Canadian ambient electronic artist Loscil last led us to the bleakly melancholic, grey-skied and subdued sound sketches of New Brighton. Intervalo continues in a similar vein, atmospherically at least, but one addition has seen Vancouver’s Scott Morgan team up with Seattle-based pianist Kelly Wyse, of Orcas.
Loscil’s ambience isn’t always the purest, or is it instantly pretty, but that’s what makes Morgan’s music so unique and compelling. Unfolding slowly, with rotor blades for a rhythm, lighter textures are allowed to lap over a deep, shuddering bass. It’s a frequency that has the capacity to pull you in, deeper and deeper, until it becomes an exercise in the art of hypnosis. Eventually, the music consumes the space entirely, and you have a feeling that’s what it was waiting for all along.
Loscil’s chalked grey atmospheres still show vital signs, but the entrance of the grand piano seems to soak up at least some of the prevailing melancholia. As is plain to see, the piano herself can writhe perfectly in sadness, and her sparsely placed phrases are a fitting companion. On Intervalo, though, she sets out with distinctive, decisive phrases that suggest the musical passages have been well thought out, and not improvised over the course of the recording process.
‘Endless Falls’ sees the piano pulled into the centre of loscil’s rainy drone, a place where the phrases are uncluttered, dappling over the musical textures like droplets blurring a windshield,and silhouetting the outside world. Coated atmospheres that ooze texture hand themselves almost entirely over to the Steinway grand piano. In this sense, there is a musical shift. Loscil’s expertly layered shroud is loosened a little, and any electronics there may be are turned down a notch - but by no means are they replaced - by the prevalence of the piano. Abandoned marinas, overcast skies and the polluted-grey of the sea seems to contrast the cleaner, white-grey cliffs tied to the safety of land. It’s still and peaceful, but underlying it all is a heavy atmosphere, set up by the bass and her rocky, unpredictable reverberations hidden in the shallow tide.
Dank rivulets wind through troubled tributaries. ‘Rye Fields’, and the almost sinister opening, loses much of its growl when the piano sounds her voice, soothing the soundscape with a couple of notes. Loscil’s drone seems to rotate and loop, over and over, yet with subtle undulations in the over-arching tone. It may be cavernous deep at one point, and then treble high at another; loscil is a master at this kind of ambient subtlety. The rusted corners that once prided themselves on past Industry are now history, consigned to decay along with the crumbling facades and lost populations of ghost towns circa 1950. Rain-soaked suburbia leaves a cold trail of notes, trickling down and dripping into new puddles as a flood of a thousand tears; they gather in cracks in the sidewalk, creating their own inner city rivers. It’s not accessible to tourists, and there’s no sightseeing in this ambient region; it’s all the more realistic for it.
‘City Hospital’, where the intermittent electricity flutters around the phantoms of static, pushes us inside the root of abandonment, and locks the doors behind with a clank of a chain for good measure. The piano is only a wandering ghost, dressed in atmospheric robes, echoing through the building somewhere, but her echo is so wide that we’re unable to place her source. Chords veer off into hauntology, ala The Caretaker. Not such an empty bliss, although the music feels void of something – an empty expanse at the centre of its heart – as if the ghost is searching for her soul amid the past and the melancholia arising out of the longing for older times. Dissonant chords underline the apprehension and confusion; a lost soul surrounded by dusty chessboards in uncompleted positions, locked in an eternal battle, and the decaying walls of a once-decadent ballroom. A mask unmasked, falling to the concrete, dirty floor. Fading a bright red to another shade of grey, plaster hanging. An old generator fizzles in the background. It’s haunting and sublime at the same time, drenched in a shade that we’re not used to seeing.
For the reprise, the stark silence – in the absence of ambient texture – makes for a moving finale, and the piano sits alone. Completely alone. Thanks to this, the end is as direct, as unexpected, as the tired, pessimistic lyrics of the failed artistic process as seen on The Making of Grief Point.
It is done.