Better Worlds — A Speculative Q+A With the Utopian Sonic Engineers of L-space

Photo courtesy of the group’s Facebook page

A few weeks ago, I wrote about “A Small Main Waits While The Rain Sizzles On The Tarp,” a piece from Music For Megastructures, the new release from the Scottish group L-space on the Last Night From Glasgow label. The band creates dreamy, retrofuturistic songs with a cinematic bent; the instrumental Megastructures is tagged as “A score for a city that does not exist yet.” Their album Kipple Arcadia, released last Fall, features vocals in addition to the blips and beeps. I was intrigued by L-space’s music (and by Megastructures’s song titles, which paint vivid utopian and/or dystopian mental pictures), and was thrilled when I was able to get in touch with Lily and Gordon, two members of the group. They did me the honor of sharing their thoughts on songwriting, video game soundtracks, technology, and the future of humanity.

What is L-space all about? A tagline for the band, if you will.

Gordon: L-space makes music about better worlds in the hope of making this one a bit more beautiful along the way.

It’s cliché, but I always ask: who are some of your influences, be they musical or otherwise?

G: I think in terms of production El-P was probably one of the biggest influences on the first album. He layers up so many sounds and melodies into incredible soundscapes, then still manages to put fascinating vocals over the top. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Japanese alt-pop, like Charisma.Com, Wednesday Campanella and Macaroom, and I think that style of production is reflected in the second album’s songs. Radiohead and Lana Del Rey will always be massive influences on me as well because I’m a total fanboy.

Lily: As well as music, I’m also influenced by a lot of other things in art and science. I read a lot of speculative fiction and sci-fi, and listen to a lot of science podcasts, and the ideas in those work their way into my lyrics and themes. For example, one of the songs I’m writing now is influenced by the book Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and the tension between Utopia/dystopia, end of the world/new world beginning and genetic engineering in that novel.

L-space’s albums outside of Music For Megastructures are also cinematic in nature, albeit featuring the added element of Lily’s vocals. Was the process of creating an instrumental soundtrack album any different from usual? If so, how?

G: From a composition perspective it wasn’t too different, but it was quite nice not feeling pressured to turn little sketches of songs into full pop songs with verses and choruses and so on. If I wrote something short and beautiful it could stay like that and just be a snapshot of what I was feeling at that very moment without it being stretched and warped and changed. I did have to write more melodies due to it being instrumental, which I found fun, but I’m glad that’s Lily’s domain for the rest of our music!

L: For me it meant that any melodic ideas I had were implemented with a synth instrument instead of my voice. I found it a bit less flexible (maybe due to being new to the software), but it was nice to not have to write lyrics as I find that the hardest part!

One of the things that drew me to Music For Megastructures was the evocative creativity of the song titles. Did you have these scenes in mind while creating the songs, or were the titles applied based on the feel of the music?

G: It was a mixture of both. At the beginning of pulling Megastructures together I had some scraps of music that I gave names to that fit the album, but then as Lily and I spoke about it more we started to think up concepts and names that we then wrote specific pieces of music for. Once we defined the chapters (Transport, Work, Health and Life) we started to brainstorm names and ideas that filled in the gaps in the journey. Sometimes it was a sound that inspired the name, like “A Sleepy Robot Watches Over a Rarely Used Car Park” I thought sounded like a little automaton whistling and humming to itself, so the name grew from there.

Based on the liberal use of 8-bit synthesizers on Megastructures and also Kipple Arcadia, I’d hazard a guess that L-space as a group is into video games (I could be wrong, though!) Any favorite game soundtracks?

G: Peak video game enjoyment for me was Final Fantasy VII through X. Those soundtracks have been massively influential in the way I’ve thought about and written music. Writing a score for a video game is an ambition and dream of ours. I don’t play too many video games anymore, but I do enjoy the occasional GTA or Cities Skylines session. Also, the soundtracks for Sonic and Sonic 2 are absolutely iconic.

L: Like Gordon, I have had less time to play video games recently as I’ve been working and studying full time, but I used to play a mixture of adventure, strategy and puzzle games and I just bought Factorio for when I finish my degree. Favourite soundtracks might be from the Katamari games or Pokémon! I missed a lot of the older games with 8-bit music, but I really enjoy the sound of it so want to incorporate it more into future music, and would also love to compose soundtracks for them!

Take a quick break to jam out to some ancient video game tunes!

Music For Megastructures is “a score for a city that does not exist yet.” Do you think that the album’s city will someday exist? Would you want to live in this city?

G: I don’t think we’re too far away from it, to be honest. Our music and outlook has always been more speculative than sci-fi. Automation is playing a bigger and bigger role in every single industry and I don’t think it will be too long before automation is the norm in almost all aspects of human life. I’d like to live in an automated city as long as the political and social climate had moved away from a job-centric worldview, where people are viewed only as units of production, to one where something like a universal basic income allows people to pursue what they’re passionate about and what can bring the most benefit to the world around them.

L: I agree. Until our society has adapted to automation taking away people’s ability to provide for themselves, there will be problems. But in the longer term it will take away many of the tedious jobs that aren’t really suited for humans, and that no-one actually wants to spend their time doing, freeing up time for people to live more fulfilled lives where they can pursue things that make them happy and contribute to a better world. It will also bring down costs of necessities like food and construction, so then people will need less money for these things anyway and hopefully everyone will be provided with food and shelter without needing to grind away at a job they hate, and even then still live precariously.

Robots, machines, and virtual reality seem to play a large role in the world of the album. What are your thoughts on humanity’s relationship to technology?

G: I think it will be a fractious relationship until society and social norms catch up to the world automation, AI and Machine Learning is creating. We need to stop viewing people’s worth as what they contribute to the economy or what job they do. I saw an interesting argument the other day that “skilled” jobs such as accountants, actuaries, lawyers, and so on, are all at much greater risk of automation, and therefore obsolescence, than jobs traditionally viewed as “unskilled”, such as carers. I think this evolution is going to fundamentally change our relationship with each other and with technology.

L: I think that a lot of the arguments against technology that we hear about in the bubble we live in are from people to whom technology might mean only a more powerful smart phone, advanced entertainment and more convenience in their lives, so they are detached from the real good that technology brings to people. The most important parts of technology for us that are undoubtedly positive are ones we often don’t see in our urban Western environments: improved agriculture, improved food access, water filtration, medicine and tech for disabled people, communications technologies for remote or rural people, technology to save lives and ecosystems in the climate crisis. I could go on. People that moan about technology aren’t usually thinking about how in these cases it is greatly improving and saving people’s lives. It is also the way to progress in all areas of science, which I think is important practically and ideologically. I think our relationship with technology will improve when we remember this, but also if technology becomes more democratic and transparent. For example, preventing bias in A.I by making sure that tech design teams are diverse and people being more educated in tech. At the moment, a lot of the technology we use day to day is not transparent to us, and is made by unknown people with unknown motives.

What drew you to the Last Night From Glasgow label? I read that it’s a crowd-funded venture, which I thought was really cool.

G: We support and agree with their ethos of fairness – it feels like a good fit given our outlook on life and the world. It’s funded through a membership scheme where people anywhere in the world can get all of the year’s releases for just £50 a year. It’d be a bargain at four times the price.

L: We also have met some other great musicians through being on the label alongside them.

What are some other bands or artists from Scotland’s Central Belt worth checking out?

L/G: In no particular order; Kohla, Chuchoter, Pocket Knife, Super Inuit, Annie Booth, Lunir, Half Formed Things, and Adam Stafford.

L: I could write so many more but I’m on my lunch break at work and need to stop now!

Final question I have to ask: was I correct in guessing that Music For Megastructures’s title draws inspiration from Brian Eno’s Ambient series??

G: In a way, yes. I wanted to call it “Approaching a Megastructure”, but I felt that was too restrictive in terms of the journey we were taking the listener on. Then “Music for Megastructures” popped up which was perfect, then I remembered about Music for Airports. I think it’s a nice allusion, even if I wasn’t worldly enough to think it up straight away!

Many thanks to Lily and Gordon for taking the time to provide such thoughtful answers on some complex topics, and thanks to L-space for creating such awesome music.

Check out L-space on Bandcamp:

and on Facebook:

More about the Last Night From Glasgow venture:

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