Safety scissors, Loscil, a Refrigerator, and a Waiter

safety… Loscil eats in the weirdest places…

Out of this mess came the facts. Loscil “played in bands,” and moved to the Rainy City for SFU’s compositional electronic music program. He tells me, over some kind of weird cheese and alfalfa sandwich, that he didn’t do the whole e-popping nose-bombing rave scene. He’s one of those electro-acoustic closet-Stockhausen freaks who claims he was influenced by dance music only after the academic axe grind. It was Kranky records who said: “Hey, your shit is like Basic Channel”—but that was even before it had beats. His early work was ambient, and Kranky pushed him into the deep end of dubbed-out minimalism. Best known for their post-rock bands, Kranky is a strange label for this strange man to be on—Loscil’s work is a departure that oddly coincides with the work of Pan American, a side project of Labradford that is also on Kranky. And now with the stars aligning around Scott’s head, he has found himself touring Europe with Pan American and receiving begging emails for a release on Traum. (Which would mean vinyl. And we all do like vinyl. “It’s vinyl…” he says, his eyes drooling.) On the gear end, Loscil, like most laptop wankers, got sick of hauling out samplers and synths and sequencers and now primarily works with Max/MSP, the object-oriented granular synthesis program for Mac. But none of this explains his ultra-smooth sounds, which are the result of a process called “convolution”…
Loscil: The synthetic sounds are the bass. I either sample some records or field recordings. A bulk of the more ambient textured stuff… I recorded a more noise sound—a machine, or traffic, or anything that is really wide bandwidth, and then you take a small clip, like of a harmonically rich sound like a guitar or a flute or something, and then you can use that as a filter to put the noisy sound through. It creates this texture that is based on the harmonic sound, sorta like a stretched-out version of it, all the peaks and valleys of the noisy sound. And then I loop that and make it into this sort of background, sample that, and create a rhythm that you can’t really hear.

Loscil also has an interest in really crappy things. “At work I’ve been using these handheld tape-recorders with minicassettes. I’ve been using this one that is all fucked-up, where the speed goes up-and-down… then I have this crappy mic that I plug into it, and I’ve been going around recording things with it, and then editing out stuff from it… actually it sounds really cool when you press stop, it keeps recording for a second afterwards, but it kind of fades it out, so it goes k-shhhh… and so it becomes this really nice percussive thing. I’ve been using that a lot. And cutting those up into little rhythms, and doing the same thing with that process [convolution]—it’s so noisy and lo-fi sounding—and using that as a source to filter things, you know. So you just get this kind of rich—it’s the same reason why I think people sample vinyl and stuff—you get this rich kind of sound, partly by the technology and not only the source sound. So I’m into that.”

Scott is in this for the long haul—he can’t make a living from it, he says, and eyes light up in this strange ‘50s diner as his tongue laps at his sandwich just thinking about these obscure sound processes. It’s his Drive: “Absolutely. It’s what I go home and do every night, unless I watch TV, or something.” (I told him I’d quote this—and here I am… ”I was afraid of this,” says Scott, in mock indignation—little did he know that I was serious… or maybe he did know). Like Project Grizzly, the Government has given the guy money, too—a grant to create interactive audiovisual work with Macromedia Director. Visuals are a major part of Scott’s artistic and work-work. We now enter a long debate on music and visuals, where Scott states the obvious and we all order too much coffee in this pseudo-’50s diner. Or maybe it was only our waiter who was pseudo-’50s, cryogenically frozen from the days of Kerouac, suddenly reawakened, some post-neo-Cro Magnon man that chats up small talk in a desperate attempt to come to grips with the outside world…

Loscil: There’s been periodically over the last century or so—since film came into play—there’s been a few people who have kind of dabbled in it, like way back in the ‘20s, there was this guy who was doing abstract, what he called “visual music films,” just completely abstract films, and then he would have this composer do a synchronized score to it, and through the ‘60s there were people like Norman MacLaren doing their stuff with animated music, where you would actually draw on the optical side of the film to produce the sound, and then draw on the visual, so you would have this synchronized—so it’s like this very scattered history of audio-visual presentation that I am kind of interested in adding to, I guess. Not in a pompous way, but just because it is interesting. I’m kind of interested in creating a way of making both the music and the visuals at the same time, and how they relate—at some core level, you know—and at the beginning starting really simple, and saying “How does a line moving on the screen relate to a sound that’s coming out? ”

… Safety scissors cuts me to bits….safetyscissors

But that’s enough of Loscil: time for Safety Scissors. With a Midwest-Southern accent of undetermined American origin and a semi-base in both San Francisco and Berlin, Safety Scissors is an emotional wonder in the often sterile world of minimal techno. It’s not quite emo-techno, it’s more like an electronic Fraggle Rock ballad, an aria for the compost heap with red glasses. As MPC is currently jetsetting across North America for a short tour, he answered the following abuses via email.

Where did the name Safety Scissors come from? Does this have anything to do with meditating on a rock and “Indian Gods”? Or is it an oblique reference to your hair?
Mathew: The name Safety Scissors does not have some profound origin. Many times people think it has to do with editing audio carefully or something very serious like that. Rather, it just is a stupid name and I like it for that reason. The fact it has nothing to do with computers or music and does not sound that “cool” is very appealing to me.
After hearing your song about being in a refrigerator, or being a refrigerator, one cannot help but wonder if you suffered the fate of being squished into small lockers as a teenager. Is this rumour true? If not, what brought on your desire to sing quirky little ditties over dub house?
I was picked on quite a bit in high school, but I do not think I fit completely in the lockers at my school. The fridge life track was the first one I choose to sing on actually. I was in our cold and dark basement (not so different than the inside of that appliance) working on a track thinking it needed a bit more. Many times, as I work I will sing out loud a new part that I would like to add and in my somewhat delirious state lack of sleep there were words that went along with this outburst.
Will you be singing in your live show?
Of course. I do not think I could do a live show without singing anymore. It adds a lot of personality to the music which engages the audience in a much different way. I am presenting myself in some ways, rather than just my computer, and it’s something people automatically can connect with. Now, I am not really a good singer per se, but I think everyone is a singer of some sort (at least when you are alone and naked in the shower I hope) so this is a thing that can make people listening relate to me.

Rumour has it that you have been in Japan and Germany. Do more people wear leather pants there? Really though, is it all hanging out with Achim and Ricardo all day, or is the scene much more chill? (I am speaking of Germany here.) And are the Japanese really as fanatic about music as everyone says they are?
There are many Achims and maybe a few Ricardos here in Germany but you must be name-dropping some techno doods, eh? Musicians are like rats in Berlin and I surely see quite a bit of them, but I try to surround myself with other topics and people. Just because I do music and am in the “scene” I have all these music acquaintances—kind of like the free friends you get when you sign up to be an electronic musician—but these only go so far.
And yes, in Japan there are a lot of nerds (the Japanese word is something like nado) that know more about my music than I do asking about tiny things I would rather forget. Endearing, I suppose.
Who did the cover for your incredible Plug Research album, the one with the clown on front? Did you come up with that? Why does it so accurately reflect your beautiful music?
I came up with the concept and did the photography for the cover while a friend of mine helped out with the graphic design and filling in with some of the artwork (like the waves). There are many ideas for photography and other things floating around in my head.  I was going to art school before I started really being serious (if you could call it that) about music. So I hope it goes with my music as I made both.

What software and gear do you use? What does your live setup consist of?
Your very own nerd question… hmm? I use many different software applications but mainly I use Logic to make tracks and Max/MSP for playing live. I have recently taken an interest in getting a bunch of real instruments. Contrary to popular belief, I am not just a laptop musician. There is a bunch of studio gear I have and a bunch on my list. Since my move to Berlin I have been having to do a lot more work only inside the computer and it really makes me feel claustrophobic. So now I am trying to get out with electric pianos, a kid’s drumset, an autoharp and jawharp.
When I play live I just use my laptop, a midi controller and a microphone. I do my best not to be a “clicker” and just look at my computer. My performance is quite live instead of just pushing play on a sequencer.  I mix elements and there is no set arrangement so I can move through and mix my different tracks in any way. That, along with my singing (attempt at singing I should say), gives it all some room for mistakes which I think is very important.

With all the talk of theory in this sort of music (microsound, Mille Plateaux), do you have a politics—and I really mean this in the loosest sense of the word—in, behind, through, your music?
Well, I do have some reactionary politics against the Clicks and Cuts stuff material I hear.  First of all, I think it is bollocks to just do music only along the lines of this genre (or any genre without adding something new). It seems a large portion of it follows strict guidelines that really make it lack personality. It’s just sooooo ultra serious and has no sense of humor which makes me just take it as more of a joke. I try to infuse a sense of humor into my music as well or at least have some fun with it.
Are there are any more Moron projects in the works?
Sutekh and I are doing a split EP on a small German label called oni.tor but other than that we do not have specific plans for more collaborations.  Since we no longer share a studio it makes it a bit more difficult but it would be nice to work with him more… especially since Moron is such a nice name.
Do you cut hair?
No. I mean I am sure I could do alright at it as I try my best to pay attention to what the stylist is doing, but I would not trust me so much with a pair of scissors. •