At a first overall shallow look, I notice a pair of books about birds, another one on water, and then “Vegetarian” (maybe a cook book?). I also see stuff about Canada and British Columbia, I know you live in Vancouver… If I think of your art, including the covers of albums like “Monument Builders”, “Suns”, “Sea Island”, “Plume”, “Endless Fall”, and the titles themselves of records and tracks (eg. “Lake Orchard”, “Drained Lake”…), it seems that your poetic is permeated by this relationship between nature and artificial, something that maybe is also related to the way you design your sounds and compositions… How does your music is influenced by the physical environment you live in?
Yes. Physical environment is certainly a big influence on me. But I’ll add that the Water book is actually a photography book by Edward Burtynsky. Which is to say, I also take a lot of inspiration from other art forms, photography being very high on that list. I think many composers of soundscape oriented music are also field recordists and spend a lot of time recording and listening. This is actually very similar to photography and the two certainly intertwine in my life. The mix of urban, industrialized living in a broader context of nature, I think there are definite themes there that keep me engaged. The balance/imbalance of the way we humans live as part of nature but also disconnected from nature, these are all ingredients in the soup that is my work.
Among the LPs I noticed “The Dark Side of the Moon” of Pink Floyd, a band that personally I never loved too much, but that is so fundamental for the taste development in many experimental musicians. What is the path, in terms of listening, that drove you to the music you started to play (even with Destroyer) years ago?
It’s funny you should pick that one out as it’s not actually mine it belongs to my partner. Like you, I was never a Pink Floyd fan though I know many people have shared their influence. I’ve gone back to those records seeking out what people like and while I understand it, I never lived it. If I were to pick a fundamentally life-changing record it would be Velvet Underground and Nico which I first heard around the age of 14. I had never heard anything like it and it really did open up a world of possibilities to me. Of course, I’m not alone in this but at the time it felt like “my” discovery. From here I started teaching myself guitar and drums and started bands with friends which continued after I moved to Vancouver for university where I studied contemporary music and then a whole new world opened up. When I started Loscil, it was in the late 90’s after finishing a degree in music and also playing in quite a few bands including Destroyer. So the musical influences on me at the time were varied and I really wanted to start an electronic project that could be an outlet for that mash of influences.
Yes, Velvet Undergound again, I fully understand: this band seems to have been so influential on so many artists, at the point that one day I’ll try to put together something from all the interviews that mention them. But the fact that I funnily picked up a record belonging to your wife connects me to the picture of (I guess) your family, with two daughters. I have a strong interest of the family life of musicians, often a complex issue. You often play, as Loscil, a rather melancholic music: I’m thinking for instance to the mentioned heart breaking opening track of “Monument Builders”… it seems so deeply personal, so intimate, and I know that this album is connected to your friends and family health troubles. How does it work this osmosis between your private life experience and the public side of doing music?
I’ve been lucky in that maintaining a balance is not too difficult. Unlike many musicians I know, I don’t tour a lot. I try to keep my travel down to a few weeks a year if I can and this allows me to work primarily from home on projects and my own albums. Of course, providing for a family as an artist can be challenging but we’ve managed and I consider myself very lucky to have a healthy, happy family.
Peeking among the shelves, I notice an expected selection of modern and ‘ancient’ ambient: Brian Eno, 12k stuff, and the (for me) absolutely amazing Stars of the Lid, your ‘colleagues’ at Kranky. You seem to be very strongly linked to that label, that is an important landmark in ambient, electronic, experimental and post-rock music. How is your relationship with that label started, and then developed along the years? Are you strongly in touch with the other artists? Would you mention other labels that you like?
Yes Kranky has become my home for nearly 20 years. Our relationship started when I sent them a demo in the late 90’s. That simple really. After releasing “Triple Point” and “Submers” I unofficially became part of the Kranky family. I have become friends with many of the artists on the label and some of them like Paul Dickow and Adam Wiltzie/Brian McBride I’ve known in some capacity for nearly the whole time. My first tour ever as loscil was with Stars of the Lid in 2002. So it has been a epic Kranky journey. I have also done a bit of work with Ghostly International over the years and have some good connections there also. There are so many good labels out there these days, Touch, Room 40, Temporary Residence, RVNG Intl., Umor Rex… I could go on and on.
What is that “Unirsi al Cielo” DVD?
This was a gift from the organizers at Fondazione Culturale San Fedele in Milan. An amazing venue I played a couple years back. It was such a special night capped off with a surprise audience member being my (pre-Loscil) computer music teacher Barry Truax. Crazy coincidence.
Yes, San Fedele is a special place. You know, it’s managed by Jesuits, they do a lot of incredible things between “Art and Spirituality”, so I can really see your music fitting in their programme. They also organise concerts of experimental music, contemporary art exhibitions, praying classes and they have an school for strangers (where mostly migrants are addressed). I don’t know any other place in Milan, Italy or the world like this!
By the way, time ago Brian Foote of Kranky told me that you have a new album coming soon, “Equivalents”. Would you please tell me about it? The excerpt on Bandcamp sounds really ambient this time…
Yes, I was treated very well in Milan by Antonio (a Jesuit priest) – amazing venue and the turnout for the show was fantastic. Really special time and the promoters even took me for some Italian craft beer after the show (apparently a fairly new and rare thing in Italy)…
My new album – “Equivalents” – was recently announced. Where “Monument Builders” was a little more tense and riddled with anxieties, “Equivalents” floats a little more. The title comes from a series of photographs from the 1920’s and 30’s by Alfred Stieglitz which are mostly of clouds. He considered these like abstract paintings – as raw expressions of thoughts and feelings. Some of my earliest explorations in electronic music were about creating textures and clouds of sound, working with density as a musical parameter. Heavily influenced of course by Ligeti, Xenakis but also and so I wanted to get back tot his idea of the abstraction and the emotional possibilities of abstraction to be a conduit for the listener without any specific instruction or subject.
That’s true, clouds are inspiring for many people, and abstraction is an interesting direction for artists nowadays. I was discussing this topic with Yann Novak here on Concrete Shelves, on how difficult can be to drive creatively emotions or – even vague – messages (you said “raw expressions of thoughts and feelings”) through instrumental music, especially if ambient/abstract as you call it. I wonder if this attitude might perhaps be a reaction also to the political and social phase we’re living nowadays. I’m not really updated about Canada, but in US and Europe, not to mention other continents, the situation is (for my personal ‘tastes’) pretty depressing. So, I ask myself, and I ask you, if creating more abstract, intimate, ethereal music or art in general can be an answer… Like “better look up to the clouds or within ourselves than to the earth and its population”.
Interesting, well this is going to be a convoluted answer I’m sure. Instrumental musicians have always faced this idea of abstraction. With visual art forms abstraction is an exception but with non-lyrical music it is basically the norm. So any effort to embrace abstraction sonically is obviously not that revolutionary. Personally, I’ve always made an effort to contextualize my work and provide background. Sometimes these themes are overt, sometimes they are a little more poetic and elusive. But giving a listener track titles and cover art that is suggestive of a narrative has always been interesting to me. Oddly enough, when I tried to get away from this with “Equivalents”, a theme still showed up. I think it’s just a fundamental part of my process to gravitate to an extra-musical idea. In this case, it’s about that exchange between the natural world, human subjectivity and art. How are these three things connected both for me as creator but also for the listener when they engage with my music. So, in the end, the whole point for me is to provide a conduit for experience of ones own state. I am not attempting to make this story about politics but if politics is what speaks to you then hopefully this music can be a vessel for these thoughts. In other words, it’s about embracing multiple subjectivities and allowing my own personal thoughts and emotions to dissolve into the work. Answering the last part of your question – is this album a distraction from the perils of the world? No, I don’t think so but, again, if it serves this purpose for anyone, then I’m content with that. Maybe it makes you think about the world, maybe it allows you to escape from it. Both are welcome responses.
LOSCIL is the electronic music project of Vancouver-based composer and multimedia artist Scott Morgan. Since the late 1990’s, Morgan has over a dozen recordings under the LOSCIL moniker. Morgan has also produced numerous special projects, remixes and collaborations with other musicians including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Murcof/Vanessa Wagner, Sarah Neufeld, bvdub, Rachel Grimes, Christina Vantzou, Seabuckthorn, Lusine and Kelly Wyse.
Morgan has composed for film and TV and licensed music to bold documentaries, including The Corporation, Scared Sacred, Damnation, Enlighten Us and The Marshall Projects’s award winning series We Are Witnesses. LOSCIL has contributed bespoke music and video for dance working with choreographers Damien Jalet from Belgium and Vanessa Goodman from Vancouver. He has been involved in creating music for games and multimedia projects such as Hundreds, Osmos, SESQUI, Lifelike and his own generative music application ADRIFT.
As a touring entity, Morgan has brought his live audio-visual performances to venues and festivals worldwide including Mutek, Decibel, Le Guess Who, LEV, Gamma Fest, Today’s Art and Big Ears.
Photo by Dayna Szyndrowski