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Chosen One: Loscil

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Interview with Scott Morgan.

My heart lies in the act of recording and transforming environmental sounds which probably harks back to those early experiences with tape.”

—Scott Morgan

Words: Mark Carry


Loscil’s Scott Morgan has been responsible for some of the most captivating and stunningly beautiful ambient creations to have graced the atmosphere this past decade. The Vancouver-based musician’s unique blend of serene soundscapes drift majestically in the ether; inhabiting a sacred dimension of infinite possibilities.

Across a compelling body of work (beginning with the 2001 classic ‘Triple Point’) – the majority of which has been released on the immense Chicago-based imprint Kranky – Morgan has developed his own unique style of textural rhythms that ceaselessly blur the lines of ambient, techno, drone and modern-classical. The recently released ‘Sea Island’ marks the latest chapter in Loscil’s explorations through sound that lies at the intersect between nature and humanity.

Sea Island’ is a collection of new material recorded over the last two years. As ever, a beautiful fusion of electronic and acoustic elements form the rich tapestry of Morgan’s carefully sculpted sonic creations. Layers of live musicality, improvisation and detail appear in the intricate layers of timbres and textures, resulting in a deeply immersive and illuminating experience. The long-term collaborators of Jason Zumpano on rhodes and Josh Lindstrom on vibraphone forges some gorgeously windswept instrumentation from which Morgan masterfully manipulates and processes.

New terrain is explored on ‘Sea Island’ that further expands the sonic envelope: Fieldhead’s Elaine Reynolds adds beautifully layered violin on the hypnotic ‘Catalina 1943’ and Ashley Pitre contributes vocals on the dub techno-infused odyssey of ‘Bleeding Ink’. Seattle pianist Kelly Wyse, who collaborated with Loscil on the 2013 edition of piano-based re-works ‘Intervalo’, performs on the tracks ‘Sea Island Murders’ and ‘En Masse’. The distinctive textural rhythms constructed by Morgan occupies a permanent state of transcendence as the melodic patterns and divine layers of breath-taking soundscapes ebb and flow into each and every heart pore.

One of the astounding moments is the other-worldly ambient opus, ‘In Threes’ where a drifting melancholia and longing are wonderfully transfixed with a vivid sense of hope as a dichotomy of worlds is masterfully forged. As ever, an organic feel radiates from the analogue warmth and ethereal passages of rhodes and vibraphone. ‘Holding Pattern’ is yet another milestone: a scintillating tour-de-force of heart-wrenching ambient pulses and waves of forgotten dreams.



Scott Morgan

 Interview with Scott Morgan.

It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions, Scott in relation to the infinitely beautiful music you have been responsible for making under the Loscil moniker. Congratulations on the stunning new record, ‘Sea Island’, a sublime collection of illuminating, hypnotic and deeply immersive soundscapes. Many of the new compositions were performed live extensively prior to recording. Please take me back to these particular live shows and how you feel the live setting helped to shape the sound of these new works? Also, did you have a conceptual framework in mind before making ‘Sea Island’?

Scott Morgan: Thank you very much. A handful of the pieces such as ‘In Threes’, ‘Sturgeon Bank’ and ‘Holding Pattern’ were played live quite a few times before they were recorded. Mostly on my European tour in early 2014. My sound palette for these consisted predominantly of an open tuned slide guitar which I fed into the computer for processing and sampling. While this added a kind of nice improvisational element, I got kind of tired of the sound of the guitar and changed most of the source material in the studio to different sounds to create a slightly wider spectrum. Playing them live does give you some perspective on arrangements, etc. It’s different from how I usually work and I think it changed the results a little but not in an epic way.

I love the fusion of organic and electronic sounds that forms the rich tapestry of ‘Sea Island’’s sprawling sonic canvas. Please discuss the wonderful collaborative guests you have present on ‘Sea Island’? For example, I love the contrast created by Kelly Wyse’s piano on the tracks ‘Sea Island Murders’ and ‘En Masse’. It must be quite a special place to have these added elements of acoustic instrumentation embedded in your layered sound recordings.

SM: It is an ever-inspiring way of working for me. I love the control I get from working with electronics on my own but there is something truly magical about hearing a performer’s input and interpretation of your sound. Everyone brings something different to the table and most of what they bring just provides this amazing new depth and perspective I would never find on my own. It doesn’t always work but when it does, it’s really inspiring to me.

Can you talk me through the range of compositional approaches utilized on ‘Sea Island’, Scott? 

SM: Ya, I think it mostly has to do with the instrumental layers. Some parts were written quite explicitly and others are pure improv of the performers. ‘Sea Island Murders’ was a kind of experiment with the piano. I took a seven note progression or scale and wrote a random note generator that spat out different pitch orders without repetitions. I gave a selection of these ordered pitches without discernible rhythms to Kelly. The only instructions to Kelly were to pick one set of notes from the page, play them in the order written but improvise the rhythms and dynamics. I think it worked out. There is a nice balance of control and improvisation. Some of the purely electronic pieces use what I might call very “standard” techniques for me.

Ways of working I’ve developed over the years that I always feel comfortable going back to. Usually these involve building a library of processed sounds “offline” then sequencing and shaping them. This way of working tends to let the sounds speak for themselves. I work more like a sculptor, shaping the recordings. Other approaches involved writing actual melodic progressions first such as in the case of ‘Bleeding Ink’. The melodic pattern of the voice was composed first using bell sounds when I wrote the piece for a dance by Damien Jalet. So, they are just subtly different ways of starting the compositional process.

Can you look back over the past two years in which this collection of material was recorded and recount any significant moments that in turn led to a song’s inception, so to speak? Did you use any new techniques or processes on ‘Sea Island’ that have not been used thus far on the Loscil albums to date?

SM: There are some musical bits I remember finding that lead to that small feeling of initial excitement. The rhythmic basis in ‘In Threes’ was one of these. I just love 3 over 4 and 3 over 2 type patterns. Triplets basically. There is something fundamentally interesting in these rhythmical overlaps and I tend to gravitate towards them. Similar ideas of “broken,” overlapping patterns lead to ‘Sturgeon Bank’ and ‘Ahull’ to some extent. The piano technique on ‘Sea Island Murders’ that I spoke of was a pretty new thing for me. The use of voice for melody and the vocal processing in ‘Bleeding Ink’ was also new territory for me.

Can you take me back to your first encounters with analogue? I would love for you to recount your memories of collecting your various analogue equipment and indeed the sense of discovery and fascination that lies at the heart of your creations?

SM: It depends what you consider analogue I suppose. If you include recording devices, my first analogue experience was probably a cassette recorder in high school. We used to record our rock band in the garage on it. That eventually lead to 4-track cassette machines which I basically learned how to record on. Once I got into university I was exposed to a wealth of old school gear. Otari reel to reel machines, Tascam 8-track machines, Serge and Buchla Modulars and I spent quite a bit of time playing with the EMS VCS 3 (Putney). I’m not much of a synth-head though and usually work with sampled sounds. My heart lies in the act of recording and transforming environmental sounds which probably harks back to those early experiences with tape.


One of the astounding moments is the other-worldly ambient opus, ‘In Threes’ where a drifting melancholia and longing are wonderfully transfixed with a vivid sense of hope as a dichotomy of worlds is masterfully forged (throughout ‘Sea Island’). Please talk me through the construction of ‘In Threes’?

SM: Well, as I spoke of earlier, ‘In Threes’ is really all about that triplet rhythm. At least that’s where it started. I’ve always been trying for this “textural rhythm” thing that I still don’t feel like I’ve accomplished properly in my music.  Basically I want the textures to feel shaped by the rhythms but the rhythms to not be something that sits outside the rest of the music. Hard to explain I guess. I think this is the main reason I’ve always avoided real drum sounds. I want the rhythms to be there, implied almost but not extruding. This is what was attempted with ‘In Threes’. It’s closer to the goal but not quite there. I think this kind of thing helps the music occupy a state of an emotional dichotomy. It’s melancholic and contemplative but never sitting still.

Discuss please the library of sounds you have amassed to date, Scott? I imagine when it comes to layering these myriad of manipulated sound recordings, the process of splicing different elements together must prove a tedious yet fulfilling process for you?

SM: If I was more organized I might have a decent library. Instead I tend to start over with each project and basically build new sound sets for each album. This might sound baffling considering the similarity of the sounds but that has more to do with my production tendencies and aesthetic choices. I get more inspiration from digging into new sounds that from building new music out of existing ones. It feels fresher to start by recording something and manipulating it. I suppose it could be seen as tedious but I hardly ever feel that way about it.

I love the live dynamic present on many of the utterly transcendent tracks. For example, ‘Angle Of Loll’ builds on illuminating beats before vibraphone sounds are beautifully melded into the mix. Was this one your main concerns, to keep the live dynamic present on these tracks?

SM: I like that mixture of machine and human touch. I think it really relates to that really basic collision of nature and industry that I’m attracted to so often. This is a big part of what ‘Sea Island’ is influenced by both musically and thematically. ‘Sketches from New Brighton’ touched on this too and I think a lot of my work does; that intersect of humanity and nature.

What projects do you have in the pipeline? Please discuss what music you’ve been listening to lately?

SM: I did some work on Rachel Grimes’ upcoming record which comes out this spring. I am also working on a “non-linear” album of music right now. The idea is an ambient album written in phrases and components that get randomly chosen by algorithms and scripts. A bit of an experiment but I want to see where it goes. Otherwise, some touring, perhaps some scoring and the like. I can’t get enough of cello music at the moment. Been listening to Hildur Gudnadóttir’s ‘Saman’ as well as some cello works by Kaija Saariaho.



‘Sea Island’ is out now on Kranky


Written by markcarry

February 2, 2015 at 12:44 pm

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