Who: I.G.M. w/ Lugweight
Where: Cabin Floor Records, 504 Rutherford St., Greenville
When: Saturday, Aug. 27, 8 p.m.
Tickets: Suggested $8–$10 donation at door.
Perhaps “soundscape” is an overused term, but it’s difficult to think of any other word to apply to the music of Alexandria, Va.’s Ian McColm, aka I.G.M. His massive compositions hang in the air like storm clouds, mixing eerily calm, almost ambient, passages with sudden, jarring slashes of noise. Rhythm isn’t the point here; mood is king. On his recent split-EP release with fellow experimental artist Eric Benson (aka Lugweight), McColm creates sudden thunderclaps of jagged guitar noise over orchestral sounding backdrops. The vocals are like incantations; the beat, when there is one, is like a heart pounding in terror.
There are harbingers of this sound in some of Nine Inch Nails’ later work, and in the slow-moving epics of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But McColm’s music is darker and more focused on sheer impact. And given its expansiveness, it’s difficult to believe that it’s coming from a composer who isn’t playing his main instrument.
“When I was in college, I was primarily a drummer,” McColm says. “But I hit a breaking point my sophomore year where I was getting really fried on the drums as an instrument.”
So while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in jazz studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, McColm began writing guitar pieces for the first time. “It was a bit of an escapist pursuit,” he says. “The drums were becoming this regimented academic thing, and in order for me to continue on the drums in that sort of serious way, I looked to guitar for an instrument that didn’t have that baggage. And that opened up my harmonic sensibilities a lot.”
That guitar playing, in combination with his music theory classes, jump-started McColm’s compositional evolution. “It definitely made my ears grow,” he says. “[Music theory] planted the initial seed of thinking about composition and the harmonic content of the material I was writing at the time. And that opened up a lot of other instruments for me.”
Despite all of this, there’s no denying that McColm’s work has a percussive element to it. “It’s something I can’t really escape from,” he says. “A large part of how I understand music is rhythm. And whether that’s a more abstract thing and refers more to timing than meter, that’s how it manifests, especially when I’m not dealing with stuff that has percussion. It’s such an essential component to any of my composition or structure, even improvisation. That being my background, I couldn’t really try to create something truly outside of that realm even if I wanted to.”
Improvisation is a key part of McColm’s songs, be it live or on record. “My goal is to set up structures and palettes of sound,” he says. “And they may go in a certain order, and that’s the structure of the piece. I may even explore different harmonic territory within those sections, but usually there are a few variables that aren’t concrete in any given section, and that allows me to tailor it to whatever situation I’m in.”
McColm will be playing at Cabin Floor Records with Lugweight on Saturday, and he says his current performance setup is pretty minimal. “In this set, it’ll be guitar and effects, which I’ve been working with on and off for five years. But on top of that, I was recently given an iPad, and that gives you access to a lot of electronic sounds. It gives you incredible flexibility, so my main sounds are the guitar and the iPad running through different effects getting combined into one.”