Published Aug 13, 2019Between 1925 and 1934, Alfred Stieglitz made waves with a series of images he produced by pointing his camera to the heavens. In those years, Stieglitz took hundreds of black-and-white photographs of clouds passing through the sky in various conditions, often without any reference to the horizon. In seeking to capture concrete representations of those inherently fleeting and shapeless forms, with his Equivalents series, Stieglitz connected with a universally familiar perceptual experience, but the images also had an immediately abstract quality to them.
Dorothy Norman once recorded a man demanding to know if a print of one of these images was a photograph of water, but Stieglitz just replied, "What difference does it make of what it is a photograph?" For Stieglitz, the Equivalents images were meant to correspond to his "philosophical or emotional states of mind." He released early series of these images as Music: A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs and Songs of the Sky and hoped the light and movement he captured through his lenses would inspire composers to find music in them.
With his own Equivalents, Scott Morgan has answered that call, rendering eight vaporous interpretations of the sky above. It's a natural fit; working under the Loscil moniker, Morgan has routinely made music in communication with the Pacific Northwest surroundings he's called home throughout his life, and here his tendency toward subtle instrumentation and lush ambience billows with muted, diffused dub.
A close spiritual sibling in his catalogue might be found in 2006's Plume, which concentrated on themes of air, but while that album permeated with particulate patter — the album art displaying a jet of exhaust rising from a smoke stack — here Morgan is in a more passive narrative mode, smearing his soundscapes with greyscale ambiguity.
"Equivalent 1," the album's entry point, and the first of several tracks that extend beyond six minutes, pitches listeners into a misty curtain, but a series of slippy synth peaks begin to perforate the stillness, simultaneously evoking breathtaking beams of light breaking through gaps in the cloud coverage, and pressure systems stirring up storm cells. "Equivalent 3" bursts out of the cloudsphere into a sublime sun shower, as if emerging from an opaque mass just in time for golden hour.
In some places, the drift persists through scenes so wet and saturated, it suggests the listener should be swimming through them. But if Stieglitz's images could sometimes resemble more seaworthy visions than the clouds above, why shouldn't Morgan's reflections?
Morgan is pondering nature's sublime majesty just as much as its unforgiving balancing systems, and in an age of climate anxiety, it's impossible to ignore the latter. Two years ago, Morgan's native British Columbia suffered wildfires so bad, the smoke could easily be mistaken for cloud coverage, and scientists have begun to study those instances as analogues for nuclear winter.
Sometimes, a cloud isn't just a cloud, and Morgan's Equivalents offers a space to ponder the difference. (Kranky)