When two defining artists of contemporary ambient music get together for a record, of course I’d be intrigued. Colours of Air is the wonderfully incandescent result of Loscil and Lawrence English merging their musical vocabulary for a brief moment in time.
Release date: February 3, 2023 | kranky | Loscil Bandcamp | Instagram | Lawrence English Bandcamp | Instagram
Double the artists, double the expectations; at least, that’s the equation most collaborative projects have to reckon with before they’re even released. How could you not look at a promising package of two established creatives with their own catalogue and internal canon without forming a certain set of hopes and wishes, especially when those two are people whose careers you’ve been following for a while now? Such is the case with Colours of Air, too.
On the one hand, you have Loscil, erstwhile drummer of Destroyer turned supreme producer of ambient electronica/techno. Taking his moniker from a specific function (‘looping oscillator’) of his audio programming language of choice, Canadian musician Scott Morgan has since turned into a veritable powerhouse of the quieter side of electronic music, collaborating with and doing remixes for artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sarah Neufeld, and his former bandmate Daniel Bejar. His mixture of live instrumentation and electronic textures has become instantly recognizable over the years.
On the other hand, there’s Lawrence English, enigmatic and wildly experimental drone music composer and multi-disciplinary artist. His extensive œuvre includes collaborations with other luminaries like William Basinski, Liz Harris aka Grouper, and Merzbow. There’s a certain mystique to his works, although they’re usually well-rooted in plausible thought and sound. English also leads the independent label Room40, which has released records by Chihei Hatakeyama and Ben Frost, among many others.
Seeing these two towering names on one record will invariably lead one down a path of intrigue, desire, and expectation; both men have irreversibly shaped certain niches of contemporary ambient/experimental music over the years, after all. Now, the question is, does Colours of Air hold up to this heightened state of scrutiny? Does it even need or, more pertinently perhaps, want to? This much in advance: yes, no, and no.
Each of the eight tracks on Colours of Air is named after a, well, color on the visible spectrum of light (I could be a smartass and say black is technically the absence of color, more specifically the absence of light, but then again – who cares?) the two artists agreed would go with the general tone – pun intended – of the corresponding piece. Over the course of 49 minutes, we are treated to a fine combination of drones and ambiance, grandiose yet beautifully understated in nature. Without picking apart too much of the proverbial meat on these similarly proverbial bones, I would like to present you with some of my favorite results of Loscil and English sharing a musical vocabulary for a brief, beatific moment in time.
With a stuttering hint of rhythm, “Cyan” sheds the first bits of light onto the joint musical creation of these two household names. The unwavering nature of this almost-beat fits the bright namesake pigment quite well, as it sounds somewhat optimistic despite its obvious hang-ups. Synth melodies glide over this groundwork like a set of wind-up penguins on a frozen metallic surface, bumbling but joyful. “Yellow” brings a comparative warmth to the table; I’m imagining a rich, deep yellow (perhaps saffron or marigold) to go with the chalorous drones and melodies of this composition.
“Pink” is radiant but intimidating. An imposing, booming stop-and-start drone brashly cuts through the silence, warbling, prodding. I’m surprised that this is the sound chosen by the pair to represent the color pink, but maybe that’s exactly the point – an air (pun also intended) of mystery and potential threat hiding behind a seemingly innocuous hue. Largely unchanging throughout its duration, “Pink” lurches forwards like a procession of church organs come to life. “Violet”, then, is the calm after the mechanic march of its predecessor. Soft, sighing pulses are set against coldly embracing synthesis, a factory running in slow motion. A steady, hammering beat and wistful melodies refine this mournfully elegant tristesse; here, the choice of color definitely feels a lot more natural.
There is a certain merit to the fact that Colours of Air doesn’t sound like a 1:1 translation of one artist’s style into the other’s; neither does it feel like one just haphazardly smushed their own musical ideas into the other’s and called it a day. Instead, it feels like a record that’s both completely recognizable as a Loscil and Lawrence English record and something entirely new. Slow-burning, almost reverent in tone, Colours of Air seems to draw the air out of the room – not maliciously, just to replace it with an almost palpable atmosphere, an almost breathable form of physically affecting music. This record would do wonders as an installation piece, perhaps accompanying a brighter version of the Rothko Chapel, however that would look. I know I would quite enjoy to just soak in an ambiance like that.