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ENGLISH, LAWRENCE - Cruel Optimism

Format: LP
Label & Cat.Number: Room40 RM470LP
Release Year: 2017
Note: inspired by a text of LAURENT BERLANT with same title, this album with 10 stunning tracks by the Australian composer has a completely different approach than before: no field recordings were used and several guest musicians invited to contribute instrumental material - via file exchange or performed in real time; the result are gently overwhelming, orchestral, multi-layered drone pieces that sometimes dissolve into something unformed, reminding on TIM HECKER at times...
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"Cruel Optimism is a record that considers power (present and absent). It meditates on how power consumes, augments and ultimately shapes two subsequent human conditions: obsession and fragility. This pyramid is an affective ecology of the (ever)present moment.

This edition owes its title and its origins to the wonderful text of the same name by American theorist Lauren Berlant. I had the fortune to come across her writing almost a half-decade ago. In Cruel Optimism, I found a number of critical readings around the issues that have fuelled so much of the music I have been making recently. Beyond her keen analysis of the relations of attachment as they pertain to conditions of possibility in the everyday, it was particularly her writing around trauma I found deeply affecting. It was a jumping off point from which a plague of unsettling impressions of suffering, intolerance and ignorance could be unpacked and utilised as fuel over and above pointless frustration.

When I made Wilderness Of Mirrors, clouds of unease were overhead. As I have worked through Cruel Optimism, what seemed an unimaginable future just a few years prior, began to present as actual. Over the course of creating the record, we collectively bore witness to a new wave of humanitarian and refugee crisis (captured so succinctly in the photograph of Alan Kurdis tiny body motionless on the shore), the black lives matter movement, the widespread use of sonic weapons on civilians, increased drone strikes in Waziristan, Syria and elsewhere, and record low numbers of voting around Brexit and the US election cycle, suggesting a wider sense of disillusionment and powerlessness. Acutely for me and other Australians, we've faced dire intolerance concerning race and continued inequalities related to gender and sexuality. The storm has broken and feels utterly visceral.

Cruel Optimism is a meditation on these challenges and an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures.

Beyond the motivations forging the record, the process by which this edition was created was unlike many of my other records. Having worked largely alone in recent years, I wanted to shift away from that approach. I wanted the opportunity for exchange, to trial new ideas in various spaces and to find myself surprised by the perspectives of others. It was this desire that led me to reach out to friends, old and new, and invite them to contribute to Cruel Optimism. It also led to me using a range of studio spaces to explore new techniques, informed by what I had learned taking Wilderness Of Mirrors on the road for the better part of two years.

I count myself exceptionally fortunate to have been able to call on so many fine musicians in the making of this album. Some of these collaborations were at the foetal stages, acting as important catalysts. Specifically, contributions from Mats Gustafsson, Mary Rapp and Tony Buck were important during this period. Some contributed from afar, including Chris Abrahams and Werner Dafeldecker, who both responded so very kindly to my cryptic notes and hopelessly poetic evocations. Some artists came to visit here in Brisbane such as Norman Westberg, Brodie McAllister, Australian Voices, Vanessa Tomlinson and Heinz Riegler. Others, such as Thor Harris, kindly invited me into their homes to work together. The richness of experience afforded to me during the making of Cruel Optimism is difficult to summarise. It was ultimately a truly rare pleasure to have these exchanges.

I leave it to you then, to listen as you can. This record is one of protest against the immediate threat of abhorrent possible futures. Its an object of projection, from me to you and onward from there. I couldnt be more pleased to share Cruel Optimism with you." [label info]




"This record is one of protest against the immediate threat of abhorrent possible futures."

I open the glass door of my bookcase and run my finger along the spines. All these words, written ago, from one mind to another. What does this all really contain if not the essence of another person's life? Perhaps a historical recount, or a scientific principle, or a story wrapped around a thought, philosophy, or an idea. What do all these people want to really say? Is there a warning in between the pages, a lesson for the generations, sent into the future through the might of words? I turn towards the records on my shelves and think the same. Perhaps not certitude or fact, but certainly their own reality, their truth, and their emotions are being locked inside those grooves, awaiting one more magic spin to sing and be alive. This is why music stands in time, outside of dates, and schedules, and agenda. A great record will always simply be.

And then sometimes the books and music come together...

All this rumination and one must wonder if it's simply not a pretext to an album I have sat on for so long. In fact, Cruel Optimism has been on rotation for nearly nine months now, slowly appearing and then disappearing again, awaiting proper time to share its point, only to be put away again, for yet another slice in time. It's possible that consuming this latest opus by Lawrence English requires a specific state of mind, a bit unease and agitation, some mortal metaphysical discomfort with a dash of existentialism and reflection. It's not a truly dark experience per se, but it's certainly not sunny waves and roses. The ominous sound of this album at times conveys a sense of an electric shock, mixed with a wall of noise, and joy of drone, and pain of silence. The oversaturated frequencies slam like a jet-fueled engine in your brain and send you flying through the haze of obtuse worlds, compact in time and dense in sound.

And then there is the concept...

Cruel Optimism is a record that considers power (present and absent). It meditates on how power consumes, augments and ultimately shapes two subsequent human conditions: obsession and fragility. This pyramid is an affective ecology of the (ever)present moment [...] Cruel Optimism is a meditation on these challenges and an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures." -Lawrence English

Lawrence English has been known to draw inspiration from books. Back in 2011, he released The Peregrine which was driven by a book by J.A. Baker. Now, this Australian experimental composer, and owner of the magnificent Room40 label, extracts a seed of thought from a text by the same name by American theorist Lauren Berlant. Based on the rise of the unstable geopolitical landscape, the music of Cruel Optimism is a reflection of a modern world, in all its furious, distressed, and wrathful glory. Where self-destruction is no longer just a horrid dream, physical catastrophes and spiritual implosions are just around the corner. Just take a look around (but don't turn on TV) and witness the inflicted war on (human) nature - there is no need for extra words.

Cruel Optimism is not exactly a solo record either. Having mostly worked alone in his past years, this latest album sees English invite a few of his friends for the collaboration and try out new ideas in various recording spaces, exploring new techniques in a somewhat bidirectional exchange of musical conception. Here we are introduced to Mats Gustafsson, Mary Rapp, Tony Buck, Thor Harris, Norman Westberg, Heinz Reigler, and Chris Abrahams among the many. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact contributions of these musicians (I hold on to a separate credits sheet just for that), but then again, you shouldn't try and peel apart this piece, instead just let it hit you straight out of your emotionally suppressed hibernation if you haven't been already wide awake." [Headphone Commute]