There’s often a sense of loneliness in Scott Morgan’s work, much of it made under the pseudonym Loscil. Some of this has to do with his fondness for deserted or discarded landscapes, like the dumping grounds and sewage lagoons that inspired Loscil’s brooding and gorgeous Sea Island; some no doubt reflects the hermitic existence of the electronic producer, holed up in a bedroom studio with only machines for company.
So what did Morgan do when he met the ideal human collaborator, in the form of Wisconsin-based cellist Mark Bridges? Took him to the emptiest place he could find—a former one-room schoolhouse in Brush Creek, Wyoming, in the middle of winter. And there, alone together, they produced magic.
Yes, the overall tone of Cinderland, the duo’s debut as High Plains, is one of desolation. And if you think you’re actually hearing the Arctic winds sweeping across the Wyoming steppes, you probably are. But the collaboration was warm.
“We both came with nuggets of ideas,” Morgan explains in a telephone call from his East Van studio. “Mark had some chord progressions, and I had more of a production sense of how I wanted to approach things—which is very similar to how I approach other things, which is starting by collecting sounds and building a kind of palette or library to draw on. I really wanted to do that on-site, so I started by field-recording the creek nearby, and the wind in the trees, and then grabbing samples of his cello.…We started building this tool kit to work from. I would build kind of basic stuff, and then Mark would play over top; we’d just go back and forth and eventually arrive at something. So it was very improvisational, and very unplanned, other than a few little bits and pieces.”
Their approach, Morgan adds, was essentially conversational, which helped shape the music’s intimacy—even though there was a third partner to the exchange that neither musician had fully realized would be there.
“A keyboard is a tool I have on my desk all the time, and I use it daily, but I don’t consider myself a pianist or a keyboardist by any stretch,” he explains. “But when you arrive at a place like where we made the record and there’s a Steinway B concert grand piano sitting there, it’s almost impossible to not use it. It’s kind of just screaming out at you, like ‘Please do something with me!’ ”
Morgan and Bridges won’t have a high-end piano at their disposal when they play the Quiet City ambient-music showcase this weekend—but the sounds of that Wyoming grand are safely stored away in the former’s electronic data banks, and the conversation they started in Brush Creek is likely to continue in expanded form.
“We kind of stretch our legs a little bit,” Morgan notes. “A piece that’s three minutes on the record might be five, live. We’re also doing some dovetailing of things, blending one thing into the next so that it’s not so much a list of pieces as it is one continuous thing. Which is probably my influence, because I like to do that when I play live.
“No room for applause!” he adds, laughing—and all the more space for wintry dreams.
High Plains plays Quiet City at the Red Gate Revue Stage on Sunday (August 13).