Simon Scott’s music is a study in soundscapes inspired by both music technology and the natural world. His last album, Below Sea Level, was originally released as a CD plus book edition on the 12k label, the book being an 80-page journal of Scott’s engagement with the landscape of the British East Anglian Fens. In it he explored the aesthetics of active listening and sound ecology. The stand of reeds on the cover of Insomni suggests a continuity of ideation, but the presentation here is more minimal, the music mostly left to speak for itself.
Insomni is Swedish for Insomnia, and the slate grey of the album’s cover photography suggests a crepuscular, moonlit wakefulness. But open the cover fold, and the inside is a glossy lemon yellow – a simple design that nicely captures the album’s dreamlike vividity.
The album plays as a single piece, but there are 11 titled indexes on the CD. “An Angel From The Sea Kissed Me”, its first cut, has processed electric guitar bursting from a subterranean melodic core with fuzzy luminosity, then swells and smoulders with metamorphic iridescence. It’s instantly, unavoidably evocative of Fennesz’s Endless Summer, but magnificently so. This heat-haze intro burns off, revealing field recordings that acts as a bridge and continuing background to intimate, distracted guitar strumming on “Holme Posts”.
“Confusion In Her Eyes” is a new beginning, unfurling slowly, a thread of ghostly hymnal melody gradually enfolded by roiling sedimental drones, which in turn abate, leaving stillness pierced by stridulations. “Relapse” then briefly reprises the Fennesz vibe.
“Oaks Grow Strong” begins with closely-blended processed sound and acoustic guitar, but initial intimacy gradually leeches away into coldness and abstraction. There’s a constant tension at play between light and shadow. “Ternal” is brief, obscure and glitchy, the following “Nettle Bed” founded on clean, cyclical acoustic guitar picking, warmed by strings.
A similar chiaroscuro effect is then achieved with the segue from “Fen Drove”, a country cousin to William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops, to the balmy mesh of strings and guitar holding “Nember” together, the guitar close-miked to capture the snap and smear of finger/string contacts.
The emphasis gradually shifts to acoustic guitar, with Scott’s fast, dynamic flatpicking on the bright, uptempo “Far From The Tree”. Although the piece ends with a cross-fade into processed guitar and the hum of static or maybe rainfall, “Swanbark” returns briefly to buoyant, cyclical guitar picking.
The album describes an arc from somnolence and half-light to a new dawn. The influences on Scott’s music seem pretty obvious, but that’s never a problem, because Scott has internalised those influences and synthesised from them something more than its constituents, with a distinctive imprint. The discrimination of his ear and the vivid concision of the ideas he’s transposed into music sets his work apart.
Scott may be best known as the drummer in Slowdive, a MBV-inspired group that originally recorded in the early 90s and only recently reformed. But he’s also a freelance composer and sound recordist for film and television. In 2008 he established the KESH recording label, and he has collaborated with the likes of Taylor Deupree, Nils Frahm and Machinefabriek. The various facets of this multidisciplinary work doubtless all enriched Insomni, and it’s probably for the best, for us listeners at least, that Slowdrive never really gained traction.
Simon Scott guitars, mics, induction coil pick up & hydrophones, Buddha Machine, radio static, software (Max MSP, Supercollider, Logic Pro).
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