Switched On – Loscil // Lawrence English: Colours Of Air (Kranky)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This collaboration between Canada and Australia, between composers Loscil and Lawrence English, was born from a long-running conversation on electronic music. It gives both musical minds a chance to explore together the sounds of a pipe organ from the Old Museum in Brisbane. While Lawrence English’s work of the past decade has centred on the sounds of instruments such as this, Loscil’s has tended towards less analogue keyboard instruments.

Here the two combine their unique and deeply personal approach to music, taking the source recordings and manipulating the organ sounds into personal and uniquely colourful responses – hence a different shade for each of the eight tracks.

What’s the music like?

Perhaps inevitably, colourful. However there is something about the way Loscil and English bring colour into their music that sets it well above the ambient ‘standard’. These tracks really do live up to their names, and with eight different hues throughout the album it is certainly one for the mind’s eye.

The Brisbane instrument makes a major contribution, but not just through its resultant music. The mechanical actions are part of the recording process too, so on occasion the very instrument is inhaling and exhaling, providing a white-noise percussion along with the pitches.

Without ado, Cyan allows us to dive straight into these wonderful textures, a glittering array of musical shades that soon become punctuated with soft chimes. The music shimmers in a way that the organ music of Philip Glass does, but the motifs are blanketed, the shape shifting chords taking place like billowing clouds.

As the eight-part suite progresses, so we get to hear more of the nuances of the Brisbane instrument, with varying levels of attack and depth. The pitches stay relatively static, often in a drone-like stasis, but some allow for greater, mysterious movement – such as Aqua, with its ethereal sighing motif. Sharper tones are used for the brightness of Pink, a vivid contrast to the relatively withdrawn colours of Grey and Black that went before.

Black, the longest track of the eight, is a majestic piece of work, dark as space itself but panning out to the edge of perspective. Of a similar dimension is Magenta, whose slight pitch bends create a drawn out and very intense sonic drama.

Yellow is another standout moment, and it just so happened that I experienced this piece of music during a sunrise, which it most certainly evokes – one of those wonderful moments where sound and nature are as one.

Does it all work?

Yes. There are some fascinating processes at work here, and the feeling persists that the outcome is an equal musical agreement between the two parties. The listener still gets Loscil’s uniquely wide, weather-beaten panorama, but the pipe organ adds something special, Lawrence English securing his timeless response in a different and slightly more mechanical way.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. A mandatory purchase for fans of either – and for those in need of some musical balm to mark the end of January.



Switched On: Loscil – The Sails p.1 & 2 (Bandcamp)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Sails is a two-part collection of music written by Loscil for dance projects over the last eight years. It brings together a number of specially commissioned projects, many of which were performed only once – and the Vancouver producer has arranged them into two collections of nine pieces each. These available on Bandcamp at a ‘name your price’ rate for the digital files, or as a double CD edition with special artwork.

What’s the music like?

This is a very interesting insight into Loscil’s creativity, and is a more animated complement to the serenity and vastness of his artist albums.

The two collections work well when listening back to back. There are the flickering messages of Wells, and it soon becomes apparent that there is more nervous energy in the foreground than we are used to in a Loscil set of pieces. This movement it is counteracted by slow, measured steps that are beautifully poised, sometimes acting as drones or operating with slowly shifting harmonies.

Some of the pieces are structured like an arch, with a composition like Still progressing from bare elements to richly textured loops with more movement, and then panning out again. Wolf Wind, a striking evocation, has a settled backdrop of a single held drone that changes colour thanks to the subtle movement in the middle ground.

Loscil also uses beats in a subtle but meaningful way. In Never they ricochet across the stereo picture, increasing their dominance over the slower musical processes going on behind. By contrast a work like Century has a stately beauty, like the opening of a flower.

Does it all work?

It does. The music has a different ambience to it from Loscil’s through-composed albums, but the use of more animated musical figures against a background stillness is still immensely reassuring, panning out into some richly shaded scenes.

Is it recommended?

Yes – the ideal complement if you already own a good deal of Loscil’s music. If you don’t, the ‘name your price’ option gives you no excuse not to get acquainted!

Listen & Acquire

Switched On – Loscil: Clara (Kranky)


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.




Playlist – Digitonal

It gives us great pleasure to welcome Digitonal‘s Andy Dobson to Arcana’s playlist section.

He has been busy working on album number four for Digitonal, Set The Weather Fair – released only last Friday on the Just Music label. It features a typically blissful set of sonic pictures, with extra-descriptive hues from Dobson’s clarinet and cello.

The Spotify playlist here is a selection of music that led to the album, and it includes restful but thoroughly immersive ambient music from varied sources such as Loscil, Pye Corner Audio, Philip Glass and BT:

Our thanks to Andy for this regenerating collection of music. Digitonal’s new album Set The Weather Fair is out now on Just Music. You can listen and purchase on the Bandcamp embed below:

Playlist – Sound of Mind

With the world in such a weird place at the moment, now seems like a good time to share a playlist of ambient music to ease the mind.

This one, homemade on the hoof, includes some personal favourites from Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, The Orb and a whole lot more:

I hope you enjoy it – and if you have any suggestions for future playlists please get in touch. Happy to do a whole load more!

Ben Hogwood