Eno’s doctrines of the 70s/early 80s offered such a perfect blueprint for electronica and later ambient techno, that the genre was catapulted from a hitherto marginalized culture to becoming the tributary that everyone from mainstream rock, pop and dance music dug from. This we all know. Indebted as we all are to the ‘little bleeps’, such perfection has also meant little has changed: we have new words and sub-genres (IDM, Drone etc), multi-multi-multi digital tracking, and hundreds of sounds at the click of a button for anyone who can afford a PC, and yet chilled is still the same old chilled. Consequently, so sought after is the novel within ambient electronica that it instantaneously becomes the sublime on configuration. Most recently, Fennez altered the mindset a little with his ‘neutered’ guitars made to sound like delay drenched synths, moving the flag away from processed loops and un-placeable bleeps/ringtones and closer to live instrumentation.
For those of you that didn’t know, Loscil is apparently the basic unit sound software uses to build a sampling synthesiser. It is also the pseudonym used by Vancouver based sound artist Scott Morgan as he dons his white lab coat and thick rimmed glasses to get all techy on our asses. Past efforts have seen Loscil working around concepts, his first album Triple Point (2001) was a dense ambient dub affair about thermodynamics, Submer’s (2002) moved more towards an at the time — unfashionable mid 90s ambient techno with every track being named after a submarine, whilst his last album “First Narrows” (2004) moved away altogether from the previous two albums with the introduction of ‘live’ instruments including the piano and the cello.
Plume carries on from the live context of the previous album, whereby a loose electronic seed, that tends to be a quietly torn synth or lightly pummelled drip, is initially bled into the song only for other samples to flicker in and out — all while ebow guitar, rhodes and vibro/xylophone players take it in turns to improvise micro-melodies or riffs over the processed foreground. Primarily, the objective here is to inject human qualities into what essentially tends to be an android culture — we all prefer a dusty book to an electronic pacemaker. The live instrumentation also serves as method of breaking up the usual formula for ambient electronica and the consistent structures to each track create a recognisable flow to the album.
a loose electronic seed, that tends to be a quietly torn synth or lightly pummelled drip, is initially bled into the song only for other samples to flicker in and out
Loscil’s sound tends to stay the warm, aqauatic, spongy side of electronica rather than proffering the utilisation of intense drones and samples to create the vast and alien soundscapes that is the other. First track to stand out is “Rorschach”, which begins with a distant sound of static electricity that echoes and shuffles, gradually getting louder and more prominent. As the static finally becomes embedded a two/three note melody on the Rhodes piano lights up, subtly becoming the lamp to which future samples flicker around. Here, it’s difficult to know whether the core of the song is from the ‘energy’ of the improv as Morgan might have you assume or the actual melody being played. On later tracks such as “Mistral” the improv though less melodic manages to infuse a groove into the fabric and a cathartic conflict between analogue and digital sound. The tendency for these creative fissures to occur as a consequence of the improv on this record tend to be infrequent, the improv is more often too acute or too similar in sound to processed musical wizardry, it does however keep the record interesting.
“Steam” is again another track that gathers in strength as samples rise and the improv section beds down. A steam-like sound foregrounds the piece and quickly becomes the bubble that the rolling high and low notes of the piano come in and out of. The song carries a distinct mood, moving along the lines of a sad laissez-faire that is at times in contrast to the warm humility of the rest of the record. Elsewhere, the swaying Vibrophone/Xylophones on “Chinook” echo Tortoise “TNT” era and “Bellows” gets all tribal with a thick bongo sounding bass. With ambient electronica being so minimalist at times its quirky little musical inferences such as the ones in “Chinook” and “Bellows” that allow ourselves to root. “Plume” is not earth shattering in terms of quality or originality, but if the earth was to shatter, I’d feel pretty good if it were playing.