition of sound as an art form within Australia, through his record label and multi-arts organization Room40.
Relational Listening: The Politics of Perception
When considering the expanding modes of listening (see Schaeffer, 1966; Chion, 1994; Sonnenschein, 2001; Turri & Eerola, 2012; Truax, 2001), the taxonomies of listening and perception developed by theorists over the past half century, a variety of themes dominate. These themes echo an emergent understanding of the ear, an awakening of the subjectivity of listening brought about by the dawn of the Phonograph. With the invention of the Phonograph came a new ear, the prosthetic ear of the microphone, an ear that unlike our own failed to extract signal from empirical noise. It “heard everything” (Kahn, 1999, p. 9) and revealed to us how our organic ears acted as much (or perhaps more) as filters than listening receptacles (Schafer, 1994). This prosthetic ear also offered us innovative means through which sound might be captured for delivery outside of the time and place in which it occurred. In doing so “listening has in effect experienced an unprecedented transformation, which its technical equipment provokes and reveals” (Szendy, 2008, p. 10). The discourses constructed in the wake of this discovery, and the subsequent technological developments, reflect a historicity of the (mis)understandings of listening up to that moment (Sterne, 2003). Moreover, these discourses signaled the need for a rapid reconsideration of a sense that had been backgrounded for a great many centuries. Whereas the visual world has been subject to widespread documentation, extrapolation and expressionism, the sound world had largely remained mute beyond the moment of utterance. It took the introduction of industrialization and specifically the popularization of recording, playback, and broadcast technologies for the conversation to develop with any vigor.