Simon Scott - Floodlines [Touch - 2016]Floodlines is the document of a live performance by former Slowdive member Simon Scott at Cafe Oto in January of last year. Despite the beloved status of his former band I can't help but feel Scott has by now earned the right to be defined in relation to his own quite considerable body of solo work. Starting out with two gloomy dark ambient cum shoegaze records on Erik Skodvin's Miasmah label, Scott's recent output has focussed more on processed field recordings, minimalism and even sound ecology.
This performance, at the ever reverent atmosphere of Cafe Oto, probably falls into the latter category; at least insofar as the record notes signal the centrality of the source material, culled from visits to the English Fens. It's notable that two hydrophones are listed among the equipment used to capture the sound; a watery origin emphasised by the record's title. In truth however the expected familiar bubbling, gurgling and manipulations of running water are largely absent, with Scott favouring a deeper level of abstraction, cloaking his material in heavy digital manipulation and augmenting them with processed guitar and electronics.
The piece stretches at just over half an hour, beginning pastorally with the sounds of insects and washes of ambient sound. Quite quickly the Edenic atmosphere is broken by the entrance of distortion, possible a guitar and quite harsh digital manipulations that layer tinkling electronics upon more concrete sounds. There are even a few moments of stuttering granular effects to jar the listener from one sonic "scene" to the next. It's an effective strategy that breaks somewhat from Scott's penchant for more organic and gently morphing soundscapes. The record still offers its fair share of drones and drawn out textural passages, most of which tend to have layers of deep distorted bass enveloped by more complex and uncanny field recording derived ambience. Choral-like at times (a near ubiquitous signifier in avant-garde composition for transcendence) and never straying too far from a good minor chord, the sections of Floodlines that hint at the hazy ambience of Scott's former band are generally overtaken by more atonal and experimental textures that seem to stage the weird hydrophone recordings (is that a duck splashing about above us?) against more idyllic evocations of the fields and canals of East Anglia.
This technique is not only methodological. Scott's long player from 2012 Below Sea Level hints at an obsession for what lies beneath the surface. In the press release for this record Scott talks about the reshaping of the Fens during the 17th century when huge tracts of flooded land were drained to make them available for farming. Now much of that same land is being left to re-flood, laying new habitats over the destruction of the old. It's these layers of history and habitat, human intervention and natural re-integration that Scott's music here hints at.
The record ends with a plunge into the water, bright and airy sounds are cut-off and rendered swampy, distorted by the marshy surrounds. For a listening experience that generally aims at imaginary or at least hybrid landscapes this is a dose of cold realism. Simon Scott continues on his singular path which will hopefully produce more in this vein.