FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Step Right Up: High Plains

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The thin air, frigid temperatures and overwhelming feeling of remoteness definitely affect your mindset.”

High Plains

Words: Mark Carry

highplains

High Plains is the gifted duo of Loscil’s Scott Morgan and cellist Mark Bridges. Their debut album ‘Cinderland’ represents another jewel in the crown of the peerless Chicago independent label Kranky, following on from the techno bliss of Earthen Sea; Justin Walter’s innovative trumpet-based works and the soon-to-be-released scintillating debut from Sweden’s Demen.

The sublime title-track – and gorgeous album opener – ‘Cinderland’ ascends into divine neo-classical splendour as gentle ripples of piano is melded with achingly beautiful cello tapestries. Soon, delicate electronic textures permeate the headspace; drifting into the ether of shimmering seas. A prevailing darkness prevails on the ‘Blood That Ran the Rapids’ that creates a dense, cinematic atmosphere. The intricate layers of percussion, cello and enveloping frequencies of synthesizer drift far into the atmosphere. Space is the place. ‘The Dusk Pines’ – representing the beating heart of part A – recalls the likes of Iceland’s Hildur Guðnadóttir and the scorework of Nick Cave & Warren Ellis whereby instrumental music so lyrical, powerful and stunningly beautiful navigates the human heart. An achingly beautiful lament where fragile drone pulses are masterfully interwoven with the gradual bliss of strings.

A striking narrative – for which ties the empowering journey of ‘Cinderland’ together – continues on the dazzling ‘A White Truck’ (reminiscent of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s ‘Iris’ score). The dynamic range and sheer intensity of this gripping odyssey brings forth a sense of wild desperation as white noise of synthesizers exudes the rawest of emotion. The rustic, pastoral tones of ‘Ten Sleep’ maps the vast, sprawling landscape of Wyoming – and beyond – with hypnotic rhythmic pulses and captivating piano patterns (fused together with Loscil’s distinctive drone flourishes). The rise on this piece could perhaps form the glorious epiphany of Cinderland’s resounding sonic exploration.

Sepia tinges of cello notes flicker onto the horizon of ‘Black Shimmer’ as the dusk light begins to fade upon us. The ethereal chime-like tones of Steinway piano on ‘Rushlight’ creates a dream-like voyage akin to vintage Boards of Canada. The closing ‘Song For A Last Night’ combines Loscil’s singular drone soundscapes together with Bridges’ deeply moving strings. Two musicians in deep dialogue with one another, who, in turn, create a vast sea of mesmeric soundscapes.

‘Cinderland’ is out now on Kranky.

https://www.facebook.com/highplainsss/

https://www.facebook.com/Kranky

hplains

Interview with High Plains (Scott Morgan and Mark Bridges).

 

Firstly, please take me back to how you first crossed paths with one another and your first musical collaboration, which would have been as part of the ADRIFT series? It’s obvious listening to ‘Cinderland’, just how suited your own individual musical language is to one another, and truly heightens every aspect when fused together.

High Plains: Thank you. We met in Banff while on individual residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts. We were randomly assigned as roommates and became friends which lead to working together on the loscil Adrift project. We later agreed to fully collaborate on a new project and ended up co-applying to the Brush Creek residency in Wyoming where Cinderland was created.

The recording sessions for ‘Cinderland’ feel as if they were soaked in inspiration: recording for two weeks in a remote spot in Wyoming. I’m sure the landscape and your physical surroundings during these 2 weeks must have found its way into the music? Can you recount your memories of these recording sessions? I wonder were these compositions mapped out in any way prior to the recording sessions?

HP: It was a very fluid and intuitive process. The physical place is quite sublime. It’s hard to not have it seep into your subconscious. The thin air, frigid temperatures and overwhelming feeling of remoteness definitely affect your mindset. The really rewarding thing about sinking yourself into a situation like this is there are very few distractions. Outside of exploring the natural landscape, there is very little to do. So working and creating became our focus. We didn’t map things out at all. We just started tinkering and sending ideas back and forth. We did some field recording, initial recordings of the cello and I slowly built up a palette of sounds. We fed each other harmonic ideas, built up some sound beds and then improvised a little to shape each piece.

It feels that so much ground is being covered – as these pieces unfold in such a bewitching way – that makes me feel (as a listener) that you were learning & discovering new perspectives and avenues when it came to the music-making process? For instance, the space that is created within the cello-based compositions by the ambient dimension the strings inhabit, creates this epic journey that is immediately striking and resonant.

HP: I think that’s quite accurate. There is definitely exploration taking place on Cinderland. In a certain sense, it’s a very experimental collection of music. Maybe not in the avant-garde sense, but in a personal way, trying to find our territory together, where our musical interests overlapped and where the boundaries were. I think once we found a boundary, we tried to push beyond it a bit and see where the music could go. Looking back, the points where things didn’t make a lot of sense actually became the most rewarding and expressive.

The title-track (and album opener) feels an integral part of the record. This neoclassical gem is such a deeply affecting and absorbing piece of music, with a cinematic quality shining throughout. I’d love for you to recount your memories of writing/recording this particular piece? Also, the beautiful piano part is magnificent. Was this a happy accident that you discovered a Steinway piano in the portable studio? 

HP: Cinderland was not the first piece we composed. If I remember correctly, The Dusk Pines was. In a way, The Dusk Pines better represents the genesis of the sound. Simple harmonic ideas that unfold very gently but contain a kind of shadowy edge to them. I think Cinderland probably was composed second or third after that and represents an attempt at improving the process a bit. The Steinway was indeed a happy accident. Such a beautiful piano and when it’s sitting there in the room it’s impossible to ignore. Neither of us are pianists per se but having access to a tuned concert piano in a schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere kind of calls out at you.

In terms of the portable studio set-up, I imagine this was quite a new situation you both found yourselves in? And in one way it may have felt you were in a residency there and seeing what music would be released when you were both staying there. In this way, did these tracks surprise you in any way? Also, please describe the landscape of Wyoming and how the landscape helped shape your sound? In this regard, I wonder how much of the album contains field recordings from the area?

Scott Morgan: The set up I brought is very close to my home studio set up. A computer, audio interface, monitors, microphones and MIDI controllers. It’s really all I’ve ever needed as loscil and I don’t have much of an extravagant set up to begin with. So I brought this and Mark brought some additional mic’s and his cello of course. He also brought an electric guitar and amp that we didn’t use on the recording. I brought my field recorder – just a little Sony hand-held. The most significant field recording that ended up on the record was the squeaking trees on Song for a Last Night. We were off on a walk in the woods on a rather blustery day and the tall trees (birch I think) were swaying in the wind and gently rubbing against each other creating this beautiful but creepy creaking sound. We mixed that into the final track.

‘Song For A Last Night’ is another divine composition and just love how one feels Loscil’s ambient bliss interwoven so delicately with Mark’s cello. One feels the stillness of night and the vast remote landscape of mountains (and love the water and field recordings embedded here…like a postcard to this town, if you will). Is there certain moments captured on the record you feel resonates most powerfully for you?

HP: When we approached the end of making this record, we would bounce the mixes down and put them on our phones and hike up to the nearby mountain peaks to listen. This was an unforgettable experience and listening to the album now transports us back to this moment. There was one particular day we were listening overlooking the valley below and a snowstorm broke out.  It was a striking moment.

I’m interested to learn how Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ served significant inspiration for ‘Cinderland’. Please discuss the importance of this work and how you feel it found its way into the High Plains sonic sphere?

HP: We didn’t reference anything directly in terms of harmony or style but we were mutually drawn to the overt expression and underlying tragedy of Winterreise. There’s the narrative aspect of the song cycle that is both so extreme it’s almost comical but also just so devastating and heavy and lonely. The symbolism is overt yet strangely alluring. We were also attracted to the structure of the piece as a whole. In a way, a song cycle like Winterreise is a precursor to the “album”… i.e. a collection of works that is presented as a whole and represents some kind of story or journey. This is something we were both interested in – a collection of works presented as a whole that contain a loosely interwoven narrative.

Lastly, please discuss your current listening/reading (etc!) and what records you’re enjoying the most lately? 

SM: I’ve been reading Karl Ove Knausgård – Death in the Family.  Really incredible accounts of the author’s seemingly mundane life but put under a kind of microscope of honesty, rawness and detail. Highly recommended. A few albums I’ve enjoyed of late include Claire M Singer’s Solas, Anjou’s Epithymía, Lawrence English’s Cruel Optimism, Western Skies Motel Settlers & Sarah Davachi’s Dominions. 

‘Cinderland’ is out now on Kranky.

https://www.facebook.com/highplainsss/

https://www.facebook.com/Kranky

Written by admin

April 25, 2017 at 5:31 pm

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