- The Canadian artist presents a fully-formed universe of subtle sound crafted from a three-minute orchestral recording.
- When Scott Morgan put out Submers, his 2002 breakthrough album of aquatic ambient techno, he was part of a cohort of electronic producers for whom the dance floor was becoming a distant reference. While tracks like "Mute" and "Diable Marin" had elements of techno, the rhythms were tectonic: deep and rumbling, shifting so slow that you might miss them. In the two decades since, Morgan's music has become softer, fainter and slower. On his latest LP, Clara, you'd be hard-pressed to find even a hint of techno. Instead, we get a striking set of impressionistic sketches drawn entirely from samples of a three-minute composition performed by a 22-piece Hungarian orchestra. Morgan uses these formal limitations to his advantage, using scant source material to create a cohesive, lengthy record full of sonic and textural contrasts.
Each track is named for a form of light, evoking varying levels of flicker and glow. My favorite moments on Clara are when this focus on light pulls the typically reserved and meditative Morgan out of the metaphorical shadows. Take "Aura." It starts out like we might expect—perfectly paced delay stretching each chord to its tipping point. But Morgan's usual shades of hushed reverence morph into what almost sound like slasher film organ stabs. The effect is like someone stepping on the remote and switching from Planet Earth to Chucky. Then Loscil introduces a melody that gracefully unfurls across the foreground of the track.
"Sol" is equally gripping: the song's muffled loop and vibrato sound sharper, more crystalline than his previous work. This newfound clarity reaches its apex on the title track, which is also the last track on the record. Around five minutes into "Clara," the song bursts open with a bright string section. It's hard not to feel the rush of revelation as we get our most complete picture of the original symphony recording for a brief, final climax.
Still, it'd be a stretch to call any of these tracks dramatic—Morgan is very much operating within varying degrees of quietude here. "Flamma," for example, features gusts of white noise that dissipate in an instant. On "Lux," the orchestral strings are looped and stretched to their breaking point, like withering leaves straining to soak up the last rays of sunshine before it's too late.
There are moments when I wondered if using the same three-minute recording as the sole source material for 70 minutes of music might have been too ambitious. If you aren't paying careful attention and miss the cascading crescendos in the midsection of "Lumina" or the drawn-out harp on "Vespera," you might not able to distinguish one track from the next. Still, each song works in service of a greater narrative, which makes Clara feel like more of a proper album than some of Morgan's previous efforts.
2019's Equivalents, for example, had a similar concept, based around samples of a piano (once owned by Glenn Gould) that Morgan used for a performance in Tokyo. But every track on that one felt like a self-contained experiment, while the whole of Clara feels like its own, self-contained world. Loscil's tenth album for Kranky sheds light on unexplored aspects of his well-established sound. That he makes subtle breakthroughs via the decay and manipulation of a single brief recording makes Clara a quietly impressive achievement.