Music Loscil interview

One of the things on Scott Morgan’s bucket list was to write a composition performed by an orchestra. He can check that off his list now as he collaborated with the Budapest Scoring Orchestra for his ‘warmest’ album to date, ‘Clara’.

Scott Morgan: For a long time I had this idea in the back of my mind to write an orchestra piece. I was browsing online for budget film orchestras who were mostly based in Eastern Europe. Some of these orchestras sell off very small chunks of time with the players for half an hour or even 15 minutes. For me, on a small budget, it is very affordable. I signed up for a mailing list on the Budapest Scoring website and received an email in February last year, saying that there was an opportunity to do a recording session of 30 minutes with the orchestra. I sent them the parts, a three minute composition with simple long chords that slightly overlap. We set a date and I dialed in at 5 a.m. my time for a recording session. We did six takes and they sent me the Pro Tools files so I could mix the material at home. I’m very pleased to fulfil my dream to write a piece of music for a larger ensemble and using the recordings as a source material for a record. 

200%: Is there a track on the album which is close to the original composition?
SM: It is pretty surgically taken apart and put back together again. The opening track of the record ‘Lux’ has the same underlying harmonic structure. The first chords in the piece appear as written. Then it is stretched and manipulated as it goes. 

200%: The original composition was only three minutes. How did you envision that you got enough material for an entire album?
SM: I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure at the time that my recording session would be enough to make an entire album, but it’s amazing what you can do with digital audio. You can make any sound into any other sound. It was interesting to me to put the material under a microscope and take it all apart. It’s a very similar process to remixing when you use someone else’s music. You’re taking it apart, using the layers, cutting it and looping it, and transforming it into something else. Stylistically this isn’t very different for me how I usually work with field recordings or intimate instrumental recordings. I like to build a library of sound and use that as my source material for a record. 

200%: Did working with a 22-piece string orchestra contribute to the warm, intimate sound palette of the album?
SM: I guess the strings naturally provide that. It is no accident that a string orchestra is so much part of our psychology and our history of film and classical music. It probably contributes to the warmth.

200%: Just like your previous albums is ‘Clara’ centred around a theme?
SM: Over the years I received some feedback that people find my music dark. It made me ponder what does darkness mean to people? I think they mean that something is foreboding, dramatic, emotionally challenging or sad. At the same time I received some feedback that people thought my music was very uplifting and calming, and they would use it during yoga or meditation. Somebody even gave birth to a baby with my music playing in the background. I was intrigued by this interplay between lightness and darkness and how people interpret it. Tied to that, I’m very interested in black and white photography where you represent everything in light and dark. That’s why many names on this record are about light, such as the title of the album ‘Clara’, the Latin reference to bright, and also my youngest daughter’s name. I’m interested in exploring these subjective areas of what music means in terms of lightness and darkness. 

200%: Here’s my interpretation of your album; it conjures up a feeling of traveling into space and time.
SM: Time and the perception of time have been part of my subconscious in the creation of music for a long time. Probably since the beginning of this project. I like to push and pull. I’ve done material that is very rhythmic, sort of moving and has pace to it, but I’ve also done drone pieces like the title track ‘Clara’ which is very slow and takes you out of time. When you think of time and infinity we think of being into space but you can also go the other direction and go inward. Infinity can go inward and into ourselves as well. This idea is also expressed on the cover of the album which is a macro photograph of an ice block.

200%: You have a mild form of colour blindness. You said, “Visually I’m often drawn to black and white because colour is too difficult for me to work with.” Is that the reason why the sound palette of your albums are so monochrome?
SM: I think so. I don’t make very ‘colourful’ music. I do tend to occupy the lower end of the spectrum sonically. I like bass and low mid-sounds that fill your body. When you think of sound in terms of colour maybe the vocal range and the higher frequencies are brighter and are more colourful and I tend to avoid those things. There are times when I tried to insert colour both visually and sonically just to see whether it fits. Maybe a melody or a high string part to bring a bit of shine or colour to an otherwise very monochromatic scene.

200%: Your albums draw inspiration from the environment. Rain on ‘Endless Falls’, clouds on ‘Equivalents’ or degradation of the natural world on ‘Monument Builders’. It seems like nature is an inexhaustible well of inspiration for you. Why is that?
SM: It is related to where I live on the South coast of British Columbia in Canada. I can walk outside and see the mountains or the rainforest and it’s a 20-minute bike ride to the ocean. Nature is in your face all the time and it has become part of my background of my whole life.
I don’t know, though, why it is so literal in my practice because I don’t try to make it so. To me, it feels like an intuitive thing. I actually tried purposely to remove it and wondered what if I lived in the desert or downtown Manhattan. Would my current environment disappear gradually from my work? Every time I made a considered effort to remove nature from my work it shows up again so I have given up. I just let it flow. [laughs]

200%: My last question is about ‘The Making of Grief Point’ – the final track of your album ‘Endless Falls’. The entire album is instrumental except this track when we hear the voice of Dan Bejar, the lead singer of Destroyer, speaking his own text in monologue form. The human voice comes out of the blue.
SM: Yes, a lot of people didn’t like that the album finished with lyrics.

200%: Really, it made the album even more intriguing. What made you decide to use the human voice on that track?
SM: I have been talking to Dan about doing a spoken word piece for a long time. Dan is an incredible singer and his lyrics are like poetry. When you read them they stand on their own. I remember, though, really struggling with the idea of finishing the album with lyrics, thinking, “People are probably not going to be into this” because the record is very slow moving and contemplative. Instrumental sounds tap into a different part of the brain than voice and language. So one could say that I first put the listener asleep and then I suddenly woke them up. I thought this was a risk worth taking, though. It was something different and unexpected.

200%: It is. Dan’s lines sound very confessional such as “I have lost interest in music. It is horrible” and “For a second I thought that this meant that they were not interested in history. But that’s… wrong, wrong, wrong.” They pull you in to listen to the lyrics.
SM: There are a lot of references in the lyrics that are very specific to Dan’s recording process. He kind of hates that process in many ways of taking these ideas and putting them onto a record. Saying, “This is it” and handing it out to the world is a difficult thing to do.

Because you have to let go of your ‘baby’?
SM: Yes, you question every choice you have made including my decision to end the album with lyrics, but in the end it doesn’t matter you have to send it out there and see what happens.

Loscil’s new album ‘Clara’ is out there and is released by Kranky records.
Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers