Vancouver’s Scott Morgan goes deep as Loscil
From the meteoric rise of artists like Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin to the easy accessibility of new sounds thanks to hard-working labels like Editions Mego and distribution hubs like Experimedia phrases like “kosmische” are ranking higher and higher in the buzzy word cloud and record stores’ out-there instrumental sections continue to fill up with hip spa music. In abstract terms the argument could be made that experimental ambient music is having a bit of a moment.
Vancouver-based performer Scott Morgan who’s been making world-class ambient electronic music as Loscil since 1998 hasn’t noticed a rise in experimental stock as of late. Instead it’s been slow and steady for the last decade and a half.
“I definitely have heard a lot of people talking about how ambient music is a little more popular than it once was” Morgan says. “There’s certain people who have sort of broken away from the pack and are I wouldn’t say mainstream but are a little closer to mainstream names now. That’s definitely something that didn’t happen a lot…. In terms of my trajectory and my ‘career’ it’s kind of just been consistent. I’ve had a small but dedicated audience who have just sort of stuck with it. I’m kind of lucky in that sense. It’s never really gone away and it’s never really gotten too big.”
Morgan’s also become even less of a name in his home city as time has gone on. A former drummer for indie rock mainstays Destroyer his early years as Loscil saw him plugged into Vancouver’s avant-garde community. As time has gone on however his relationship with the city has dwindled.
“I feel pretty isolated” he admits. “When I was starting out with this project and a lot younger I was a little more plugged in. I was organizing events and connected to other people doing similar stuff. These days I’m always surprised when I get an email or a contact of some sort from someone in Vancouver who’s actually interested in what I’m doing…. It feels like a lot of time has gone by where people here don’t even know that I live here. I’ve actually had that response playing a show in Vancouver where people were surprised that I wasn’t on tour and that I actually live here.”
Isolation can’t be hurting the music of Loscil however. Morgan’s ethereal compositions spread across 10 full-length albums and countless auxiliary releases (many of which were released by venerable experimental imprint Kranky) weave haunting field recordings subtle instrumentation and the occasional percussive element creating an immersive listening experience that’s as suited for detail-oriented solo listening as it is background music.
Though it sounds otherworldly Morgan has a strong work ethic hunkering down at his computer to work on new music every day. It’s been especially important to maintain that output since he lost his day job as a sound designer and composer for video games. Since then Loscil has become the main way he feeds his family.
“It’s hard because if you’re trying to survive as a musician these days you need to be busy and you can’t really say no to a lot of things” he says. “So I say yes to a lot of live shows and I say yes to a lot of remixes and a lot of collaborations. Things start piling up and adding up and you feel like if you take your foot off the pedal they’re going to go away.”
That’s not to say his work is suffering. If anything Morgan’s material is at its most impressive. Last year’s Kranky full-length Sketches From New Brighton was arguably his best proper album yet and 2013 was another career topper with output that included the Bvdub collaborations Erebus the Intervalo solo LP and music on the iOS puzzle game Hundreds .
Though his work moves in all sorts of different directions Morgan generally starts with the same basic process. “It’s ever so slightly different every time but mostly I like to start [with] collecting sounds — either field recordings or real-world ambient sounds” he says. “Usually I’ll try and build up a little library of sounds or a little collection of sounds I like and then start sequencing them and organizing them into an actual composition. But then what’s different from piece to piece is whether I add an instrumental part afterwards or start with a recognizable melody or clip of something that’s like an actual little piece of music rather than an abstract sound.”
The composition method has stayed the same throughout his career but Morgan is the first to admit that the final results have evolved as he’s found his own niche. “Earlier on there were maybe a few more hints to dance music culture than there are lately in my music” he says pointing out that he was never really interested in dance music. “I’m not really a club kid or anything…. In the early days I really enjoyed listening to dance music but I wasn’t really culturally that tuned into it. I was more influenced from afar then it kind of went by. I don’t listen to it really anymore myself… so I just naturally moved away from it.”
That’s not to say that beats don’t inform Loscil’s compositions. “Rhythm in a really generic sense is interesting to me and I’m still a drummer at heart” Morgan adds. “Even if they’re buried in the textures and in the drones I kind of like little 4/3 type patterns and weird sort of rhythmic things that may not be super obvious on the surface of the music and certainly aren’t drums. Like I don’t use any real drums but rhythm is something that has always interested me.”
Morgan’s a thoughtful precise composer to be sure but he’s not a perfectionist. “There are a lot of people I know who are really intense perfectionists who just spend insane amounts of time remixing and reworking their stuff. I’m not quite like that” he says.
Once a new release comes out however he never wants to hear it again. “I can’t listen to anything I’ve done ever. Once it’s released into the world and I can’t change it anymore I almost never listen to it. Aside from doing live versions of things obviously then I have to get involved with past compositions but actual recorded finished discs I can’t listen to because I hate them…. I’m very self-critical and it’s very easy to kind of be down on stuff.”
The next major Loscil project might just reward repeat listens even for Morgan himself. Along with his next Kranky album Morgan’s been working with programmers he met through the video game industry to develop a non-linear album. The project when it’s complete will be released to smartphones and tablets and will sound different each time it’s played.
“I hate calling it an app because that’s not what it is” Morgan says opting instead for the title “electronic album thing.” A programmer has written a prototype for the project and Carrie Walker who painted the grey watercolour cover for Sketches From New Brighton is working on supplemental artwork. Now all it needs is the music.
“It’s a different way of composing because instead of just writing a piece I have to actually write all of the little components that randomly get played back together by the thing” Morgan says. “I’d say I’m about 25 per cent into the music side of it…. I just have to figure out how to get it out there into the world and hopefully get people talking about it and listening to it.”
Unfortunately the project is taking longer than he’d anticipated because he’s funding it himself. “It’s hard to tell where to put your energy when you’re doing stuff on your own because some things pay the bills and some things don’t…. I’ve tried to get funding and I haven’t gotten funding so I’m doing it all out of pocket.”
Still it’s the project that Morgan’s most passionate about. “That’s my current big dream. My goal was to try and get it together by the end of the year but I think now it’s probably going to be early next year” he says. “Hopefully it won’t take me the rest of my life.”