Sam Scurlock Moreno: An Interview

Sam Scurlock Moreno is a musician from Cardiff, UK.

With Accursed Sigil and Black Satin, Sam is plumbing the depths of synth, sound, and psyche. The music is familiar in the way that shadows are familiar. We talk here about where those sounds come from and what makes a musical composition a composition at all.

Weirding: There's a great deal of mood reflected in your work. When you are working on new music, are you consciously thinking about creating a mood?

Sam: I do tend to be very mood-oriented, yes. I am very much driven by creating moods and atmospheres over everything else. Strictly between these four walls, I’m only a few notches above being stone tone-deaf. So conventional tonality is less of a concern for me. 

Weirding: So does the mood establish itself more or less unconsciously?

Sam: Much like with Adrian Sherwood, one of my favorite producers. He has stated he’s more concerned with experimenting with sounds and sonic textures rather than standard melodies.

Weirding: So, talk me through some examples of sonic experiments that have turned into songs for you.

Sam: What I most like to work with in a piece in distortion, in both senses. I like to create harsh, jarring, distorted sound with a track or a sample. And I also like to distort a sample or a track — I like to mess around with the FX to turn it into something near-unrecognizable. I’ll add a load of flanger, overload it with echo and reverb, and take down the pitch formant. Things that’ll bring in any sonic artifacts or fluctuations. These artifacts add to the overall atmosphere of the music. 

Weirding: So this is how sounds slowly turn into something significant for the song. It comes from this distorting of the original?

Sam: I will usually apply this distortion to samples of metallic objects, but I often do the same to synthesized audio tracks and sometimes vocals, like I did on ‘A Cell’ from We Are Consuming You. A part of the background noise is actually my finest caveman death growl, slowed down and heavily fucked with. 

Weirding: It’s a process that becomes a signature or sorts.

Sam: This approach I used most often on Nature Wants Us Dead. Pretty much all the songs on that E.P. began as experimentation with samples and field recordings. These were the things I based the music around. 

Another good example would be ‘Remains Under Ice’ on We Are Consuming You. Pretty much everything in that song was distorted and processed — phasers, overdrive, reverb. It was all based around a field recording where I pointed a microphone out of my bedroom window during a rainstorm. I find that the track has an ethereal and an unintended and perhaps lo-fi feel to it.

Weirding: That unintended feel — again it’s a product of the process. And you get all of the flaws and whatnot in the end result.

Sam: I like to accentuate flaws in recordings and samples. I find they give the sound more character and they add to the atmosphere. I don’t like everything becoming too polished. 

Weirding: Talk to me more about capturing field recordings. This is something that I do quite a bit myself. Occasionally they make their way into recording projects, but mostly I just enjoy the act of capturing and cataloging sounds. Walk me through some of your favorite field recording experiences.

Sam: Field recordings are perhaps my favorite part of the recording process. A big influence on my music is U.K. hauntology artists like The Caretaker, Burial, and Pye Corner Audio. They capture a sense of familiarity with reality, but simultaneously a detachment from said familiarity of reality. 

I’ll often take recordings in urban spaces and sometimes in industrial environments. I live near a city and a port. But what I like doing most of all is taking field recordings in more natural, rural environments — especially at night. Birds hooting, wind rustling or buffeting the mic, even my own footsteps. Everything is to add to the ambience. 

Then I’ll manipulate the recordings to my liking. Though usually I don’t add too many effects. Just some reverb and echo. It’s almost like musique-concrete in a way. 

Weirding: I wanted to ask you about something I’d noticed. Your songs occasionally seem to lead the listener to a specific place and then walk away from them. It’s like the songs abandon the listener. I'm thinking of the way the middle of the song 'We Are Consuming You' works. There is a repeating pattern that takes you to the middle, then everything seems to disappear and you are left to your own devices. And then an alternate repeating pattern comes to meet you. That space in the middle is both comforting and alienating in the sense that as a listener, I feel that the music has led me to a place of significance but then left me without any answers as to what that significance may be. For a moment, I am alone. So, I don't know how much this is a question, but I find it remarkable and I'm wondering if you could comment on the way that you perceive your music as both composer and performer. And I think part of what I’m asking is what you see as the role of music in asking questions of or making demands of the listener.

Sam: I guess I see myself kind of in the role of a compromised storyteller. I’m as much an author or poet as I am a composer. That is, I try to translate certain imagery I may have in my head into a sonic soundscape. So, I ask myself the questions: What would this place or idea sound like? Is it cold and industrial? Or is it more based around nature and folk-like? I don’t require much from the listener, other than an open mind and an active imagination. 

Weirding: So, should music "require" things of the listener?

Sam: A listener may listen to some of my work and find it evokes ideas or places or feelings other than what I intended. Something I intend to sound cold or foreboding may, to some listeners, sound somewhat intimate and warmly emotive. 

The listener is the most vital piece of the composition process. 

At least definitely to me and in my opinion throughout the whole of music. Music doesn’t really require or demand much of us. We do it ourselves. Most will dance to EDM because they find the melodies enjoyable — they find the beat danceable. Some won’t.

Because music doesn’t really demand we enjoy it. 

It varies from person to person, mind to mind — each with their unique interpretation. To bring us back to where I began, I see music is a form of storytelling from a compromised perspective. Because I can only communicate in sound. The listener, to me, is like the final piece of the puzzle. The listener is the final link in the chain. 

The reader. The imaginer. The mind. 

That is the central concept to my work and that is what I have in mind whenever I compose. 

Weirding: I like this idea of the compromised storyteller. Would you say that this is more like an unreliable narrator? Or is it more like trying to translate something either from or to a language that you may not fully understand?

Sam: Maybe it’s a bit of both. Of course, when I say unreliable, I don’t mean it in a totally malicious sense. When I am indeed translating what I want to convey into music, I don’t really understand what I am translating. But I try my best anyway and some of the results may be a little different from what I intend. 

Small differences.

But to the listener who’s always interpreting and always working it out, this can often mean something significant in how they imagine the music. And maybe that’s a good thing. 

It’s sort of like dreaming to me, where any outside stimulus — or memories being involuntarily recalled during a dream sequence — could be interpreted by the hyperactive subconscious as something quite different entirely.

Weirding: I really like the rendition of ‘Rose Water Blood’ that came out recently. Not the melody, but the feel of the bass and vocal makes me think of Jamie Principle's 'Your Love' and early Chicago electronic music. Can you tell me a bit about your process as a producer? I'm particularly interested in how you approach recording and how this affects the direction a song or an album might take.

Sam: As a producer, I am influenced primarily by the basics of dub. I start from the rhythm as it were. Bass and beat. I’ll usually set a rhythm up starting with bassline, maybe some field recordings. I use a lot of field recordings in my work. I set out loops of whatever samples I’m going to use. These are almost always found objects. I’ve used bin lids, countryside kissing gates, large tins of coffee beans. Even my own metal bedframe. All as percussive samples. Then I distort them, stick a ton of reverb on them, do whatever I like. 

This is my favorite part of the process. 

I like to fiddle around with the bassline for a moment. ADSR, cutoffs, resonance, reverbs, delays, echoes. To get exactly the sound I want. 

I’ll usually have a fixed idea of what I imagine whatever synthesizer line I’m working on will sound like. In most cases, I’ll work on whatever main melodic line — or equivalent thereof if I’m working on something more atonal or ambient — will be present. I’ll copy and paste this a few times, shift the pitch up and down, timestretch it. It’s essentially a semi-random process — especially with my more ambient works. 

Then I’ll do the beats. 

I do love a good drum machine. The 606 or 808 works pretty well for an out-of-the-way pattern that won’t overwhelm the mix if I’m doing a more downtempo flavored track. I’ll add the usual reverbs and delays, and then I muffle it by driving the overdrive frequency down, down to around 1000hz or below. I’ll also add some distortion, chorus and flanger.

I’m really liberal when it comes to studio FX, another thing I picked up from dub. Use the studio as an instrument in itself. I find using a vocal transformer — one that allows you to manipulate the pitch and formant separately — allows for some really cool sounds out of a drum machine or synthesizer track. Recently, I’ve been using looped patterns of the TR-727 underneath the main beat in the mix, with the same FX applied.

Weirding: And in terms of the effect on song structure?

Sam: A lot of my songs seem to follow a similar structure, they share a few elements. I like to have passages with isolated tracks, usually softened, usually midway through a piece. I will often add an intro where I’ll have the one track going and then I’ll add to that. 

I like to build the mix up. 

And I’ll end a lot of my songs with codas. I’ll have each track drop out or become quieter or lower in pitch. And then I’ll fade it out. I like to have the reverb on high on the final track heard, I like the kind of ethereal vibe that sets. Especially with a detuning effect from the chorus. 

Chills every time.


Sam Scurlock Moreno: Accursed Sigil/Black Satin

Twitter: @SamScurlockMusi


Recent Releases: Nature Wants Us Dead, We Are Consuming You, Daemoniac Perversion 

Must Read

From the Archives