IT WAS A PRIME MOMENT in the mid-1990s when Plaid began their long relationship with Warp Records, at a time when the UK-based label had a lean roster of computer music luminaries, including Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, and LFO. The duo of Andy Turner and Ed Handley, both original members of the influential acid house/IDM outfit the Black Dog, were in suitable company when they, under the Plaid moniker, helped define the IDM sound from its epicenter—as well as collaborate with forward thinkers like Björk, and consistently turn out unprecedented electronic music all along the way.
It's been over four years since Plaid released a proper album, though they've been busy writing film scores and exploring tuned percussion with a Javanese gamelan orchestra. Their newest work, Scintilli, is far reaching, brainy, and absolutely moving. It comes in custom CD packaging that folds into a planet-esque 3D artifact. I assumed this all pointed to some deep, larger message to be gleaned from the album. Eager to show I got it, I talked to Andy Turner from his flat in London and laid out my conceptual analysis, which involved a combination of global politics, the interconnectedness of humanity, and the collaborative principles of that Javanese gamelan orchestra.
"Huh," Turner responds genuinely, then adds in a cheeky tone, "Yes, that was 100 percent intentional, then. Absolutely."
As it turns out, there really isn't one driving concept behind Scintilli. "It was a fairly protracted period," Turner explains. "We lived for four years, so we passed through lots of different moods, and that variety of moods is reflected in the album."
The songs on Scintilli are quite varied, ranging from the beautiful and eerily cinematic "35 Summers" and "Craft Nine"—both of which would be right at home on The Virgin Suicides soundtrack—to more ethereal tracks like "Unbank" and "Founded," which have a certain avant-world music quality. There is a common thread of dissonance running through the album, which Turner ties back to Plaid's work with the gamelan orchestra.
"It was quite a great experience for us and we brought some of that to the album," Turner says. "Obviously we're not working in a gamelan tuning system in any sense, but it's interesting just in terms of other tonal scales. When you're very familiar with Western music, you have this initial feeling that [other tuning systems] are playing with dissonance, but the brain very quickly adapts to those new patterns and the perception changes."
Turner reiterated that this was just one factor that came into play when writing Scintilli, not some overarching concept.
"We had a stab at doing something sort of concept-y before and I think you always—well, we've always come up against the problem of: You can either veer toward something that sounds good to you or stick rigidly to your concept and thus make music that you actually don't enjoy listening to as much. So no, it's not a concept album. It's just a collection of material that we hope works together." After pausing to think about that, he adds, "But you know, the album title does suggest some sort of a direction for the work. Scintilli refers to a feeling when you get goose bumps and feel excited. We sometimes get that when we listen to music. It's a great moment when that happens and it's something that we aspire to."