Switched On – Loscil: Clara (Kranky)

loscil

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

‘Clara’ is the Latin word for ‘bright’. It is employed by Vancouver’s Scott Morgan to describe his latest album under the Loscil moniker. Morgan is a highly productive musician known for making minimal material stretch a long way, but with Clara he has outdone himself.

Taking a three-minute piece for a 22-piece string orchestra, Morgan recorded the output but then subjected the recording to heavy treatment. The master was purposefully damaged, introducing surface noise to give the impression of recordings made outside in the field, with gravelly scratches and frissons of white noise.

To match this, Morgan took snapshots of the score, stretching them into almost unrecognisable, broad canvases – rather like the detail you would find on a set of micro-models. The effect, as he says, is that “shadows are amplified and bright spots dimmed.”

What’s the music like?

Too often music is described as immersive, but the music of Loscil cannot be seen as anything else. As it unfolds, Clara has the reassuring regularity of a tidal system, its rich colours mixed together in a slowly moving but utterly compelling cycle. The tracks work on their own terms but are best experienced as part of the whole, as material from the original three-minute track stretches out to 70 minutes.

Although this is the first time Loscil has explicitly taken the orchestra for his inspiration, his music has always had suitable dimensions for these large-scale arrangements, and so Clara represents more of a shift in colour than a change in textural depth. With this in mind, Lucida paints pastel shades while a single chime tolls, but while that track has a metronomic regularity, Stella reaches a beautiful stillness, the ebb and flow of just two repeated chords providing the ultimate ambience over a ten-minute structure. From here Loscil naturally segues into Vespera, where a regularly turning mechanism sounds like the onward motion of a boat. Aura exhibits a more remote beauty, looking farther afield after the slowly bubbling Sol. Darker tones are used for the title track, in spite of its Latin meaning, a rich chord building with purpose from the bass strings before we glimpse the light in the violins. Eventually it fades over the horizon like the setting sun.

Does it all work?

Emphatically. Morgan makes ever-more meaningful and powerful music, which remains by turns simple and incredibly pictorial. His music gives the listener a wider perspective, a grasp of the earth’s vast spaces from their own little corner of the world. It reminds us how, in an age of technology that moves faster than ever before, nature has not quickened its pace to follow suit, proceeding where possible with its same sure-footed and inevitable progress.

As Loscil, Morgan gives us the reassurance that despite those supposed human advances, the progress of geology and nature is unlikely to ever be fully checked.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Clara is another very strong addition to the remarkably consistent Loscil canon, which continues to evolve and develop without repeating itself. It provides another reminder of just how far Scott Morgan is able to stretch the barest of musical material, resulting in an album of awesome depth and presence.

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Switched On – Loscil: Equivalents (Kranky)

Loscil Equivalents (Kranky)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Scott Morgan’s twelfth album as Loscil is inspired by Equivalents, a collection of black and white cloud photographs by Alfred Stieglitz from the early 20th century. Given that he lives in Vancouver, with its panoramic sky views towards the eastern Pacific, Morgan had constant reminders while writing his concentrated musical responses to eight of the pictures.

What’s the music like?

The imagery fits Loscil’s music perfectly, Morgan often creating music that works as an audible representation of a weather system.

Once again time and space are suspended in this music, which seems to be incredibly simple when placed in the middle background, but which on closer inspection reveals intricate lines when up close, rather like those cloud systems. The eight equivalents, slightly confusing in their placements out of conventional order on the album, unfold with slow gravity. Like their clouds they are weighed down, almost to floor level, but their layers combine to make constructions of rarefied beauty.

Equivalents 1 & 3 (picture above) make a good pair with which to start, both brooding in minor keys but in the second piece oscillating softly between two pitches above a long, held note. If you close your eyes and concentrate at this point natural phenomena come into view (they did for me at least!) and there is a palpable, windswept energy despite the complete lack of percussion.

The central Equivalent 5 (above) is the most memorable and remarkable, with the closest thing to a melody you will find on this album. A four-note motif, drawn over around 10 seconds, enjoys a stately progression through the clouds, like a plane on an onward journey as the mass of water swells around it.

In response Equivalent 2 (above) has that rare breed of stillness Loscil can conjure up, floating weightlessly above the solid masses. Again though this has a slow moving, four note movement, audible in the bass part.

Finally Equivalent 4 (above) inhabits a similar timeless space to Holst’s final planet Neptune, with a rich added chord bolstered by fuzzy outlines that gradually fade from view.

Does it all work?

Yes, with the greatest intensity. Some of the best ambient music is pleasant and relaxing to listen to but carries with it a concentrated feeling. Loscil achieves that balance once again on Equivalents, placing his listener in the very photograph providing him with inspiration. On headphones that notion becomes a very intense but also private experience.

Is it recommended?

Absolutely. A Loscil album that is ideal for new listeners but which will wholly satisfy his devoted fans. If you haven’t joined them already you are strongly advised to do so!

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