loscil’s shimmering refractions

It’s been 17 years since I first wrote Global Span for the print edition of Vancouver Review, essentially an advocacy piece for loscil’s 2004 CD “First Narrows” being recognized as a kind of Autobahn-level soundtrack for local travels. Since then, Scott Morgan (loscil) has released countless works of intoxicating pulsating electronica. Any departures from the baseline sound familiar to fans have been subtle but rewarding, especially on 2016’s Monument Builders which filtered Koyaanisqatsi-era Phillip Glass through a scuffed, degraded VHS audio track enveloping the affair in a fresh, almost nostalgic air.

And the hits keep coming, even during a pandemic. Loscil’s latest release is titled Clara, and, following directly on its heels, is a limited edition photo book/CD release called Lux Refractions. The book is beautifully printed and showcases a suite of monochrome macro photographs of ice and water featuring entrapped spheres and crystal clusters seemingly suspended in space.

The second release extends the material from the Clara sessions continuing on with the kind of pulse-oriented electronica that is his usual stock-in-trade. Both sets of music are originally sourced from orchestral recordings he did remotely in 2020 in Budapest. And while there are no radical departures, the craft is top flight and the journey is pleasant and engaging. The acoustic source material is heavily processed and offers textural depth across both recordings.

“I see them as all part of the same body of sonic and visual work exploring the same themes etc. The book/CD is a bit of a spin-off project representing a deeper dive into the macro universe of ice and orchestral sounds.”

One thing notable about recent loscil recordings is how they now feel more like nascent soundtracks, not necessarily to moving artworks, but to narrative films. This can be tricky territory because every electronic artist I know who’s gone down that road has had mixed results, though the money is no doubt a motivating factor. Thankfully, these two CDs pull on the reins to keep the music squarely on the side of mutability, of being purely music for enjoyment and unexpected departures, free of narrative associations.

If I were to imagine loscil’s music in a soundtrack context it might be to parts of Annihilation, a sci-fi film from 2018 which creates an intoxicating sense of mystery around the emergence of random, fast moving, cross-species genetic mutations all contained in a zone called “the shimmer” which one of the film’s characters describes as “…a prism, but it refracts everything, including genetic information.”

But Scott is adamant that he is a creator of albums of music for pure listening…and on CD! “Clara is the full length and the main show, while Refractions offers more deep, long form drones. I guess you could say it’s a little more indulgent and meant to, essentially, be a soundtrack to the book. The cover photo from Clara is drawn from the same series as the photos in the book and appears in the book along with the cover from the Refractions CD.”

Scott and I met up on Fraser Street in the first rain of a classic Vancouver September and sought shelter in the alley behind a row of 1950s-era shopfronts. The wall behind, with its oozing mysterious organic green matter put me in mind of Annihilation. Scott was dressed for the weather. I wasn’t. But it did yield a portrait with a cinematic still quality. Scott favours black and white. I lean towards colour. Fortunately there’s room for both!