Loscil’s Sonic View Corridors

The following is a repost of an article that originally appeared on the old Vancouver Review blog in 2011. I’m reposting it here for a few reasons. First, the old VR is toast and this was at risk of getting lost. Second, Scott has a great new disc on Kranky called Sea Island which continues his sonic explorations on themes of local interest. Third, it gives us a chance to mention that the next VR Music video will consist of an 8 minute music video collaboration with Scott. This version is slightly edited.

Scott Morgan (aka loscil) is our favourite local ambient musician and his 2011 recording  coast / range / arc is intended as a reflection upon the timeless, often barely perceptible dynamism of the earth in the form of our local mountains and ice fields. The titles will be familiar to those of us who grew up here on BC’s wet coast: Black Tusk, Fromme, Stave Peak, Névé, Brohm Ridge and Goat Mountain. The music represents a distinct departure from the calm, pulsing, billowing electronica for which he’s best known, suggesting stases masking enormous power.

From the beginning, loscil has always looked to the local for inspiration. His 2004 release, First Narrows (ie. Lion’s Gate Bridge) was a kind of Autobahn for Vancouver (see the article Global Span in VR’s Fall 2004 issue. PDF available upon request). 2006’s Plume was inspired by wind currents and 2010’s Endless Falls was all about the grey and rain of Vancouver’s long winters…and occasionally a good portion of our summers.

Though we met up on his porch on an unusually warm and sunny day in May, 2011, it had been a particularly cold and wet spring so I began by asking him about the role of the rain on Endless Falls.

SM: I think it’s a subconscious thing but it bubbles to the surface obviously. With Endless Falls rain is the key to the whole record. Not only do I use the actual sound of rain, but all the other sounds are processed using the sound of the rain so in a way it constitutes the musical notes. The actual ambient sound around us becomes the ambient musical sound of the record itself. I like that idea. My little studio’s in the back of the house and when it rains it’s very much a part of whatever I’m working on. That recording of actual rain on Endless Falls was made in my backyard so it’s like I’m giving listeners a piece of the experience I had while I was working on the record.

MM: The CD on the Italian Glacial Movements label (run by mountaineering devotee Alessandro Tedeschi) features a more static sound with seemingly fewer musical events taking place over the course of six tracks. Each is named for a local mountain peak or ridge. You’re not a mountaineer like Alessandro but you’re clearly inspired by the pacific coastal range here.

SM: I’ve been to Black Tusk and Grouse, obviously. Part of it is actually going to those places but another part of it is seeing them from afar and I have a view from my office at work. I can see both The Lions and Grouse Mountain. Something that’s always fascinated me is the fact that we don’t think of them as dynamic. We think of them as very static. They’re fixtures and they seem the same every day, other than maybe being covered in snow (or not) but they are actually incredibly dynamic on a timescale we can’t perceive and there’s something about that I like, that timelessness. Imagine writing music on that timescale, thinking in terms of millions of years. There’s something fascinating about that and it’s part of what I’m trying to create with ambient music; the sense of a timescale that’s outside of “real-time”, outside of our daily experience of time, which is obviously much faster.

MM: The only way to really solve this one would be with generative music, that which employs randomizing systems to create an endless piece of music using recombinant and regenerating sound sources. Unfortunately it’s hard to do that with the limitations of the CD.

SM: I like the sense that each one of those pieces on coast / range / arc feels like it’s been cut off at the beginning and the end, that it could be much, much longer and that they are just little snippets, like seeing just a hint of the horizon, it’s meant to seem so much more infinite.

MM: Almost like a core sample, or ice core sample. Or if you’re talking about our relationship to the local mountains, most urban dwellers know them only through “view corridors.” Have you worked with generative systems?

SM: Yeah. I’ve done some generative stuff but it’s always towards a seed of an idea rather than an installation type thing where you could just turn it on, walk away and leave it running. I’ll use generative processes to make a little unit of sound and I’ll take it out and apply structure after the fact. But I do like the idea of creating a generative piece that could just be left on forever.

MM: If there’s the technology around and maintained to see it through!

SM: Wind chimes are still the best generators, the best generative music ever written! But I’m born and raised here so I feel like the mountains are part of me in the sense that they form my own backdrop and it finds its way into my music. There’s something about a mountain landscape when you’re off hiking in the woods. There’s the solitude, an emotional connection and the fact of being alone. We’re lucky we’re close to the mountains, the ocean, the forest and the water. Those things are always on my mind in some weird way.

MM: In some form, these things are universal even if not directly experienced. I think of some of the music by Cluster, Popol Vuh, Harold Budd and others and how it’s so utterly fitting beyond the pastoral or desolate environs of its creation. Two of Ralph Towner’s compositions inspired the official naming of craters on the moon!

SM: There are certainly some universal things. Space has played a very influential role in a lot of different music and I think it’s about that individual wondering of what’s out there, what are we all about and the need to express something we can’t put into words. So people unite around something like space as a metaphor for a search for meaning and landscape functions pretty similarly to that. If I lived in the desert would it have the same influence on me, play the same role in the music that the mountains, ocean and the rain do? You can’t really know until you move to the desert I guess.

MM: Musicians like Austria’s Fennesz and Germany’s Alva Noto are producing music that in addition to being created from field recordings and/or being influenced by landscape seems to pull sound from the invisible thickness of electronic signal-suffused air. What’s next for you after mountain ranges?

SM: Actually, I just curated a new record with the theme; The World Without Us (after Alan Waisman’s book which details the impact on the planet after suddenly becoming bereft of human presence and, more importantly, the maintenance of our myriad systems of survival and energy generation – ed.) Chris Herbert contributed a piece that was all about radio waves and what would linger beyond, like snatching remnants out of the air, decaying electronic signals that might still be hanging around.

Mark Mushet

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