Interview: Simon Scott

Simon Scott: "The music is the most important thing and everything else is superfluous" 

Data.Wave got to talk to Simon Scott about his new album "Migrations", the relationship with the label "Touch", and his participation in the group Slowdive.

1. What do you make of ambient music and how would you like to see it in the future? 

This depends on how someone defines 'ambient' music and I don't like defining music or artists so simply. If it is a surrounding sonic atmosphere that is playing in a lift when I am travelling up to my hotel room, like Muzak, then it is noise to me. If you mean a carefully sculpted and composed instrumental music, or a field recording that encourages and allows a deeper personal consideration of the world around me, then there are some interesting and important releases out there that I really like. Annea Lockwood’s Sound Map of the Hudson River springs to mind. 

2. Have you encountered any musicians in your life that have changed your perception and way of thinking in some way? 

I first met Chris Watson (known for his work with David Attenborough on the BBC) at a festival where we were both booked to speak and we hung out afterwards. Then chatting again at the Zoology Museum in Cambridge, where he reopened it in 2016, he was very passionate about describing his work process and the areas of recording sound that he is so good at. He is very encouraging to me about my solo projects too, of field recording in the Fens where I live, and offering technical advice, telling his sound recording stories, etc. His perception of capturing, transmitting and presenting sound is fascinating and he encapsulates the genuine passion and support that the creative community of (sound) artists and field recordists working all of the world today have for each other. 

3. What kind of impact did you get from Chris Watson’s records? Did you learn something from that? 

Chris frames his recordings in a composition in a very unique way. His skill for reducing an environment into a track, or a release, is very much like a sonic postcard with multiple perspectives and vast depth. What I hear is extreme detail and hard work to capture sonic events, so it’s setting the bar very high for field recordists. His immersive presentations are also very impressive. 

4. How did your partnership with the label Touch begin? Had you been listening to their past releases? If that is the case, do you have any favorite ones? 

Mike Harding, one of the Touch founders, recommended my Below Sea Level project, initially released on 12k in 2012, to his sister who bought my album with the ltd edition book that I created with Taylor Deupree. Mike suggested I play live at a Touch night in Café Oto, and I met Jon Wozencroft. Afterwards they asked if I could release that show as a Touch CD, and that was Floodlines. 

I’ve a lot of respect for the artists on the label and I am lucky to have been able to meet, collaborate or play live with many of them. Including Fennesz, Philip Jeck, Johann Johannsson, Mark Van Hoen, Chris Watson, Claire M Singer and Rosy Parlane. One particular favourite album is Grapes from the Estate by Oren Ambarchi and I love Despite the Water Supply 7” by Jim O’Rourke.

5. Let us talk about the album Migrations. What was it inspired by? What did you use in its creation and what kind of sound were you going for? Tell us about the process of making it! 

I initially had a day off in Moscow after Slowdive played on Red Park in 2016 and I had my field recording equipment with me. I took a ride on the underground after we’d been to wander around Red Square and I found this exciting subterranean labyrinth that I recorded that day. After I got home, in 2017, I processed them through my modular set up and in a MaxMSP patch I’d created to loop sections and to compositionally process the audio. Red Square has a narrative of motion and captures the sonic transitions of the complex mechanized rhythms and atmosphere of those reverberant spaces. 

Murmurations is a field recording of RSPB Strumpshaw in East Anglia where I live. Lawrence English was visiting, as he was on tour over here, and he suggested we ride out there to check out the roosting crows. It was a wonderful experience and afterwards I reduced my recordings of dusk, when the rooks and jackdaws were creating these shimmering black clouds, the murmurations, into a composition under twenty minutes in post-production. The vinyl almost had a locked groove loop of wildfowl but it wasn’t to be on this vinyl release sadly. 

6. You work for SPS Mastering. Is it your main occupation, or is there anything else that you do? 

Mastering is my day job these days and it is honestly one of the most enjoyable aspects of my creative work. I have spent many years constructing and developing music so my ears are good and I’m able to listen in with precision and scrutinise what does and doesn’t work in my mastering process. Plus, I have some great gear that helps artists that come to me achieve the best possible sounding music they wish to put out. 

Some friends and colleagues, namely Rob, the Slowdive manager and Anthony Ryan from Isan, initially encouraged me to start running SPS and I got busy very quickly. 

It is a dark art, one that many often overlook, but I am suited to hours of listening with extreme focus. It also has a very supportive community and I love the fact I am giving something back to other musicians, particularly the newer artists who I am helping define what they want to put out for people to listen to. I also do a music project called INDEX and my album ‘Kainos’ was released on iDeal, a record label from Sweden, this year. 

7. How would you describe your time being a part of the group Slowdive? Would you consider it something bigger than just musical experience? 

My time in Slowdive is spent sitting at the drum kit creating a dynamic backbone for the songs and the instruments to rest on top of. I enjoy helping co-writing tracks, and lending a hand on the studio to whatever needs doing to help the tracks improve. This is why I have also occasionally played a bit of guitar, created improvised loops and added digital signal processing on some of the tracks over the years when in the studio. The music is the most important thing, so everything else is superfluous to being in the band for me. 

8. So you consider your participation in Slowdive band as simply a job? 

Touring and committing chunks of my time to Slowdive is work, but not “a job”. It’s work I love and that I’ve been involved in since the 1980’s when I began writing, recording and performing music. We work very hard together to create our music and present live performances that don’t let our audience down. I’m very lucky to do it, alongside mastering and creating solo works. 

9. In 1993 the release of Souvlaki was issued. What else did you do then? Would you remind the process of making this album and what kind of emotion did you experience about this record? 

That album was a period of trial and error. A lot of ideas that we recorded didn’t work. Our process was to go into the studio and jam either a skeletal part Neil had written or simply just improvise together and discover if we had any worthy material that we would shape into a song. Dagger and Alison were tracks Neil had written and brought in and Souvlaki and Sing were studio jams that became album tracks. 

10. What part of the globe would you like to visit in order to make a field recordings session? 

I’d actually like to be in California right now, although I’m stuck in the UK as coronavirus has halted British travelers from entering the US. Those fires that are raging are disturbing the entire ecosystem and the beings that inhabit California (humans and non-humans) are surrounded by this terrible environmental issue (global warming). It’s raising the understanding and awareness of climate change but in the worst and most catastrophic way. 

11. What kind of technique would you use to achieve a new kind of sound? 

I listen as a composer. It’s my process to immerse myself into an environment and listen for a new texture, tone or to discover a new sound event. I often use the Fens as my sonic landscape, unless I’m away on tour or in LA where I’m mastering, and it’s wonderful to find so many new sounds to record when I’m out there on a field trip. It’s on my doorstep but it’s a very transient and surprising place to compose in. 

I used Max/MSP to create new textures from field recordings up to about seven years ago but now it’s just a looper or two in my modular set up and perhaps the slightest amount of digital delay or a little bit of granular processing. Equalization is almost very important and sometimes it’s all I use. 

12. What album (or albums) is the most influential, most important, most valuable for all times? 

That’s a big question. I’ll answer by telling you what’s been in my turntable recently. Alice Coltrane, John Fahey, Tortoise, Cocteau Twins, AC/DC, Alvin Lucier and John Luther Adams. 

Questions: Ilya Kudrin