Accompanied by pianist Kelly Wyse, Loscil (a.k.a. Scott Morgan) performed a breathtaking version of his piece “City Hospital” for Decibel Festival in Seattle a few weeks ago. After watching incredible performances by Christina Vantzou and Windy & Carl, I was able to meet up with Scott to chat for a bit about big bridges, The Orb, and his newest release, Sketches From New Brighton, on Kranky Records.
Maybe you get asked this all the time, but what inspired you to first start making ambient music?
I used to play in a lot of bands and stuff, and then I went to school and learned about more academic computer and electro-acoustic music. And right around the same time I was exploring early works of Brian Eno, and The Orb was a current thing. The combination of all those elements inspired me to do my own solo work. I was doing more academic stuff when I was in school, and I wanted to have a foot in that, but not be totally an experimental artist. I wanted something you could latch onto, whether melodically or rhythmically.
Speaking of playing in other groups, I know you have worked with lots of different groups, including drumming for Destroyer. I find it interesting that you are a drummer, but your music as Loscil is, for the most part, non-percussive. Have you ever experimented with making more blatantly beat-oriented electronic music?
Not really. I don’t really have an explanation for that. I’m kind of a multi-instrumentalist; I’m not really just a drummer and an ambient musician. I have played in various bands, including Destroyer, as a drummer, but I have also played in bands as a guitar player — maybe they weren’t as famous as Destroyer. I don’t know what it is, but I really resist that pure beat-driven music, electronically.
So you have a new record out called Sketches from New Brighton. What does the title refer to exactly?
New Brighton is a park in Vancouver. A good friend of mine, Carrie Walker, did the cover, which is a landscape painting looking out from the park. It’s a weird little place that has always captured my imagination. The Vancouver harbor comes in there, and there are always big ships that slowly move through there. There is a big bridge, the Second Narrows Bridge. It’s a park, but there’s all this industry beside it. That combination is something in the background that I have become interested in — that kind of nature meets industry. I’ve been in Vancouver for over 20 years, and this park has a plaque there that claims to be the birthplace of Vancouver, which a lot of people might argue, but there is something interesting about that to me. Place plays a role in grounding an otherwise pretty abstract music process. It’s just a way for me to put it all together.
You call it “sketches.” Was there anything sketch-like in the recording process of this album; was it more brief or improvised in any way?
Yeah, there is a process for me, and I guess “sketches” is a really loose way of describing it. I work on a very cellular level, where I’ll make a little piece of something that loops forever, or becomes a motif or an idea that I develop further compositionally. The field recordings are more photographic I guess, but they’re almost also sketches as well. It’s just the combination of capturing bits of a place and throwing these ideas together, and it is sometimes in a very sketch-like manner. It is somewhat improvisational; it’s not pre-designed. I don’t think in my head, “It should sound this way,” and then go do it; it’s more like doodling, if that makes sense.
A lot of your releases seem to be thematic or conceptual in some way. Do you generally come up with an idea and then record music to fit it, or does the theme sort of arise during the recording process?
Every one has been a little different. Some have been very much preconceived, like the theme is kind of informing the whole process, and others have been the complete opposite, I have written all the music and then apply this theme to it — like just names and images. Sketches is kind of in between; the idea for the theme happened half way through writing some stuff. It kind of falls together and just makes more sense — to me, anyway.
I don’t think in my head, “It should sound this way,” and then go do it; it’s more like doodling, if that makes sense.
So I have read that you do some work on videogame music. How has your experience with that influenced your music as Loscil, or the other way around?
I’m very interested in soundtrack composition style. It’s basically ambient music. Underscoring is sort of a natural ambient music without trying to be ambient music; it’s trying to support something else. I think that cinematic feel has always influenced me. To me, I’m kind of always writing a soundtrack for something. I don’t know what it is; maybe it’s this place, or this idea, or maybe it’s just a mental place that doesn’t exist physically. That approach is very influential on my whole approach to music.
I used to DJ a radio show down in California, and I played a lot of your music; the theme was sort of music to fall asleep to and begin dreaming, and that was kind of my relationship with ambient music — a latenight, bedroom environment. I’m wondering, do you see your music as having some sort of purpose or intended setting? Do you imagine your listeners to have a specific state of mind?
What I’ve learned is that you put your music out there, and even if you have an intended place or way to be listened to, people will do their own thing with it. And sometimes you get really interesting interpretations and stories that come back. Those are sort of the most inspiring to me; that’s what fuels me. When I hear someone’s amazing story of how my music helped them, or how my music provided some sort of solace or space, or even “I really like to study to your music.” There are a million applications. I mean for me, I like to think I sort of float between attentive, concentrated listening, and very background, truly ambient, like you can put it on and do something else. I like the idea that someone can drift into engagement and drift out of engagement, and I’m not insulted if it’s in the background, or if you want to sleep to it, or do something else to it. I’d like to hope that there is some room for someone can really absorb themselves into it.