Australian artist Lawrence English has long worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s incredible and unsettling 1979 film Stalker which was a loose adaptation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel Roadside Picnic for the screenplay. Admittedly it’s an incredible work of deep philosophical and metaphysical abstractions, a film where everything we think we know is no longer real and we have to surrender to the process in a mysterious place called the zone.
He referenced it as recently as 2020 with his Field Recordings From the Zone, and again in this possibly more unsettling collaboration with Japanese noise legend Merzbow.
Eternal Stalker stems from recordings made by English in a factory complex seven hours north of his home in Brisbane. From the outset it’s difficult not to be transported to the cold, wet, disused, rusted out world of the zone. The music is bleak, dystopian and weather-beaten, punctuated by stabbing bursts of searing noise and unexpectedly quite ominous, yet relatively subdued industrial drones, which in a way are even more unsettling. I think this discomfort comes from a lack of pre identified structure to the pieces. We know the ferocity at this duo’s disposal but we don’t know when its coming. The drones too are anything but soothing, they sound like tiny particles colliding within themselves, offering the appearance of a larger structure. In this sense they always feel like they could erupt at any moment.
It’s hard to think the duo are not aware of this and indeed play a little bit on this anticipation. They’re also keenly aware of dynamics and frequencies, opening or closing the frequency spectrum, particularly the mids-high with devastating effect. It’s difficult to tell how much of the ferocity comes from mother nature and how much comes from the mechanical, though when they’re combined it becomes something altogether more powerful.
What I like most about this work is that it feels like a collaboration a real meeting of two worlds without diminishing either. In fact it’s actually quite seamless. I’m reminded of the strange otherworldly ill defined field recordings of English’s aforementioned zone recordings, the ferocity of his recent Viento field recordings, but also parts of the all encompassing amorphous grandeur of his Wilderness of Mirrors or Cruel Optimism works. Yet we still get the extremity, Merzbow’s searing transcendent heat, the discordance and terror. In this sense the collaboration feels respectful, drawing both participants into new realms without forgoing their individual identities and creating something new, something more than the sum of its parts.
What that is however is anyone’s guess. Atmospheric noise music? A post industrial meltdown? The sounds of a soul being forcefully extracted from a body? It’s abstraction as emotion, with the duo tapping into something primal and deep and then letting rip.