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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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

In concert – Loscil & Marconi Union @ Rich Mix, London

Loscil & Marconi Union

Rich Mix, London, Monday 21 October 2019

Written by and images (c) Ben Hogwood

How do you define pure musical ambience? Is it music you can leave it on in the background and do all manner of tasks to, or is it the sort where you become so transfixed that everything else is blocked out?

Loscil’s music falls emphatically into the latter category. He may have been on the stage at Rich Mix for 45 minutes, but for that time the entire audience were gathered up and taken to the outer reaches of Vancouver, British Columbia. This is where Scott Morgan, the man behind the moniker, resides – and it is the wild, open panoramas of the region that his music so successfully evokes.

Equivalents, his most recent album, is a series of responses to black and white photographs of clouds by Alfred Stieglitz in the early 20th century, and the formations billowed on projections behind Morgan for much of his set. This aided the feeling of total immersion in the elements, meaning all we were lacking was the wind on our faces and the rain on our heads.

With little in the way of propulsive rhythm, Loscil’s music somehow captures the raw power and scale of the elements, the expanse of the Pacific coast stretching out as far as the eye can see. The mind’s eye is also drawn to natural phenomena closer at hand, with forests, lakes and birds all effortlessly alighting in the imagination.

We traversed five numbers from the Equivalents album in all, in a I – III – II – V – VII formation (with the image for the beautifully restful II shown above). The air was thick with big chords, Loscil’s keyboards and sequencing taking on quasi-orchestral designs. When silence arrived, in the middle of the set, nobody dared to move – and, after an intake of breath, on we went. It is a long time since I saw an audience so transfixed in a gig, and Loscil’s music took us somewhere truly special, way outside of a bar in Bethnal Green.

Supporting this transcendental experience was a more beat-driven variation on musical ambience from Marconi Union (above). The long-standing Manchester group make music that is more urban in origin, at one with the setting in which we found ourselves. Like Loscil they used projections, usually halved on the screen and complementing the more city-based and percussive approach perfectly.

Night time visions for tracks like Sleeper were transporting, as were the images of travel by car or train before them. Piano and guitar were key elements here, sensitively played as the quartet gelled effortlessly on stage.

The first part of Weightless was arguably the most effective, its subtly changing textures and evocations of twinkling lights most effective before an audience fully on board with this antidote to Monday night drudgery.

Both acts offered proof positive that ambience can be a transporting experience, and that the rich talent and intensity in this field remains undimmed. With well-chosen DJ sets from The Grid’s Richard Norris in and around the live acts, as part of his Group Mind initiative, this was a night to celebrate the surprising power of ambient music, whether foreground or background.

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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