Posts Tagged ‘Scott Morgan’
“Don’t Look Back” is our look back on the year from the perspective of both musicians as well as various members of the music community at large, who — despite varying geographical locations and backgrounds — all share the following in common: a deep passion and love for music. We’re both honored and delighted to be able to share the words of these special people through their personal accounts of the year that was: 2016.
André de Ridder (Berlin, Germany)
Co-founded by German conductor André de Ridder, s t a r g a z e is the the world-renowned Berlin-based contemporary classical music collective. Established in 2013, s t a r g a z e comprise a network of classically trained European musicians who have performed and collaborated extensively in a wide variety of contexts to date. s t a r g a z e have worked with some of the most accomplished and inspiring musicians working today, including: Boards Of Canada, Nils Frahm, Deerhoof, Julia Holter, A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Poliça and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and have performed at some of the most renowned festivals and venues in the world (BBC Proms at The Royal Albert Hall; The Barbican, London; Rewire Festival and Motel Mozaïque, Netherlands). André de Ridder is also Artistic Director of the 2017 edition of Musical Nova Helsinki (1-12 February 2017) and will curate next year’s East London-based Spitalfields Music Winter Festival 2017.
by André de Ridder
“Whenever we hear sounds we are changed and this is the more the case when we hear organised sounds, organised by another human being. Music.” —Karlheinz Stockhausen
How many tributes can you take… well… make?
As Amanda Palmer, whose joint EP in memory of David Bowie (arr. Jherek Bischoff) ‘Strung Out In Heaven’ started the ball rolling in February, said later this year: “HELLO! You know, I write songs, too”.
Mind you it’s not only about songs of recently deceased iconic artists, the Rolling Stones just released an album of old Blues classics, and Amanda Palmer herself, again, an album of songs her dad used to teach her as a child. The musicians in The National put together a massive and magnificent 11-vinyl tribute album to The Grateful Dead earlier in 2016, inviting a whole army of friends and bands and singers and ensembles to contribute, including stargaze, the orchestral collective I co-founded in 2013.
We revisit Bob Dylan’s catalogue and oeuvre all the time but especially lately via the hassle around his nobel prize, awarded to a songwriter for the first time. And last but not least maybe the greatest of all poet-songwriters of the last half-century, Leonard Cohen, also disappears from the face of the earth. The appreciation of the art of song, and the life-affirming, life-accompanying and -experiencing power of this form of human expression, seems to undergo an intense iteration, and has certainly pervaded my musical 2016.
From a classical musician’s point of view, we of course deal with and revisit and interpret songs of ‘other’ people, and long deceased composers all the time. It’s inherently ‘lit’ to indulge singing and playing other people’s music. The principle of ‘classical music’ reception and performance practice is in fact entirely built on that situation.
Whereas in pop/folk/rock the auteur’s personality is mostly just so connected to the song and it’s subject, most people cannot deal with the abstraction a so-called cover by another artist brings with it. The identification process is fuelled almost more through the artist’s personality than the song itself.
Mind you, in Jazz and Folk music it is also very common to express facets of the material picking traditional or classic songs and tunes, celebrating what riches lay in a given musical text. They therefore build starting points for many a journey beyond one singular manifestation.
The question in how far the written song can transcend and surpass it’s origin and it’s author is one that I asked myself often this year when faced with certain choices.
Why shouldn’t we sing/use/interpret songs of Bowie’s or Prince, in the way we do with a gorgeous and utterly moving Schumann song? What needs to happen in order to justify it? Or do Bowie’s songs lend themselves to this ‘treatment’ more than Prince’s? Whose songs are possibly more timeless or transcend the question of authorship and personality, will either songs survive in books/notation just as much as through original recordings? I will zoom into two occasions this last year, where I found myself in the midst of such situations and experienced certain answers, for that moment anyway, to those questions. One that came with a fair amount of planning/curation, deliberation and even agony (in the case of stargaze’s Bowie tribute concert at the BBC Proms this last July) and one of spontaneous, unexpected and intuitive beauty, performed with Poliça in Minneapolis in November, the city of Prince.
s t a r g a z e rehearsing with John Cale for the 2016 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 July 2016.
When we prepared the Bowie concert, and Prince had just died as well, I already anticipated people saying: “Oh are you gonna do Prince next?”. Actually somebody around the Prom asked couldn’t we do a Prince song as an encore. No we couldn’t and wouldn’t. Everyone agreed. I heard myself saying in interviews that the same thing (that we attempted with Bowie) wouldn’t work with Prince (a few reasons, mainly that Prince was kind of always ‘Prince’ whereas Bowie throughout his career was a chameleon himself always slipping from one role into another, himself not being always ‘Bowie’ when writing and performing songs).
This sentiment was crushed to a good extent when I took s t a r g a z e to Minneapolis this November, shortly after the American elections, for a project initiated by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series. It had been planned for more than a year, independent of any current circumstances. It involved creating and playing new music with Poliça, who also stem from the Twin Cities. Their member and producer/composer Ryan Olson had been suggesting the idea of taking on a Prince song from his ‘1999’ album, called ‘Something In The Water’, after I brought up the ultra-short, but beautifully orchestrated ‘I Wonder U’ from my favourite Prince album ‘Parade’, as a possible mini-tribute to playing in their city. The transcription of ‘I Wonder U’ was fairly straightforward, and our dear friend Greg Saunier of Deerhoof helped us with it, once again (and still I wasn’t sure if it made ‘sense’ to play it).
But until the day before the show at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, we didn’t touch (and I maybe didn’t quite believe in, for reasons mentioned above) the other, i.e. another Prince song. However, that morning, before leaving for our last rehearsal I did have a go at penning down a simple orchestration of ‘Something In The Water’, which is originally synth heavy, though maybe suggests a strings-based treatment. The idea was that there was only the drum beat plus stargaze’s harmonies and sparsely orchestrated lines, no electronics or anything else, plus Channy Lenneagh picking up the vocals obviously. We played it through, not especially hopeful as it was so late in the process, literally in the last 5 minutes of our practise and realized we were onto something. Ryan more so than anyone else and he added another, genius tweak: he asked us to play it again, but by about 20bpm slower… It made for an overwhelming poignancy, in which the lonely drum intro sounded even more spacious, the slow drifting harmonies even darker in a viol-consort kind of renaissance-style with our two violas and two violins present, and Channy pitched and harmonized her vocals in an otherwordly effect and manner that made the song into something quite new, but one that Prince seemed to quite literally speak thru from a far away, solitary but soulful place.
Transformed. After we finished that run-through Ryan stumbled backwards a little behind his mute laptop and made a hand gesture that signaled something like: “no words…” and nobody said anything but packed up their instruments letting the hairs stand on no end.
Of course this was all heightened by what just happened, a few days prior to that joint concert, at the polls. When we arrived, the band members and curators of Liquid Music, our hosts, were very visibly and moodily affected by the outcome and the outlook of Trump’s presidential election.
Months ago we had christened the project ‘Music For The Long Emergency’ and we had discussed something of the power of music (and the act making music together) that can unite people, provide hope and respite, but also a certain energy for a way forward, survival, and finding strength in and amongst ourselves.
s t a r g a z e performing at the 2016 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 July 2016.
The word ‘People’ had come into focus at another memorable gathering and event in the run-up to the elections, a special, one-of-a-kind (maybe once-in-a-lifetime) music festival facilitated in Berlin by the Michelberger Hotel and it’s community, and which we co-curated at the end of September with stargaze, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Justin Vernon, Ryan Olson and Vincent Moon on the premises of the former central GDR radio station, the ‘Funkhaus Nalepastrasse’, a heritage-listed building loaded with cold-war history. A non-profit, sponsor-less festival bringing together 80+ artists to create new music and collaborate without borders, programmatically mixed and presented in the end without any notions of rankings, standing and rid of ego-centred behaviour that is common in the non-classical scene just as much as it is in classical music. This place had provided us with the opportunity to develop our project with Poliça also, and when looking for a festival name, no name came about or rang true, no ‘branding’ required, but a motto emerged thru the artist Eric Carlson that would just read, inclusive and embracing, ‘People’, displayed on a huge banner/mural in the main hall of the location.
I think most musicians and supporters who have taken part in this felt that it was central to their musical and human experience in 2016, and felt empowered and recharged artistically from it, in that it reclaimed a certain space of a festival as a gathering, back to the roots of this quintessential idea, a kind of 21st century version of “around the campfire” but in lieu of the campfire a certain spirit and special place.
Music made in the moment and created for the ONE moment.
Nevertheless, it was and will be documented bit by bit on a newly created website and also radio station that one can keep up-to-date with on Michelbergermusic.com soon, if anyone is interested.
It seemed app therefore that we came back to a song by Bowie there and then, which we performed once again, this time on the stage of the newly created ‘shed-hall’ in the Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, on the last night of the festival which meanwhile we had dubbed ‘endless, nameless’, and the song was ‘Heroes’. Indeed in Berlin David Bowie had sung this song in front of the Reichstag in 1987, and by the Berlin Wall, where people gathered on both sides, and clearly he addressed ‘the people’ as equal (potential) heroes, and the ones on the other side of the Wall, most and foremost, in his moving rendition. It was a concert I had attended, actually my first open-air rock concert proper as a music-obsessed teen, not having the slightest inkling about what was going to unfurl two years later, a peaceful revolution that was set to overturn the regime and break through that wall, thanks to which we and folks from all over the place were able to be in that place on October 2nd 2016 and reclaim that space.
Brings me back to the 29th of July 2016, the day we performed the Bowie Prom at The Royal Albert Hall in London. Over a period of 3 months I had wondered, and we had wondered, who are we to be in this position, playing Bowie’s music, even attempting to re-imagine some songs in a different format/style, what right, justification etc. etc. was there.
But really, I felt it on that night, by having immersed ourselves so completely in his work, and by sharing this with many artists who had long-lived with his songs and celebrating this passion by putting so much effort in showing what these songs meant to all of us, made us connect with the man and his spirit, it became humblingly palpable on the night, as the ensemble was poised and focusing, breathing in out on stage for a good two minutes while waiting for the green light from the tv people, in the midst of the general anticipation, before launching into Bowie’s Brian Eno collaboration ‘Warszawa’, with a field recording of a train pulling out of Berlin-Schöneberg station which we had recorded two weeks prior. Our ‘audience’ with David Bowie had finally started. And at the end of the show, almost by accident another magic thing happened: Until the very end of rehearsals we had toyed with the idea of after all giving the crowd his arguably biggest hit, ‘Let’s Dance’. To the point where we had no time to ask anyone to sing it, which meant we had rehearsed it instrumentally only and at the end of the show, as all the singers paraded off stage, we launched into it as an encore, and gave it back to the people who roar-sang it back at us thousand-fold from beginning to end, not missing a word or a note.
Other favourite moments of that concert include classical counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky singing David Lang’s recomposition of ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’, epic arrangements of Blackstar and Lady Grinning Soul by Jherek Bischoff, presented with fierce intensity by Amanda Palmer and Anna Calvi, and Laura Mvula’s rendering of ‘Fame’ via Greg Saunier’s orchestration. Last not least rocking out with John Cale on his utterly idiosyncratic rendition of ‘Space Odyssey’, transformed together with the inimitable House Gospel Choir. I think these were all moments where another piece of art had been made, through collaboration, inspired by Bowie’s original song. And there you have it, the ‘justification’, the ‘why did we do it’, if it needed it.
The Flaming Lips performing “The Soft Bulletin” w/ The Colorado Symphony & Chorus, conducted by André de Ridder. Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 26 May 2016.
I don’t want to close the ‘musical year 2016’ lookback without mentioning another highlight, a project that may not have been noticed in Europe so much but I hope will make it here soon.
Something I had worked on and dreamed up for a while: persuading the Flaming Lips to perform their album ‘The Soft Bulletin’ with a symphony orchestra (and choir). This became reality last May with the help of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, at the legendary Red Rocks Theatre.
It had struck me, ever since watching an intriguing Pitchfork documentary about the making of the album, since it had been created with so many orchestral, albeit sampled, layers originally, that it would make so much sense to try and recreate it with an actual orchestra. Which had not been done until now. It came together on a rather stormy night in the most spectacular open-air venue I have ever seen in my life, Red Rocks, the sense of being there in the first place almost overwhelming the occasion. It was also a pleasure and honour working with the band, the Flaming Lips being a wonderful and enthusiastic group of musicians lapping up the opportunity with gusto and passion themselves. Over the years they had perfected playing songs from the Soft Bulletin with keyboards and synths, and during rehearsals they gradually, like archeologists, removed those plasters to reveal the original orchestral sounds behind it.
Amongst the festivals and concerts I attended I need to mention, once again, is Iceland Airwaves, which took place at the beginning of November. In a way, it is another ‘people’ event, where the town of Reykjavík transforms itself into one large venue for 5 days, bands playing literally every other café, barber, petshop, you name it, along it’s main drags up and down town during the day before relocating to the ‘official’ theatres and halls. On those days, you’ll never see more people around with guitars on their backs, instrument cases in one hand and trolleys drawn behind them with the other.
I was conducting part of a sprawling Bedroom Community 10-year anniversary night at Harpa (another already iconic, if very new, concert space) which included great orchestral music by Daníel Bjarnasson, Nico Muhly, Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurðsson but I caught a wonderful series of gigs when accidentally meeting and hearing the Barr Brothers (just Andrew and Brad, filling in for stranded label colleagues at the 12-Tónar record store), catching Kate Tempest close-up at a hostel, then Warpaint playing much of their new album back at Harpa, first time I saw them live after being a fan for a while. Three acts who couldn’t be more different, and every single one of them so brilliant and original. Which is why going to festivals is such a gratifying experience, and it seems to be an age where new festivals are still being created all the time, other ones going stronger than ever, and with imaginative and inventive features in no short supply. They are worlds created unto themselves, and I cannot wait to discover new ones next year, or return to familiar places which we trust and feel welcomed as both audience and artists. And people.
André de Ridder’s orchestral collective, s t a r g a z e, perform at the Musica Nova Festival Helsinki in February 2017, where they will perform Boards Of Canada’s “HI Scores” EP as well as new compostions written by Dawn Of Midi (Erased Tapes)’s drummer Qasim Naqvi (all info HERE).
Oliver Coates (London, UK)
Several ground-breaking records from 2016 can be attributed to the gifted talents of British cellist and composer Oliver Coates. The London-based composer’s sophomore full-length release ‘Upstepping’ is undoubtedly one of the year’s most accomplished, innovative and compelling musical journeys with its meticulously crafted and sumptuously layered cello-based compositions that carves out techno-fueled waves of pure bliss and transcendence. ‘Upstepping’ is indeed (in the words of Coates) “pumped-up body music”. In addition to ‘Upstepping’, Coates performed on Radiohead’s latest ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ LP and most recently, released a collaborative work with UK’s Mica Levi (Micachu & The Shapes) in the form of ‘Remain Calm’, another crowning jewel of 2016.
Oliver Coates – ‘Don’t Look Back’
In 2016 I came off social media and felt better for it. More time and space for music, love and colouring in. Got a cat, moved into our formerly flooded flat. Got a fresh perspective on London, my birth-town, now living in SE1. Through music I do feel connected to being a Londoner and being from the UK. I went deeper into Autechre’s music, new and old, Aphex’s Cheetah which took me back into the Analord Series and the Caustic Window music.
I met for the first time and made music with these artists: Actress, Elysia Crampton, Catherine Lamb, Dean Blunt, and lastly Pauline Oliveros. I programmed a festival in Westminster in June where Pauline was our featured guest and we heard her acoustic, electronic, instrumental and choral music across three days, alongside music by Ed Finnis, Éliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel and others. Oliveros spoke to people about a need for unity – it was the weekend after a political vote and there was shell-shock amongst some of the large audience, who had infinite reservoirs for listening to microtonal music. The 15-minute mass tuning meditation took us away. I saw Pauline again in the week before she died – she gave a cleansing coruscating digital accordion set at Le Guess Who and afterwards she was spritely and said to me in the corridor “Let’s do more.”
She had enjoyed our reconstruction of Daphne Oram’s orchestral piece Still Point from the 1940s (by Shiva Feshareki and James Bulley). It sounded like opulent pastoral music and a symphonic tone poem with a smearing of warped electronic sound laid over the top. Oddly English though indebted to Stockhausen’s sounds. Yet Daphne conceived of them first – this was the 1940s. The future in reverse.
“Upstepping” is out now on PRAH Recordings & “Remain Calm” by Mica Levi & Oliver Coates is out now on Slip Discs.
Peter Broderick (Galway, IRE / Portland, Oregon, USA)
Born in Portland, Oregon, Peter Broderick’s name has been firmly established as one of the most singular voices and prolific musicians in the independent music scene for well over a decade now. The multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer has released a plethora of records since his first self-released 4-track recordings from 2005/6, for such labels as Erased Tapes, Bella Union, Type, Kning Disk, Digitalis and Beacon Sound. Collaboration has always been a vital component of Broderick’s artistic output, having performed in both Horse Feathers and Efterklang, and making records (whether as producer or composer) with such artists as: Nils Frahm, Lubomyr Melnyk, Greg Haines, Felicia Atkinson, Laura Gibson, Brigid Mae Power and Corrina Repp. 2016 saw the release of Broderick’s seventh solo LP, the majestic piano-based full-length “Partners” and the EP “Grunewald” (comprising 5 tracks of live piano recordings made at Berlin’s Grunewald Church while Broderick resided in the German capital) via Erased Tapes.
2016 was a wild ride. For starters, I got married! And I moved to Ireland! So now I’m a husband and step-dad living in the beautiful countryside of County Galway. Our address doesn’t even contain any numbers . . . just the name of the house, the name of the area, and the name of the county. And there’s a stray cat whom I’ve named Yin-Yang, who loves to eat the food I put out and even comes into the house for a nap, but still won’t let me pet him. And there’s a couple white horses who roam freely outside our door, and they like eating apples and carrots out of my hand, but also won’t let me pet them. And sometimes there are some cows that graze in nearby field, and once I did manage to pet one of them for a minute, but for the most part they don’t like to come too close.
According to google I am a musician . . . but this year I turned into a full-time plant lover. I have spent so much time reading books about plants and taking walks in the nature, trying to befriend as many green wonders as I can. One of my personal highlights of the year (aside from getting married!) was attending a workshop up in County Leitrim in which we spent the whole day outside learning to identify wild edible and medicinal plants. And though I’m still a complete novice, I can’t deny how fulfilled my soul feels when I spend the day outside gathering plants, honoring them as best I can in the process (which often involves singing them a little song), and later preparing them as food or drying them to make herbal teas.
Of course, I did make plenty of music this year. In February I recorded my first piano-based album in quite some time, which was released in August under the title Partners. And in early December Erased Tapes (lovely record label!) also reissued some older recordings on an EP called Grunewald. This Autumn I played 23 concerts in 8 different countries (including my first trip to Taiwan!) with just my voice and a piano, which was quite refreshing after all the years I’ve spent carrying around heaps of gear, albeit a bit challenging and naked feeling at the start.
We spent the Summer in Oregon, and whilst there for a couple months I got the chance to work on a wonderful project with David Allred, in which he just plays upright bass and sings, and I just play violin and sing. I am looking forward to releasing our duo album in Spring 2017 and playing some concerts together around that time.
I think the biggest musical discovery for me this year was getting into Joni Mitchell. For years whenever I heard that name and even when I heard her music, it would go in one ear and out the other. But something happened this year and I felt something inside go click! It started with her album Clouds, which we listened to countless times on cassette in the car. That record is perhaps the most similar to other music that I already appreciated . . . but then, from there I moved on to her other records, and sometimes I admit it’s a challenge at first, but oh so rewarding if you just take the time to soak it in. What a beautiful and courageous soul!
I can’t say I picked up much new music this year, but I did find four records on the shelf which were released this year and have a special meaning to me:
David Allred – Woods (Oscarson)
– Not only has David been a good friend and frequent collaborator of mine over the last few years, but he’s also been one of my favorite artists to follow. For me his music and creativity feel very unique. Sometimes when you get to know someone well, the mystique of their creativity disappears a bit . . . but with David I have had the complete opposite. My heart is continually warmed by his earnest efforts. He plays a large variety of instruments very beautifully, and his own lyrics have an almost unbelievably honest quality to them, as if he has direct access to some strange and deep thoughts that most of us are only dimly aware of.
Félicia Atkinson + Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Comme Un Seul Narcisse (Shelter Press)
– This is a peculiar and oddly beautiful record by two of my favorite weirdos. I’ve followed Jefre’s work since I was a teenager and he played in the band Tarentel, and Félicia is another artist who continually opens my eyes to the wonders of the Universe. When I heard the two of them had made an album together, I knew immediately that it would be an interesting listen.
Michael Hurley – Bad Mr. Mike (Mississippi Records)
– Seeing that Michael Hurley is well into his 70’s now, I was thrilled when I found out he had released a new album this year. And with a title like Bad Mr. Mike, how could it not be wonderful? His records are always adorned with his unmistakable artwork and made up characters, and his records (especially the later ones) have a way of making you feel like you’re sitting in his living room while he plays to no one in particular in the corner. And what an honor it was for me to go to his home and meet him early in the year! I had heard he was a collector of vintage radios, and I had a beautiful old radio from the 1920’s just sitting in the garage, collecting dust. So I reached out to him and asked if he might like to have it, and sure enough, a few weeks later there I was driving out to his countryside home and delivering the thing. Turns out he’s a member of vintage radio society, consisting most of “old geezers” as he put it. When he first saw the old radio he said, “This is going to cause a wave of excitement!”
Richard Proffitt – Pathways Written In Smoke (Stadt Moers)
I was very fortunate to have an ongoing artist residency at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Ireland, throughout 2016. I went there on three separate occasions to stay and work on music (and did some painting too!). And during one of those stays there was an exhibition in one of the gallery rooms by a guy from Liverpool (who now lives in Dublin) called Richard Proffitt. This collection of artwork/sculpture/installation made quite an impression on me, with it’s ritualistic, not-afraid-of-the-dark kind of feeling, and I really enjoyed meeting Richard himself as well. This record was available as a part of the exhibition in a limited edition of 30 (!), and I’m very happy to say that I have one of those 30 copies. I highly recommend experiencing one of his exhibitions, or even just finding his recordings of music and spoken word on bandcamp.
In addition, there are a number of records released in 2016 which I either recorded at my old studio The Sparkle or had a decent part in the making of in one way or another. These records I am honored to be a part of:
Brigid Mae Power – S/T (Tompkins Square)
MayMay – Mountains Hills Plateaus And Plains (Oscarson)
The Beacon Sound Choir – Sunday Morning Drones (Infinite Greyscale)
Laura Gibson – Empire Builder (Barsuk)
Rauelsson – Ekõ (Beacon Sound)
V/A – Oscarsongs (Oscarson)
“Partners” (LP) and “Grunewald” (EP) by Peter Broderick are available now on Erased Tapes.
Josh Rosenthal (San Francisco, USA)
The Tompkins Square label founder and Grammy-nominated producer Josh Rosenthal published his first book “The Record Store of the Mind” during 2016, a personal musical odyssey documenting Rosenthal’s lifelong passion for music, as both an avid collector and obsessive listener. During 2015, Rosenthal’s world-renowned label Tompkins Square (based in San Francisco, USA) celebrated it’s ten year anniversary, having released records for such artists as William Tyler, Michael Chapman, Ryley Walker, Hiss Golden Messenger and James Blackshaw over the years, as well as re-issuing an extensive range of folk, old-time, gospel and American Primitive Guitar albums, including its ongoing “Imaginational Anthem” records, the acclaimed series focusing on acoustic guitar, particularly in the American Primitive vein.
by Josh Rosenthal – Tompkins Square label
The people in my small universe – musical artists and creatives around them – seem to have values 180 degrees from where our Nation appears headed. What will creative people do in the face of this instability ? If anything, the election energized me. I feel emboldened to do more, put out more records that Drumpf and his kind would hate, or at least not get. And maybe give folks some small respite from the endless barrage of awful news. Kind of an extension of Leonard Bernstein’s quote : “This will be our response to violence : To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly, than ever before.” Which isn’t to say we can just stop there. I am writing checks to the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center, Marine Mammal Center, the Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders.
2016 saw the loss of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Ralph Stanley, Mose Allison and Merle Haggard. The outpouring of grief for Prince and Bowie was huge, but I didn’t partake viscerally because I never identified with their music that much. Leonard Cohen’s death was heavier for me, as he was the most overtly Jewish rock star we’ve ever had in terms of reflecting the faith in his music, and his first two records are holy texts unto themselves. Leonard felt like extended family. With these musical losses, and inevitably, so many more to come, I reflected on rock star death. It’s irksome when people react to rock death on social media with “Fuck You 2016 !” There must be a more graceful way to express grief. The difference between us mortals and our musical heroes is that they get to live forever. That’s something to celebrate – not something to go cursing the whole Year about…
I spent all of March and April on the road promoting my book, “The Record Store of the Mind”. I did about 40 readings around the USA, with help from some musical guests, at the kind invitation of many independent book and record dealers. I never really expected anything to happen with the book, but folks reacted to it, and as I like to say, if I knew people were gonna care, I would’ve written a better book. But it was good enough to get Robert Plant to offer an effusive endorsement, and UNCUT named it one of the 10 Best Music Books of 2016. My first reading was in Jersey City in October 2015, and I learned a valuable lesson : Never schedule a reading before your book is actually out, because no one will show up. Writer Amanda Petrusich agreed to Q&A me there, and she was such a good sport in front of my four friends who showed up, plus the store manager. A very strange thing happened earlier that day — I walked into a local vinyl store with WFMU’s Joe McGasko and they were playing Ron Davies’ rare LP ‘UFO’. Ron Davies is the subject of Chapter 1 in my book ! I’d never heard Ron Davies in any record store, and I’ve never seen his albums in the wild. How weird is that ? Things got a lot better on the book trail in March and April, highlighted by ace stops in Richmond, VA at Steady Sounds (w/ Mark Fosson & Diane Cluck), Rocket 99 in Kingston, NY (w/Peter Walker), and many others.
v2016 was a crazy year for acquiring records. I was driving up 6th Street in SF and my vinyl radar spotted a box on the sidewalk. I pulled over and started flipping – John Coltrane on Impulse, Wire ‘154’, Indian classical records, rare Contemporary Classical LPs. “OK, take the box and get out of here.” Threw it in the car. Took me about a month to get through that box, it was so deep. Then a friend who was moving house had me over for first dibs on a life-long collection of ambient, prog, Krautrock, experimental, K. Leimer, La Monte Young, Robert Wyatt, Roedelius, Eno, Cluster. Then my friend in LA let me have at her grandfather’s jazz collection. OG Mingus, Coltrane, Ornette, Miles. It was nuts. I found a Baby Huey LP at the flea market for $3 – but it had no record inside. So I went on discogs and sure enough, someone was selling the record without the jacket for $15 ! Not bad.
It was fun to watch my older (15 yo) daughter’s musical horizons expand this year, as she discovered her own favorites on Spotify like Andy Schauf, Joywave and High Highs while happily adding Dad’s suggestions to her playlists ; The Clean, The Smiths, Tia Blake. I took my girls on a wild musical road trip all over the South in June, which I wrote about here.
On the Tompkins Square label front, it was hugely gratifying to reissue two Richie Havens-produced early 70’s solo albums by singer/songwriter Bob Brown; bring out Brigid Mae Power (thanks to Mark Carry and Fractured Air who tipped me to her !) ; ‘Imaginational Anthem vol 8: The Private Press’, compiled by Brooks Rice and former Other Music LP buyer Michael Klausman, turned me on to some fantastic solo guitar I’d never heard ; Harvey Mandel, whose music I have loved for years, holed up in Fantasy Studios with Ryley Walker’s band and made magic. Just some of the highlights and more to come in 2017, when I’m slated to release a record a month, starting in January with Robbie Basho protegé Richard Osborn’s LP, ‘Endless’. Stay up on what I do !
Some of my favorite records from 2016 :
The most important record for me this year was by Daniel Schmidt and the Berkeley Gamelan, “In My Arms, Many Flowers”, on Recital. An American Gamelan composer who teaches at Mills College these days, these recordings are from 1978-1982. A stunning discovery from Sean McCann’s label.
Australians Andras Fox (aka Andrew Wilson) and Eleventeen Eston (aka John Tanner) are Wilson Tanner, and their album ‘69’ came out on the promising Growing Bin label out of Germany.
Another label doing great work is RVNG. I mentioned the dude whose record collection I raided – he had a K. Leimer record, ‘Land of Look Behind’, and I really got into that. I had already purchased RVNG’s Syrinx reissue, ‘Tumblers From The Vault’, and then looked on the RVNG site, only to find that they had released a 2-disc K. Leimer set too ! These are both worth seeking out. Syrinx were a Canadian collective on the True North label run by Bernie Finkelstein, who has managed Bruce Cockburn forever. I know him, so he gave me some great Syrinx insights. Had to go and seek out the original Syrinx vinyl LPs of course.
I dig what Dying For Bad Music has done with their limited-run CDRs, especially the Abraham Chapman solo guitar release, ‘Nothing To Leave Behind’. The reel-to-reel tapes, recorded in 1978, were found at a flea market. No one knows anything about Abraham Chapman. DFBM made a limited run of 82 CDRs and it looks like there are some left :
I really enjoyed Charlie Hilton’s January 2016 release, Palana, via Captured Tracks. I missed her when she played the Warfield in SF. I like her somnambulant, Francoise Hardy vibe. I don’t see a single media outlet picking this record as one of the years’ best. Maybe cuz it came out in January ?
“The Record Store Of The Mind” by Josh Rosenthal, published by Tompkins Square Books is available now.
Benoît Pioulard (Seattle, Washington, USA)
2016 marked the tenth anniversary of Benoît Pioulard’s prized debut LP ‘Précis’, an album that is synonymous with the spirit and wonder of independent music at its very finest. Currently based in Seattle, Washington, Thomas Meluch has quietly amassed a considerable body of work in the intervening years: solo works for the prestigious Chicago-based Kranky label as well as numerous self-released works, music with Canadian composer Kyle Bobby Dunn under the alias PERILS (Desire Path Recordings), Meluch’s collaboration with Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) as ORCAS (Morr Music) and “Praveen and Benoît”, the collaborative work with Praveen Sharma (Music Related). October 2016 marked the release of “The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter”, the sixth album by Benoît Pioulard for Kranky.
This year, more than any other in my life, was predicated on a contrast between life and death ; mostly trying to live with fulfillment and peace as a slap to the face of the infinite, something like that. Culturally we lost so many great voices and heroes (John Glenn, Buchla, Pauline Oliveros, Bowie and the other obvious ones) and one could say a lot about the end of truth & reason politically, but on a personal level I was gut-punched by the sudden death of my only brother back in March, three days before I was set to head out on a 5-week North American tour.
My first thought was, “I have to cancel everything and go home,” but after talking with some very close friends & family it occurred to me that the best way to deal with the shock, sadness and confusion might be to push forward in doing the only thing that truly matters to me in this world, and play some dumb songs for people. Surely enough, the ensuing month (minus the weekend of my brother’s memorial service) was just what I had hoped — an escape from familiarity and routine, an extended meditation on the American landscape, and a chance to make some noise for a lot of lovely strangers as a means of catharsis.
My brother had always said he wanted to tag along for a week on the road with me, so I was pleased to get a small parcel of his ashes, which rode the rest of the way from Michigan out to New York, down through the southwest and back to Seattle with me. Now he stays on my desk, near to where I do all my rehearsing and recording, and sometimes I talk to him but so far he hasn’t said anything back. Our mother has been feeling his presence a lot lately though I can’t claim the same ; being from the same parents, though, I reckon that’s because we are each other in so many ways, and there is no difference between us, no “other” to be sensed. I dedicated my new record to him, because it’s about getting over bad habits (we have both had our share) and I finished it the day before he died, the fact of which seems like some kind of cosmic exclamation point to me.
I have typically been pretty down about changing the calendar to a new year, even though I understand entropy, that time is an arrow and we merely impose these measurements — but at least symbolically I have never been more excited to say “farewell” to a year as I am right now. Learn and grow and fight the good fight and so on…
“The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter” is available now on Kranky.
Eluvium (Portland, Oregon, USA)
Eluvium is the alias for the Portland, Oregon-based artist and renowned experimental composer Matthew Cooper. Born in Tennessee and raised in Louisville, KY, Matthew Cooper relocated to Portland, OR several years back and has since been amassing a soul-stirring body of work under his “Eluvium” guise. 2016 saw the release of his latest opus “False Readings On” (released via the Temporary Residence label), the album’s genesis was originally inspired by themes of cognitive dissonance in modern society. Cooper also makes music as Inventions, a collaborative project which features Cooper and Mark T. Smith of Texas-based post-rock band Explosions In The Sky.
I did not like this year. I had a great many issues with this year, quite honestly. BUT ! – there were a surprising number of wonderful musics and books that happened… more than i am able to remember at this moment of making this list. I’m probably forgetting many of them because of how distracted I am by how much I otherwise did not like this year.
Aside from finding constant salvation in the arts, I also enjoyed a lot of hikes and walks with my wife and dogs and those days were probably my favourite. I’ve also found myself composing a LOT more work than usual. So there were, indeed, good things,..and there are more good things to come.
Listening ( no particular order ):
– The Caretaker – Everywhere at the End of Time
– Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness
– Biosphere – Departed Glories
– Daniel Lanois – Goodbye to Language
– Roberto Musci – Tower of Silence
– Kjartan Sveinsson – Der Klang der Offenbarung Des Gottlichen
– Bethan Kellough – Aven
– Christopher Tignor – Along a Vanishing Plane
– Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – In Summer
– Benoit Pioulard – The Benoit Pioulard Listening Matter
– Odd Nosdam – Music for Raising / Sisters
– Tangents – Stateless
– Fernando Sor / Narciso Yepes – 24 Etudes — ( a late discovery but worth mentioning )
– Hildur Gudnadottir – Saman — (another late discovery but also worth mentioning)
– Rachel’s – Systems/Layers vinyl reissue
Reading ( no particular order / no particular year release ):
– John Wray – The Lost Time Accidents
– Patrick Dewitt – Undermajordomo Minor
– Jonathan Lethem – Gambler’s Anatomy
– John Muir – Wilderness Essays (reissue)
– Ethan Canin – A Doubter’s Almanac
– Haruki Murakami – Hear the Wind Sing/Pinball 1973 (reissue)
“False Readings On” is available now on Temporary Residence.
Brigid Mae Power (Galway, Ireland)
Having been a firmly established and longtime admired songwriter in her native Irish shores, the breathtaking Irish songwriter Brigid Mae Power released her extraordinary self-titled LP “Brigid Mae Power” via US label Tompkins Square earlier this year to widespread critical acclaim. The album was recorded with U.S. composer and producer Peter Broderick at his hometown studio “The Sparkle” in Portland, Oregon and features eight tracks of fragile beauty in her own inimitable and wholly unique approach as a songwriter (as anyone who has witnessed Power’s incendiary live shows will testify). Such is the album’s timeless brilliance, the nearest parallels that can be drawn to Power’s quietly unassuming, divine artistry are those blessed folk spirits of bygone times such as Sibylle Baier, Tia Blake or Margaret Barry.
I’m sitting on a Ryanair plane right now on my way back from Glasgow, where last night I played my final gig of the year. I played at The Glad Café with Mike Heron and The Trembling Bells.
I’m not great at doing my research or homework with who I am playing with, partly because I just seem to be in a scattered daze a lot of the time, but mostly because I can’t find much time to listen to new and old music. But I don’t mind because it means I can be really surprised out of the blue as I have no expectations. Mike Heron and the Trembling Bells were so warm, odd, brilliant and heartfelt. I wanted to hug them all while they were playing. The lyrics were so bizarre also. Mike Heron was in The Incredible String band who I know virtually nothing about, but will now try and get some of their records.
2016 was a great year for me. I released my self-titled album with Tompkins Square Records and I also got to experience playing shows in countries I had never previously visited. I went to Japan in September, played in an old school, a Buddhist temple and an old jazz club. I got to eat the most amazing food I had ever tasted. I came home feeling sick at the sight of cheese and bread and made myself noodle soups for the first few weeks when I got home.
I played at Le Guess Who Festival in Utrecht and got to see how pretty that place is and play my favourite bill ever with my husband and my sister-in-law..
I got to spend most of the summer in Portland, Oregon, and also by the coast in Oregon. I got to spend time around beautiful tall trees, see vultures circling around my head and lie down in the sun for days and days. I literally just let my body warm up as much as it could and dry up all that Irish damp that had been in my bones for years. Whilst lying down I drew a lot, I did read too but I can’t really remember what I was reading.
Right now I am reading ‘M Train’ by Patti Smith, which I love. I love her daily routine of sitting in cafés drinking coffee and writing. I used to do the same except with drawing mostly instead of writing, when I was in my early twenties. But when I returned to Galway I no longer felt anonymous in cafés, everyone would ask “ooh what are ya drawing?” or “Oh right, that looks a little strange!” and it just made me too self-conscious so I would draw at home instead. But there’s something about working in an atmosphere where life is going on around you, but not paying attention to you, that I love.
Musically 2016 saw a bit of a Joni Mitchell binge for me. Especially in most recent months. ‘Clouds’, ‘Miles of Aisles’, ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’, ‘Court and Spark’, ‘For the Roses’ and ‘Night Ride Home’. I devoured all of them! And I still am. I knew bits of all of them before but I had never listened to them in such depth. I also listened a lot to Andy Irvine and Paul Brady’s album.. I started running a few weeks ago and started to listening to some old jazz albums to get me to moving…Art Blakey’s ‘Witch Doctor’ to be exact.
I finished Elena Ferrante’s fourth Neapolitan novel in 2016 I think…or it might’ve still been 2015. Oh! Twin Peaks! I was first introduced to Twin Peaks just this year.. I loved everything about the first season, the second season creeped me out and scared me too much but I still managed to watch it and love it.
Anyway 2016 has been an exciting year and I think I have missed out on a lot of things and events etc. but maybe it’s because I’m still experiencing them and haven’t had time to reflect..
Ok I have to go now as I am juggling writing this and watching a 6-year-old run crazy around an indoor play place, which really does sum up what I’ve done mostly this year. Crazy-mother-music-juggle.
—Brigid Mae Power
“Brigid Mae Power” is available now on Tompkins Square.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (Dublin, Ireland)
2016 was another busy year for the ever-prolific Irish composer and fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. As well as releasing the second album by The Gloaming (“2” via Real World Records), the world-renowned quintet also toured extensively throughout 2016 to sell-out audiences at both home and abroad. Ó Raghallaigh also toured and performed across Ireland with the Dingle-based concertina player Cormac Begley (bass, baritone, treble and piccolo concertinas). As well as performing with The Gloaming (alongside Iarla Ó Lionáird, Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and Thomas Bartlett), Ó Raghallaigh also performs with This Is How We Fly, another inspired contemporary supergroup, consisting of Ó Raghallaigh on hardanger fiddle, Seán Mac Erlaine on clarinets and electronics, Nic Gareiss on percussive dance and Petter Berndalen on drums. This Is How We Fly’s second album is due to be recorded in January 2017.
I didn’t buy many records in 2016, hardly read a book, and barely set foot in a cinema all year. But it was a great year of making things for me. It started out with DIY, actually, putting in a new kitchen, tiling, plumbing and the whole lot. Thanks, Google, you saved my life!
We had a great writing week at the Tyrone Guthrie with This is How we Fly early in the year. What a magical place that is, a retreat centre beside a lake in Monaghan, dedicated to giving space to artists for them to do their thing. Then there was The Gloaming run at the NCH, and the release of the new album. I came to see a lot of the NCH over the first half of the year – I was artist-in-residence in their new Kevin Barry Recital Room, which was a lovely opportunity to work with some remarkable musicians.
In terms of listening to music, Seán Mac Erlaine’s Duo Series of concerts was immensely enjoyable – two of them stood out for me: his duo with Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset in which they created glorious landscapes of sound; and his duo with Norwegian musician Jan Bang, a properly marvellous live-sampling dance that stands out as my favourite gig of the year.
Watched some amazing stuff on Netflix this year: Black Mirror and Stranger Things were two of my favourites. Future Islands. Found an amazing new tuning for the 10-string fiddle that is deeply satisfying!
For 2017, I think I’d like to focus on some solo stuff a bit more, especially with the live-processing coding up and running now. Do a few more courses, continue to learn and expand. And maybe think about making a solo record of it all.
We’ll be recording the new This is How we Fly album in January, thanks to our recently completed and successful FundIt campaign. Plus there are a few more albums already up the sleeve, so it could be a busy year for the releases!
—Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh
“2” by The Gloaming is available now on Real World Records.
George Xylouris (Crete, Greece)
Legendary lute player George Xylouris released his second album with duo Xylouris White this year – the inspired, earth-shattering collaboration with world-renowned Brooklyn-based drummer Jim White of Melbourne’s mythical trio Dirty Three – entitled “Black Peak” (Bella Union), the follow-up to the duo’s equally sublime 2014 debut “Goats” (Other Music Recording Co.). Xylouris hails from Anogeia, a mountain shepherding village set into the hills of Crete, down the hill from the Cave of Zeus (“Black Peak” itself is named after a mountaintop in Crete). George Xylouris, a true master of the Cretan lute, also performs with The Xylouris Ensemble (which also features his three Greek-Australian children). Xylouris White toured extensively throughout the globe this year, with extensive shows throughout Europe, USA and Australia.
I don’t know how to start this but to me the highlight of this what I’m doing now with Xylouris White is exactly that: to be with Jim White and play around the world.
I’m playing wonderful places and venues with beautiful audiences and that’s the most enjoyable stuff which I had all this time. I play my instrument almost 40 years now.
Highlight is to meet all these nice people. Musicians or not musicians and work with these people.
Here are some photos from our 2016 tours:
Xylouris White at Fox Theatre Oakland, San Francisco a few hours before the show with Godspeed you! Black Emperor. One of the most beautiful theatres I ever played. February 4th 2016.
A Beautiful Day in LA.
The Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian. Hung out in the little cafes around the venue and the tour bus waiting for show time.
The Cathedral in LA. Beautiful sound.
From California, Arizona Colorado, by bus, what a journey….
Union Pool, Brooklyn. “Sweet Home Stage” Launch of second album “Black Peak”.
Melbourne, March 11 2016. On the way to National Gallery to play at exhibition of Ai Weiwei and Andy Warhol.
Big Ears Festival in Knoxville TN April ’16. I met the big master Marshall Allen, great honour.
Car broke down, the band kept going. Pennsylvania, see you in Boston.
west coast, Portland Oregon, after show at Mississippi Studios, cold night, warm team, w Emmett Kelly, Sabrina Rush, west coast team.
Back to Europe from west coast USA: Krakow, Poland. Unsound Festival.
Changing trains, heading to Birmingham.
4-day break back home. Crete. Before Tawain.
Taipei. Dumplings. Delicious. Love Love Rock Festival. On an old tea farm in the woods up in the hills, you see the villages around the hills. Magic.
Back in the USA east coast team: marisa anderson, eliot, george, jim. Break on the road. Enjoyable to spend time with these people.
Portsmouth NH. Breakfast time and singing after last night’s show together with Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkins, one of my favorite shows ever.
thank you guys and see you soon again.
‘Black Peak’ in Crete.
“Black Peak” by Xylouris White is available now on Bella Union.
Loscil (Vancouver, Canada)
Loscil’s Scott Morgan has been responsible for some of the most captivating and stunningly beautiful ambient creations over the past fifteen years. 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 – Vancouver-based 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 ‘Monument Builders’ – one of 2016’s finest gems – marks the latest chapter in Loscil’s explorations through sound that lies at the intersect between nature and humanity. Next March will see the release of Loscil’s highly anticipated debut collaboration with American cellist Mark Bridges under the name High Plains.
rugged Wyoming mountaintops
frostbitten and sprawling
frozen streams, lingering cello and chopped piano notes
a winter journey, listening on the precipice in a snowstorm
dotted with horses, High Plains
to the suns
horns After Life
dancer inked and scratched on film
pretty good homecoming
square improvisation with Red
Paul at St Paul’s
french horn rehearsals
Barbican Wild Birds
a humble face
filled with fear
but a survivor
a true Victor
the other London
borders after elections, nightmares
Chicago is too warm
travelling companion Benoît
Detroit storms of many kinds
New York Cuban cigars
flurries through the Adirondacks
Cohen shrines in a second home
Toronto warmth despite the cold
a quiet end
despite near Terror
so many farewells
“Monument Builders” is available now on Kranky.
With special thanks to all our readers and listeners for their support over the last twelve months. Wishing everyone a very happy and peaceful new year & best wishes for 2017.
Interview with Scott Morgan.
“A blurred line between beauty and horror, anxiety and calm.”
Words: Mark Carry
Loscil’s Scott Morgan has been responsible for some of the most captivating and stunningly beautiful ambient creations over the past fifteen years. 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 – Vancouver-based 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 ‘Monument Builders’ marks the latest chapter in Loscil’s explorations through sound that lies at the intersect between nature and humanity.
The Canadian ambient artist’s latest masterwork unleashes a cathartic, hypnotic spell throughout; belonging to a dichotomy of worlds where an engulfing cloud of prevailing darkness prevails in tandem with the radiant light of hope and survival. Delicately beautiful ambient soundscapes drift majestically in the ether alongside the more intense, pulsating sound worlds. Take for example, how the fragile pulses of ‘Deceiver’ flows effortlessly into the glorious crescendo of ‘Straw Dogs’ or how the stunningly beautiful album opener ‘Drained Lake’ is gradually followed with the techno-infused ‘Red Tide’. A wall of intense moods, colour and textures flood these sonic creations, creating one of Morgan’s most accomplished and concise records to date.
A lyrical quality forever lies at the heart of Loscil’s recording output, and ‘Monument Builders’ is of course no exception. A striking narrative permeates throughout, where loss, identity and the relationship between humankind and the environment seeps through the musical framework of Morgan’s masterfully crafted sonic palette. The addition of horn arrangements immediately casts an ethereal quality; harmonies meld beautifully with a collection of old synths, warm textures of drone soundscapes and intricate patterns of divine sonic passages. ‘Monument Builders’ is a hugely fulfilling audio-visual experience, whose effect is utterly profound.
‘Monument Builders’ is out now on Kranky.
Interview with Scott Morgan.
Congratulations Scott on the sublime new record ‘Monument Builders’: a true tour-de-force, which unleashes such a cathartic, hypnotic spell throughout. Firstly, please talk me through the writing process and recording of ‘Monument Builders’ and your memories of constructing these particular tracks?
Scott Morgan: The first step for me with most records is building a sound palette. I sampled and built a small collection of playable sample instruments out of resonant sounds like boiling kettles and steam whistles. I find the noisy aspects of these sounds make for interesting textures and include a natural pitch instability which lends them a kind of fragility. I also drew heavily on an old micro-cassette recorder to generate noise and further texture.
Once I had these sounds, I began building some basic harmonic passages and structures. I wanted to try something a little different with the bass and arpeggiated sounds so I spent an evening at my friend Josh Stevenson’s who has a great collection of older synths. We used his EMS Synthi and his Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 to generate some bass stuff. The last addition was the French Horn which was pretty Philip Glass inspired. I wanted something to root the harmonies in and the tone of the horn fit so well with everything adding this strange broken epic feel.
‘Monument Builders’ expresses such deeply-affecting emotion through the seamless layers of embedded ambient soundscapes and gorgeously crafted drone textures. Having seen your live set at London’s Possibly Colliding festival earlier in the year, I just loved how each sonic pulse matched the accompanying visuals (note-per-note) creating a myriad of utterly captivating moments. I feel this is translated here on record where a largely cinematic feel (and gripping tension) permeates throughout. Can you discuss the visual nature of the music you create Scott, and indeed the visuals that is created to accompany your music?
SM: I’ve long been interested in the concept of visual music. I’ve experimented with visuals for a long time but only in the last few years have I began to treat it seriously again. I’m really interested in a non-narrative but also non-abstract form of visual treatment. Something that is evocative without being too referential to storytelling. Live visuals are extremely challenging for me. Loads of work. But I think I like this aspect of the medium. It’s not easy and the language is not really proven. Experimental moving images go back over a hundred years. It’s actually a really interesting history which arguably starts with painters or visual artists first experimenting with film. Despite the history and its longevity, it doesn’t get treated the same as music or even cinema. The current title of VJ really pushes it towards lighting and visual effects which definitely has its place but is not what I want to do with the medium. I feel like there is room for a truly synergistic experience that is not dominated by eye or ear.
I was very interested to learn that a VHS copy of “Koyaanisqatsi” and Philip Glass’s epic score in many ways proved the genesis of the new record. I’d love for you to recount your memories of first discovering this seminal work (and hearing the Glass score) and what makes this score (& film) so unique and important for you?
SM: I first saw “Koyaanisqatsi” in a theatre in Vancouver in the early 90’s. I remember being quite moved by it. It was a spectacle and it was the first time I really felt struck in such a raw way by what you might call a non-narrative film. Most of that feeling was driven by the music. I don’t think that film would have a fraction of the impact without the score. Recently, when I viewed a rather beaten copy of the film, I was struck by not only the original, impactful and epic content, but how it appeared as a tarnished piece of history. When you think of where we are now with everything that’s going on, viewing this film more than 20 years later feels very strange. Seeing something that was once so epic, all warbled and torn yet speaking through time with this dire warning. It’s poignant and humbling in its own strange way.
One of the great aspects of ‘Monument Builders’ is the rich organic feel and dense quality to the seven musical odysseys, whilst there always seems to be a sense of a gradual building of atmosphere that forever intensifies as the rich narrative unfolds. I wonder were there challenges posed during the music-making process and more specifically, to ensure the interwoven pieces undergo seamless transitions? In this regard, just like your previous output, I like to visualize the record(s) as one long single piece with several movements or sections carefully embedded within.
SM: I like to work on albums as whole gestures but sometimes the compositional process is much more haphazard and the resulting record is more of an edited construction than a designed one. But I think this is true of any creative process. Truthfully, Monument Builders is the shortest full length I’ve ever composed. I really wanted to confine myself to a 40-minute LP – to see if I could be more precise with the expression and perhaps force myself to cut some pieces that didn’t quite fit. This was actually extremely challenging but also very liberating. Some things had to go or be shortened. I think what you end up with is a much more focused experience.
Themes of the environment (and its destruction) and decay infuses deep beneath the musical trajectory. Can you discuss the inspiration you drew from the anti-humanist writings of photographer John Gray (reflected in the song title of ‘Straw Dogs’) and the aerial photographs of Edward Burtyaskis?
SM: I’ve struggled before with summing up what it is about Straw Dogs that resonates with me so much. But I think I am drawn to art and ideas that walk a line between positive and negative forces. There is a certain kind of nihilism with John Gray… a sense of defeat. Humans are over-consuming creatures that, like any other animal – will grow in population and consume until their environment is decimated. But he doesn’t just leave it there. There is still room in his analysis for morality. It’s like knowing about our own individual mortality should not preclude giving up on living. Anyway, like I said, I struggle to sum it up but enjoy his writing a great deal.
Burtynsky occupies a similar space. His works show an ironic beauty largely from an aerial perspective of the earth as affected by humans. It’s ugly when you think about the scale and the context but it is visually stunning. I’m drawn to this sort of dichotomy and think I really was after something like this with Monument Builders. A blurred line between beauty and horror, anxiety and calm.
The dynamic range and series of counterpoints that is contained on ‘Monument Builders’ creates such a timeless, otherworldly sound and dimension to the record. For example, the gradual ambient bliss of ‘Deceiver’ comes in the wake of the pulsating rhythms of ‘Straw Dogs’ (the album’s centrepiece and towering crescendo) with scintillating horn arrangements; whilst the delicately beautiful ‘Drained Lake’ (the glorious opening theme) is followed by the more techno, beat-infused ‘Red Tide’. I wonder did a certain track (or specific section) inform the rest of ‘Monument Builders’? Also, did some of these musical layers existence pre-date the album’s genesis, so in a way older artefacts of songs blended in with new ideas and works? Did any happy accidents occur in the studio that surprised you?
SM: When I got into the studio to commence work on Monument Builders, I started building a new set of sounds and, as per usual, there were a handful of discarded pieces before anything stuck. I believe Deceiver came out first. This isn’t remarkably new territory for me… though it’s much more harmonic than drone-based. I’m not sure any one piece informs the others, but I do try to take a body of sounds in a few different directions and push them away from anything overly comfortable. I think it’s important to force yourself away from the sound that makes you comfortable even if it’s gravitational pull is strong. I’m very comfortable with my sound, but also enjoy bending it and twisting it a little now and then to see what breaks and what sticks.
I’d love for you to shed some light on the library of sounds in which become the building blocks of this wholly unique (Loscil) sound and the mind-set and creative approach utilised when it comes to joining all these many layers into a record? From a compositional point of view, what musical voices do you feel serve a major influence on you, Scott?
SM: I think I already alluded to this, but I’m very interested in generally noisy spectra. Sounds that derive their fundamental pitch from moving air, whistles, flutes, beer growlers, anything where the fundamental pitch is obscured by the noise of moving air, creates an interesting texture. This approach, applied in different ways, has always been a part of my core working process. I’ve always struggled with synthesis. Although I’ve used it in some form, for bass sounds in particular, synth pads whether they are analog or digital have never really worked for me. I just enjoy the inherent unpredictability of real world samples when they get layered up. Adding to this, I really love the dynamic combination of electronic and acoustic. There is something about adding a live instrument to the palette that adds a new dimension to the sound. It also helps further blur genre lines which I’ve never been content with.
Lastly, the album closer ‘Weeds’ points to new horizons with divine textures of voices ascending into the forefront of the mix. This for me perhaps represents one of the most spellbinding moments of ‘Monument Builders’, particularly when the electronic pulses begin to converge. Can you talk me through the construction of these particular layers and indeed the sources of these sounds?
SM: Weeds started as an improvised part of my Sea Island set. I still perform it this way, as a series of performed phrases that get built up gradually. It really is all about dynamics and I think I really wanted to push away from the floating feel of a lot of my music. Weeds is intended as a slow motion opening up of sound, driven predominantly by the vocal samples. It is probably a little more cathartic a piece that the others. Less of a spot for quiet contemplation than a kind of intense, emotional explosion.
‘Monument Builders’ is out now on Kranky.
Loscil’s Scott Morgan has been responsible for some of the most captivating and stunningly beautiful ambient creations over the past fifteen years. 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 – Vancouver-based 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.
Fractured Air 33: Saccade (A Mixtape by Loscil)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Mica Levi ‘Love’ [‘Under the Skin’ OST/Milan]
02. Rafael Anton Irisarri ‘Will Her Heart Burn Anymore_00’ [Room40]
03. Simon Scott ‘Spring Stars’ [Miasmah]
04. Lawrence English ‘Hapless Gatherer’ [Room40]
05. Hildur Guðnadóttir ‘Strokur’ [Touch]
06. Jon Hopkins ‘Breathe This Air (Asleep version)’ [Domino]
07. A Winged Victory for the Sullen ‘ATOMOS VI’ [Erased Tapes, Kranky]
08. Kyle Bobby Dunn ‘Spem in Alium and Her Unable’ [Students Of Decay]
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
‘Sea Island’ is available now on Kranky.
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.”
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.
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