Tuesday 27 April 2021

Dark Ambient Interview: Scott Lawlor

Dark Ambient Interview: Scott Lawlor

Scott Lawlor

Anyone who knows Scott Lawlor will be all too aware of how prolific he is with his music releases. It’s a good thing that his music is well worth listening to! Scott kindly agreed to share a few words with me in this interview. We touch on how he can be so prolific, the challenges of composing music as a blind person, the virtue of creative constraint versus total freedom, and the most mundane sound he feels that he has ever recorded. Thanks for joining us and I hope you enjoy the interview.

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Casey: Scott, even though I am familiar with how prolific you are with your music releases, it still surprises me just how frequently I see that you’ve released a new album on Bandcamp. What are the main factors in your life, that you think may contribute to how you can achieve such a release rate, how does this current rate compare with periods earlier in your musical life, where you felt the need to take a break from things, and what was different between the two periods?

Scott: I am a stay-at-home dad and since my kids are in school, I have a lot of time to compose and release music. Some years have been busier than others regarding actual number of releases but through all of that time, my situation has been the same.

I've got many more albums on our network that I've recorded over the last 7 years, so if I quit writing new music right now, I'd still have releases for a long time to come. I'm always working on new music so the odds of catching up to myself are astronomically impossible at this point.

Casey: As a blind composer, I know that you occasionally tweet about accessibility issues with the tools or apps that you want to use. What kinds of accessibility issue do you find the most irritating, which apps or tools do you use that you feel handle things really well, and more broadly, what is your usual process for composing a new track, which tools do you tend to use the most etc.?

Scott: Well, for a long time, I had a Roland fa08, Sound Forge and Audacity as my main way of composing music and though this set of tools allowed me to create many albums over the 6 years that I used them, they weren't as accessible as the current tools I utilize.

The menus on the Roland didn't talk and I was limited in how I could shape sound from within the synth, so this lead me to using things like Audacity for shaping recorded sound from the Roland into something totally different. Even though it was an interesting experience to do things this way and I got quite proficient after developing such a streamlined workflow, the results from one project to another weren't as different sonically as I thought they'd be.

As an example, Paul Stretch is a tool that I used to use quite a lot in my early work and though it can create some interesting results, if you change the default values, it's something I hardly ever use anymore, or, if I do use it, it's part of something with a good many more layers and elements mixed in.

I think part of the reason PS has such a bad rap in the ambient community is probably because people didn't change the values, and just released things that were run through it with no further processing after the fact. Just look at all the videos of popular songs that were run through this plugin and uploaded to YouTube as an example.

The same can be said for other effects inside the box and so the point of all this is to say that, though for me, this method worked for a while, it's actually pretty easy to tell which effects I used, particularly on the noise projects that I've done over the years.

Now that I've said all that, the tools that I use now are totally different and they're accessible with speech so it's much easier to manipulate sound and add interesting effects where this wasn't possible before. I use Komplete Kontrol from Native Instruments, and various third party instruments by companies like Soundiron, Soniccouture, Luftrum, Sudden Audio and, of course other things from Native Instruments themselves.

The most time consuming part of composing now is deciding on which sound to use. Sometimes it takes me longer to find the sound I want than it does to create the actual work in question.

Casey: In an interview with the From Corners Unknown podcast, you touched on the topic of how constraints can often aid creativity, talking about how contests like the ambientonline.org forum’s One Sample Dare Challenge can give creating a different focus and challenge you in different ways. How much constraint do you enjoy before you feel it becomes a true hindrance, how often might you sit and compose with no purpose in mind, and the theme later suggests itself, and do you prefer one approach over the other?

Scott: Most of the time, I compose without constraint, just letting the improvisation go where it will as I play on the keyboard and upon playback over time, a theme or concept will come to me for the music. I do prefer this approach but am thinking of revisiting the ambientonline.org One Sample Dare challenges since I have new effects, software and hardware that are much more accessible.

Casey: In the aforementioned From Corners Unknown interview, you talked about some of the sounds that you recorded, including workmen breaking your house windows, at the time that it was your turn to submit the sample for the One Sample Dare Challenge. I was wondering, what is the strangest or most obscure sound that you can ever remember sampling, and which mundane thing have you recorded, that gave you the most surprising and satisfying sound, once you started experimenting with it?

Scott: The most mundane thing I've ever recorded was the spin cycle of my old washing machine and I took that recording and created an album called Spin Drone, which, looking back, isn't really that interesting but some people really seem to love that album.

Spin Drone

I think the most interesting thing I recorded was different objects in our old clothes dryer which I then used for an album called the Ambient Series 1, Symphony for Prepared Dryer. I put many different things in the dryer including silverware, wooden alphabet blocks, shoes, coins, and even sweet potatoes, recorded from 19 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on the item and then processed those sounds to create the album.

My wife wouldn't allow me to put her pipe wrench or glass in the appliance and you can hear her promptly rejecting both ideas in the last track of the album which is the documentary for the project.

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Thanks very much to Scott for answering my questions. If you’d like to find Scott’s music, you can find him on Bandcamp at this link.