Sontag Shogun: Patterns For Resonant Space

To generate the ten pieces on Patterns For Resonant Space, Brooklyn-based experimentalists Sontag Shogun adopted a production MO antithetical to how the trio normally operates: rather than using piano material as a foundation to build upon, Jeremy Young, Jesse Perlstein, and Ian Temple began with sounds and noises and then had Temple, the group's pianist, respond to the material as presented. Adding to the spontaneous character of the process, Temple, playing in his living room on his childhood upright, attempted to create the simplest possible statement to the sound textures presented and refrained from using themes written beforehand in order to respond as purely as possible. The result is a thoroughly endearing collection of settings that, while being perhaps the group's most accessible to date, doesn't compromise on the integrity of the Sontag Shogun project.

In keeping with the trio's avant-garde bent, the textures presented to Temple were produced using tape loops, signal generators, field recordings, an organ, and a glockenspiel at The Pines in Montreal, 2015; the piano parts were recorded in Brooklyn a year later. Of the twenty-plus ideas Temple created, ten were selected that seemed to best fit the album concept.

Any one of the settings effectively illustrates the approach the trio adopted for the album. “no.2 (Music Box),” for example, follows the delicate sounds of an unaccompanied music box, its minimal plinks and plunks seemingly treated in some phase-shifting manner, with plaintive piano expressions that also suggest some minute degree of electronic alteration. Elegiac vocal effects and field-recorded sounds (sushi rice, chopsticks, a lecturer, etc.), in most cases dramatically re-shaped, appear as stimulating textural fields for Temple to emote against. Warbly, degraded elements, rumbles, and fluttering noises also surface in a way that suggests kinship between Sontag Shogun and fellow spirit channelers Ian William Craig, Philip Jeck, and William Basinski.

The longest piece is “no.8 (Leaves Like Photographs),” which across seven minutes amplifies its reflective character in words uttered by Sam Ackerley, who thoughtfully draws parallels between leaves and photographs, both of them identified as “light-sensitive materials,” for instance. That setting aside, the album is notable for its concision: in place of grandiose epics, only two tracks push past the three-minute mark, a move that's refreshingly rare for a recording of an experimental kind. It's not the first time tasteful restraint has distinguished a Sontag Shogun recording, but there's a sense of modesty about Patterns For Resonant Space that also significantly enhances its appeal.

September 2017