Loscil

Equivalents

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On albums such as Endless Falls and Sea Island, Loscil's Scott Morgan used nature as the inspiration for music that was equally impressionistic and deeply evocative of its sources. With Equivalents, he takes this abstraction a step farther: Named for and inspired by a series of photographs of clouds from the '20s and '30s by Alfred Stieglitz -- whose work helped advance photography as a form of modern art -- Loscil's 12th album is another set of beautiful ambient tracks and also a fascinating meditation on artistic interpretation. While it might be easy to assume what an ambient album based on skyscapes sounds like, Equivalents subverts stereotypes. Instead of relying on airy washes of tones, Morgan brings a surprising amount of density and dimension to "Equivalent 3"'s somber piano, brass, and undulating atmospheres. On "Equivalent 5," the call and response of flutey tones and deeper, rumbling ones builds to a beaming climax that's remarkably suspenseful. Even on calmer pieces like "Equivalent 5," whose sweeping mist is the closest the album comes to a "typical" ambient sound, there's a hint of turbulence that makes it far more dynamic than might be expected. While Stieglitz's still images were so powerful that they suggested movement, Morgan's musical interpretations of his photographs have the advantage of unfolding over time. The composer makes the most of this on Equivalents, using shifts and nuances to evoke not just the skies and clouds in Stieglitz's work but also the photographer's impressions of them (and, of course, Morgan's own impressions of those impressions). Morgan uses these complex musical and conceptual layers brilliantly on "Equivalent 1," where gusting textures break into eddies that skip over stormy pianos and a roiling atmosphere that translate the intensity of Stieglitz's imagery into sound. "Equivalent 6" is just as compelling, shifting its focus between wavering tones and celestial drones and before a dulcet melody emerges from a clearing. As the album ranges from the delicate puffs of "Equivalent 8" to the drifting radiance of "Equivalent 4," Morgan creates a sound world that's so transfixing that it's sometimes surprising when a piece reaches its end. Stieglitz's and Morgan's work both speak to the desire to preserve the power of a moment, and to make something fleeting eternal, whether with a photograph or a piece of ambient music. There's something noble about that, and on Equivalents, Morgan captures it eloquently.

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