Sontag Shogun: Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield
Palaver Music

On this live performance (available in a limited edition of 200 hand-numbered copies), Sontag Shogun creates five provocative electroacoustic landscapes that blend elegant classical piano with atmospheric audio abstractions. The group's a Brooklyn-based trio comprised of pianist Ian Temple and sound designers Jeremy Young (aka szilárd) and Jesse Perlstein. Theirs is a compelling sound, in no small part due to the contrast between the clearly delineated character of Temple's emotive piano playing and the collage-styled washes his partners generate from samples, field recordings, oscillators, electronics, treated vocals, tapes, and the like. Some degree of tension is usually present due to the material's semi-improvised flow and its tendency to fluctuate between episodes of melodic clarity (when the piano becomes the focal point) and free-flowing soundsculpting. It's not uncommon for that contrast to collapse over the course of a given piece when the piano gradually loses its clear-cut definition and through various treatments mutates into one more textural element within the whole.

“Chorgan” generates an unsettling ambiance in underlaying amplified breathing and shimmering synthesizers washes with electronic tones that hew to a static pitch and hover precipitously. Easing the tension generated by the unwavering pitch, those same tones progressively rise and fall in tandem with piano playing during “Jubokku” and in so doing lend the piece a feeling of resolution. “Paper Canes” perhaps best captures the trio's sound in its defining room in embedding the lilt of elegant classical piano melodies with a collage-styled backdrop assembled from garbled voices, droning electronic emissions, the mechanical tinkling of bicycle chains, and other found sounds. Though a clear separation between the piano and the surround is in place initially, the sounds gradually assume a more fluid form with the piano becoming part of a larger and less clearly defined mass.

Discussing the EP's pieces individually is a tad misleading, however, as no breaks occur between them; instead, the twenty-six-minute EP plays like a single piece made up of subtly shape-shifting sub-sections. On a final note, another of the group's distinguishing characteristics is its unabashed embrace of melody, and emotive melodies at that; “Musk Ox,” for example, finds piano melodies that are richly evocative, wistful, and stately emerging within a landscape of electronic effects and ambient textures. Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield, in other words, effectively demonstrates that prettiness and experimentalism needn't be thought of as mutually exclusive properties.

October 2012