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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

Ten Mile Stereo

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Laura Veirs “Warp and Weft” (Bella Union)
Laura Veirs has firmly established herself as one of the finest songwriters making music today. Even despite her unwavering consistency, it is nonetheless a remarkable achievement to consider this is Veirs’ ninth studio album. “Warp and Weft” (a weaving term), can be seen to sum up her music perfectly as her output has been beautifully nuanced and lovingly crafted since her self-titled debut back in 1999. Renowned producer (and husband to Veirs) Tucker Martine is on board once again. The album is a darker and denser set of songs and is another stunning achievement from Veirs that draws much inspiration from the landscape, motherhood, love and violence (the latter in the form of suicide, war and gun crime). Featuring a host of contributors including Jim James, kd lang, Neko Case and members of The Decemberists, the album sees Veirs at her beautiful, brilliant best. According to Neko Case herself, “It’s masterful; as a listener, it makes me feel loved. As a musician it makes me feel challenged and engaged.” “Warp and Weft” will be released 19th August 2013 on Bella Union.


Various Artists “Rare Cajun Recordings” (Tompkins Square)
Some of the finest compilations this year has come courtesy of the incredible San Francisco-based Tompkins Square label and their ongoing Long Gone Sound series (whose goal is “to create a catalyst for musical and cultural transformation.”) My personal highlight has been “Let Me Play This For You”, a collection of rare Cajun recordings made between 1929-1930. The tracks are by Babineaux & Guidry, Angelas LeJeune and Blind Uncle Gaspard. As the sleevenotes state: “Most of the performances on this collection have not been heard since they were original recorded on 78 rpm disc and yet they serve as a discrete Rosetta Stone for the traditional Cajun and Creole repertoire that exists today.” Also essential is “Turn Me Loose : Outsiders oF ‘Old-time’ Music”, a collection of 78 rpm records curated by Frank Fairfield, also available now on Tompkins Square.


RocketNumberNine “MeYouWeYou” (Smalltown Supersound)
London-based RocketNumberNine comprise the brothers Tom and Ben Page who have toured extensively with a hugely impressive number of acts, including Radiohead, Four Tet, Caribou, Nathan Fake and James Holden. In fact it was Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden who released RocketNumberNine’s first material, courtesy of the 12″ “Matthew & Toby” (released on Hebden’s own Text imprint) which closes “MeYouWeYou”, their debut album, available now on the wonderful Oslo-based independent label Smalltown Supersound (the incredible sleeve is courtesy of the impeccable talents of multi-disciplinary artist Kim Hiorthøy).


Laurie Anderson “Homeland” (Nonesuch)
Have been revisiting Anderson’s songbook since Colleen’s Influences mix for Second Language to coincide with Colleen’s new album “The Weighing Of The Heart” which includes Laurie Anderson’s “Big Science” (from 1982’s “Big Science” LP, Anderson’s first part in her extensive portrait of the United States). Also essential in Anderson’s considerable output is “Homeland”, released in 2010 on Nonesuch, her first album in a decade. Features the haunting sounds of Anderson’s singular violin playing, as Anderson says in the sleevenotes: “Homeland” is built on groove electronics and new string sounds for the violin. I spend a lot of time inventing new ways for the violin to sound. The string filters created melodies that turned into songs.”


Marsen Jules Trio “Presence Acousmatique” (Oktaf)
Marsen Jules has long been responsible for some of the most quietly breathtaking and tenderly beautiful music released over the last decade or so. Albums such as “Herbstlaub”, “Les Fleurs” and “Golden” have established Dortmund-based Jules as one of the finest composers making music today. As the Marsen Jules Trio, Jules is joined by twin brothers Anwar Alam and Jan-Philipp Alam on violin and piano. Across the six pieces on “Presence Acousmatique” Jules and brothers Alam create heavenly music featuring abstract ambient spaces and textured passages of impeccable musicianship.


Waxahatchee “Cerulean Salt” (Don Giovanni)
Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee project began with 2012’s debut LP “American Weekend”. This year saw the release of follow-up “Cerulean Salt” (also on New Jersey independent label Don Giovanni Records). The former P.S. Eliot singer Katie Crutchfield establishes herself as one of the most promising American songwriters where her introspective, personal songs are set to wonderfully crafted guitar-based songs. For the set of songs on “Cerulean Salt” much inspiration is drawn from her family and Alabama upbringing.


fieldhead “a correction” (Gizeh Records)
fieldhead is the moniker for Leeds-born ambient/electronic composer Paul Elam who will be joining Kranky’s Loscil in Spring of next year for his European tour. As well as making his own compelling and hugely immersive ambient material, Elam is also the full-time member of Hood side project The Declining Winter and a part-time member of Glissando’s Fleeting Glimpse Ensemble. Elam’s fieldhead soundscapes are beautifully augmented by the wonderful talents of violinists Elaine Reynolds (The Boats, The Declining Winter) and Sarah Kemp (Lanterns on the Lake, The Declining Winter). Since 2010 Elam relocated to Vancouver, Canada, and has two full length studio albums to date, a host of EP’s, as well as an impressive number of remix work.


White Denim “Corsicana Lemonade” (Downtown Records/MapleMusic Recordings)
“It has taken five records to make one that sounds the way we do on stage” is how White Denim’s James Petralli describes the band’s forthcoming album “Corsicana Lemonade”. The Austin outfit will be touring with Tame Impala in October, while “Corsicana Lemonade” has been produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (whose production duties has included recent albums by both Low and Mavis Staples). LP due 28 October 2013.


Suuns “Images Du Futur” (Secretly Canadian)
Currently, Montreal’s Suuns are performing live across Europe in support of their current LP “Images Du Futur”, released earlier in the year by Secretly Canadian. Lately, the band’s profile increased with the inclusion of the track “2020” for the UK trailer to Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” where Ryan Gosling reunites with Refn for the first time since 2011’s “Drive”. “Images Du Futur” features a tight, visceral set of songs where the influences of Wire, Clinic and Radiohead can be heard.


Julia Holter “Loud City Song” (Domino)
One of the most anticipated albums of the year comes from Los Angeles-based artist Julia Holter whose previous two albums – debut “Tragedy” and follow-up “Ekstasis” – elevated Holter’s status to being hailed as one of music’s modern greats. “Loud City Song” is Holter’s first album for the Domino label (who she signed to after previous “Ekstasis” album was released on RVNG INTL) and again displays Holter’s truly individual and captivating artistry where divine musical arrangements are combined with enriching and emotionally charged songs. In fact, the origins of this set of songs predates Holter’s 2011 debut “Tragedy”, and were worked on in late 2012. Holter has expressed inspiration from Collette’s 1944 novella Gigi, the music of Joni Mitchell and the poetry of Frank O’ Hara. “Loud City Song” is released by Domino on August 19th, 2013.