Loscil - Biography
Scott Morgan has been producing heavily textured ambient music as Loscil since the late 1990s. His work is very carefully measured, boasting a keen ear for structure and atmosphere. It’s perhaps the emotive sense of soul that sets Loscil far apart from the countless computer based ambient composers out there. Although Morgan uses computer processing to create his swirling, haunted music, there is an undeniable amount of humanity infused through his records. This is a rare feat in abstract music of any stripe and marks Morgan as a truly unique ambient composer.
Based in Vancouver, BC, Morgan attended the Simon Fraser University to study music. Given the calm, placid nature of much of Loscil’s music it’s a slight surprise to find out that Morgan works as a sound designer in the video game industry. It’s perhaps even more of a surprise to find out that he also plays drums for well-known indie rock band Destroyer. But maybe these shouldn’t be surprises. The music Morgan makes as Loscil is largely removed from many trends in music. His albums create a hermetic world unto themselves, seducing the listener with focused yet organic webs of undulating sonic activity.
Loscil derives its name from the “looping oscillator” function found in the computer music language of Csound. Obviously rooted in digital processing, Morgan’s work has an unexpected and engaging warmth that recalls the work of ambient pioneers like Brian Eno, Cluster and Gavin Bryars. In 1999 Morgan self-released the first Loscil album A New Demonstration Of Thermodynamic Tendencies. The record attracted the attention of the Chicago-based art-music label Kranky. The label dropped one of the six songs on that release and Morgan added four new tracks to complete his first official release and Kranky debut Triple Point in 2001. The composer’s aesthetic emerged close to fully realized and Triple Point remains a stunningly well-crafted record of pulsing minimal throb and shimmering drones. Morgan alternates between slightly sinister moods and blissed-out trance inducers, showing his skill at sculpting atmosphere on songs like “Hydrogen” and the amazing closer “Absolute.”
Kranky released the second Loscil album in 2002. Keeping in line with Morgan’s love of the conceptual Submers is an album based around an idea of oceanic depth. Even if the song titles didn’t bear the names of famous submarines the music makes clear how deep of a trip Morgan’s on. Arguably the better of his first two albums, Submers doesn’t stray far from the sound of the debut release but it does progress in terms of sonic depth. The textures Morgan creates here are simply beautiful, reflecting the concept of moving water, dancing light, dense pressure and total blue darkness. Again working with muted, dubwise rhythms to create a hypnotic pulse, Morgan smudges and swirls orchestral samples drenched in reverb and echo with mesmerizing results. Perhaps “Triton” best captures the feel of this record with its deep bass pulse, clicking sonar rhythm and waves of aquatic strings.
After touring with fellow drone-based labelmates Stars Of The Lid, Morgan returned to the studio and developed a new working method. Throughout 2003 the composer worked with a set of custom built sequencers and processors, running samples and live instruments through them. The sequencers and effects were designed so that each time the samples were played through the sound would never be quite the same, giving the music a live, organic feel. Morgan then recruited musicians to improvise over the sequenced samples. Jason Zumpano contributed electric piano, Tim Loewen played guitar and Nyla Rany played cello for Loscil. Morgan then took these improvisations and electronic sequences back into the studio for editing and mixing. 2004’s beautiful First Narrows is the result of this new process. It was an obvious success, yielding some of Morgan’s most sublime music yet. His organic tendencies move to the fore with the addition of live instrumentation, taking his music in a totally new direction. First Narrows still sounds very much like a Loscil production, but the implied bits of arrangements from his use of orchestral samples are now made clear but the use of actual instruments. This is true especially in Rany’s cello playing which adds a lush sense of spontaneity to the record. However, its Morgan’s touch that makes First Narrows arguably the finest Loscil record to date. He layers and sculpts the textural drones and neon, crystalline electronics into a perfect alien soundworld.
2006 brought the release of the fourth record. Plume is conceptually about air and these tracks do sound light and buoyant. Again Morgan worked with improvising musicians, later editing their performances to suit the tracks. The players worked over rhythm tracks and textural drones Morgan crafted in advance. The results this time are lighter, slightly more melodic songs infused with Morgan’s keen attention to detail. The sparse “Steam” captures the overall feel of Plume as it wafts gently away into the ether. Also in 2006 the Canadian web only label One released a free collection of Loscil tracks called Stases. Comprised of backing drones and reworked elements from previous albums Stases is a minimal, heavily drone-based album.
Stepping away from Kranky briefly in 2009 Morgan released the digital only EP Strathcona Variations on the Ghostly International label. The three tracks rank as some of the most minimal work Morgan has created. The songs center around rich drones that barely obscure a world of fluttering clicks, far away pings and swirls of synthesized color. “Union Dusk” proves to be the standout as it climaxes into a rhythmic mass of layered vibraphone.
This year is a good year for Loscil fans as it brings the release of his first full-length in six years, 2010’s Endless Falls. Based around themes of falling rain, this is some of the most mournful music Morgan has made. Again boasting the open, clear feel of Plume, these songs incorporate field recordings of rain, live percussion, thunder rolls of deep bass and again live instrumentation. Overall Endless Falls is more minimal than Plume, especially evident on the bare bones rhythm and bass of “Showers Of Ink” and the droning title track. When melody does emerge, as on the glowingly gorgeous piano of “Estuarine,” its abstracted to leave a haunting impression. Easily the most jarring moment and biggest departure comes with the closing track, “The Making Of Grief Point.” Morgan’s Destroy bandmate Dan Bejar delivers a spoken word piece relating the pain of the creative process over shimmering, eerie sonic backdrop. Surprisingly it works, closing the album on an interesting new angle.
Somewhere between the worlds of classic ambient music and minimal techno, Loscil merges the digital and the organic, minimalism with melody and textural float with pulsing rhythms. While Scott Morgan’s keen ear for engaging structure and deep atmosphere keep his work consistent it’s his desire to experiment that allows him to explore new angles on his well established aesthetic. All of his releases share a human warmth and naturalistic flow that separates Loscil from other computer musicians. Morgan’s records continue to expand in emotion and subtlety, making him one of the most consistently engaging ambient producers working today.