Variations on a theme
Some weeks are just… well, not good. For whatever reason. Stuff going wrong, or just too much of the stuff that needs to be done and not enough time for the joyful stuff. I had about four of those. Work, work, work. Not that I don’t like what I do, but when I don’t get a chance to come here and write it’s… well, not good.
Luckily I can choose what to write about, and Scott Morgan’s latest album “Clara” is the antidote of choice. It’s been accompanying me during these days, first because I wanted to write about it anyway, and then simply because it was just the right kind of music to surround me while I was toiling away.
Sure, you may say, that’s sort of what Ambient music will do, not much of a surprise there. That’s what music will do, I would argue, way beyond Ambient – I still remember how I once wrote a hundred pages for a travel catalogue within an insanely tight deadline, and just making it while listening to Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Touré’s “Talking Timbuktu” on repeat for days.
Still, “Clara” does seem like a more obvious choice. As other Loscil albums would. Scott Morgan is one of those rare artists of the Ambient genre that never tries too hard and never just stays on a decorative level. Even if you didn’t know what exactly the concept behind a piece of work might be – you always sense that you’re listening to something more than a sonic exploration.
We know about the conceptual background, though. “Clara” is based on a three minute composition performed by a 22-piece orchestra. At first glance that might seem like a really narrow conceptual confinement. Not to a creative person though – as advertising legend David Ogilvy once said: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief.” The most horrible thing you can do to an artist is to tell them they can do whatever they want, and the oh so generous offer to “let the creative juices flow freely” is something that will make any creative person cringe.
Scott Morgan sure had a tight brief, and the result is proving the validity of Ogilvy’s statement. We don’t know the three minutes of the original piece, and we therefore don’t know which part of it Morgan is referring to on which track. And yet, there is coherence, it can be felt, somewhere below the skin, and the magic here is that the tracks and the album feel like they are part of something bigger while originating from something much smaller.
But that’s sort of the physical dimension of it. The conceptual one is that of light. “Clara” is not about a person with that name (even though Morgan’s daughter is called Clara), it’s about light – every title has a Latin name for an aspect of light. The light of flames, of the sun and the stars – Lux, Aura, Vespera and seven more dimensions of illumination.
In a way, this reflects the way Morgan worked, deconstructing the original recording, assembling a palette of sounds and then creating something new from there. Variations of a theme, variations of sound, variations of light, all coming from one and the same source. Sometimes the light is just there, omnipresent, and sometimes it is more focused, in some cases pulsating, creating rhythms and loops.
And just like manipulation of light is giving it rhythm, by motion and reflection, the rhythm on “Lumina” for example is created through manipulation as the original recording was put on a seven inch vinyl and then scratched with sandpaper, creating jumps that in turn create loops and clicking sounds forming rhythms when the needle keeps jumping back into the turn of the groove it just completed.
Other rhythmic elements are repetitive pulsations, pings and soft stabs, elements that create structure – but in ways that never push the result out of what is clearly Ambient music. Sometimes these rhythmic elements will run on different speeds or meters, especially on “Lucida”, a track that works in ways that keep reminding me of some of the pieces on Kasper Björke’s exceptional “Fifty Eleven Project”.
What every track will do is create calmness, even during the slightly darker moments, in “Flamma” for example. When I was intensely focused on writing, I never felt the music leave me like repetitive sound will gradually disappear when you do something with full concentration. It kept is presence, like light keeps its presence, even when the sun is not providing it directly, it’s always there and always felt.
In a recent interview, Scott Morgan said that the idea of light and shadow had intrigued him for quite a while, partly because his music was sometimes seen as dark, and sometimes even the same tracks will be associated with hope and brightness. Morgan himself doesn’t take sides here, enjoying contrasts, enjoying the dark as much as the light, even extending this to photography which he prefers to do in black and white as on the image he chose for the cover of the album.
“Clara” closes with “Clara”, the nine minute title track that is sculpted around a long drone that will do exactly what was just described – either let people perceive it as somehow dark, brooding or even ominous – others will associate it with calmness and perceive the accompanying higher notes of the sound palette as signaling hope.
It’s all just fine when you ask Scott Morgan who wouldn’t ever tell you what you should be hearing. “Clara” does what it does to you. To me, it was just the perfect cloud of sound to surround me during some pretty intense weeks. A light in a shadowy time.
Release for review:
LOSCIL – CLARA – KRANKY – KRANK231
Buy the album on Bandcamp: Click