Lawrence Casserley - The Edge of Chaos



"Über die Grenzen des All blicktest du sinnend hinaus." - Peter Altenberg

"Over the edge of everything you looked, deep in thought."



"One of them erupted in a victorious clatter, unbelievably harsh, with something of a gargle and of a whistle. From that moment, things changed." - Borges, "Ragnarök"


"Behind his face and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one." - Borges, "Everything and Nothing"



1            Ragnarök (Parable 1)                                                                           10-31

2          Grey Relief in Four Parts (Tàpies 1)                                                      8-41

3          "X"                                                                                                                    4-18

4          Infinit (Tàpies 2)                                                                                          6-14

5            Cardboard with Knotted Rope (Tàpies 3)                                          9-36

6          "Y"                                                                                                                  10-02

7            Brown, Gray and Red Relief/Everything and Nothing

                         (Tàpies 4/Parable 2)                                                               7-51



All tracks composed and performed by Lawrence Casserley - Voice, Metal Percussion, Monoharps, Signal Processing Instrument



Recorded at STEIM (Studio for Electro Instrumental Music) Amsterdam, Netherlands - January, 2001

Mixed and Edited at LEO, Buckinghamshire, UK - February to April, 2001

Recorded, edited and produced by Lawrence Casserley

The ideas of Journey and Transformation have been constants in my work for many years, and since, more than thirty years ago, I began to work with electronic sound, these ideas have become fused into one entity. Each sound is taken on a journey of transformation in which new aspects of itself are discovered; and so the listener is also led on a journey of discovery.


There is also another kind of journey, my own personal journey to create an electronic instrument that enables me to create spontaneously the sound transformations that my music requires. Recently I have developed a computer processing instrument that begins to answer these needs - the journey is still going on...


This journey is documented in several CDs, particularly "Solar Wind" (Touch - TO:35) with Evan Parker and "Dividuality" (Maya Recordings - MCD0101) with Evan Parker and Barry Guy. In 1997 I was invited by STEIM (Studio for Electro Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam to realise a project with Evan and Barry; for three weeks I worked at STEIM creating the prototype of my Signal Processing Instrument and playing it with my collaborators. "Solar Wind" was recorded there, and "Dividuality" was recorded at Gateway Studios in London shortly afterwards. Subsequently I have made many performances and recordings with this instrument. An important characteristic of all these recordings is that I am always processing (transforming) the sounds made by other musicians - my Signal Processing Instrument makes no sounds itself, only transforms sounds played into it.


Even my pre-composed work, as represented by "Labyrinths" (Sargasso - SCD28030), involves close collaboration with other musicians. Collaboration has always been at the centre of my work. Again and again I have found that working with other artists- musicians, painters, poets, whatever - has stimulated the most creative responses. Even when I wasn't collaborating directly, ideas from other art forms, particularly painting and literature, stimulated me.


So, when setting out to create a solo CD, it was not surprising that I took with me two of my favourite inspirations, the writing of Jorge Luis Borges and the painting of Antoni Tàpies. My other inspiration was the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Once again I was invited to work at STEIM, this time to spend three weeks on my own in the studio. I took my collection of Chinese gongs and cymbals, a set of metal plates, my self built monochords, a complex setup of microphones and mixers, my Signal Processing Instrument and a computer  multi-track recording system. This would be far too complex for a concert tour, but with three weeks in the studio a two day setup was no problem.


I rarely use all these resources together. For example, "Grey Relief in Four Parts" uses only vocal sounds, including breath; "X" uses only scraped percussion; and "Cardboard with Knotted Rope" uses only monochords. Without the stimulus of other players, I wanted a large range of source material, but  I also wanted each piece to have its own special character. Also the source sounds are only heard occasionally; the emphasis is always on the transformations.


Strangely perhaps, the original impetus for this project came from a review of "Solar Wind" by Jim Denley in Resonance magazine. I was struck by this review not because it was good (which is always pleasant!), but because it seemed to articulate so exactly some of my own thoughts - this man had seen into my soul! One particular reference to the "gritty dirt of chaos" was the piece of grit that started the pearl of a new idea. It reminded me of the postcard text of Peter Altenberg set by Alban Berg in his "Altenberg Lieder" of 1912. "Over the edge of everything you look..." conjures a vision  of primaeval chaos and the topological cusp on which we all sit; like standing on the top of a cliff. Borges's "Garden of Forking Paths" presents another aspect, where all futures are possible. I see yet another aspect of this in some of Tàpies's work; particularly the courage with which he uses his materials, allowing them to crack and split, to develop a language of their own, beyond the edge of his direction. He tickles the edge of chaos. I see here a parallel with the way my Signal Processing Instrument works; frequently I set processes in motion, which then develop destinies of their own. I send a sound on a journey whose precise route through the garden of forking paths is now in the hands of the process. It is then up to me to respond to and interact with this new life form. The piece "Y" was made like this; I made no attempt to alter the process once it had begun; rather I responded to what it was telling me to play. This balance between directedness and acceptance is an essential aspect of the journey, and of the music on this CD.


In borrowing some of my titles from Borges and Tàpies I make no attempt to "interpret" those works. In almost every instance the association of a piece of music with a particular title came after I had played the music. It is more that I see connections between all these things, and it this connectedness that is the consequence of the chaos. Significantly, the one time I actually set out to make a piece called "Everything and Nothing", planned as the final track, I was dissatisfied with the result. It was only much later that I realised that the piece I had called "Brown, Grey and Red Relief" was not only the right conclusion to the CD, it was also a fusion of the different strands, and it might even be called "Z" as well.


I would like to express my special thanks to all the people at STEIM who helped me, most particularly Nico Bes, Joel Ryan and Michel Waisvisz. I would also like to thank all those others, too many to name, who encouraged me in this project.


Lawrence Casserley, December, 2001


Performer and composer Lawrence Casserley has been working with electronic sound since 1967, with a particular emphasis on live performance. Much of his work has crossed media boundaries, particularly with his multi-media  group "Hydra", and Peter Donebauer's "Video and Music Performers" in the 1970s; "Tube Sculpture" and the "Electroacoustic Cabaret" in the 1980s; and "Colourscape" from the 1990s onwards. More recently, he has collaborated with Colourscape artist Peter Jones on sound and light installations. He is best known for his work as an improviser, and he has performed and recorded with many of the leading European improvisers.