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Sontag Shogun’s immense debut full-length album, “Tale”, compiles three years worth of composing and directed textural improvising, molded into nine concise musical statements. They have been experimenting with songform and traversing nostalgic emotional territories, quietly honing their craft alongside collaborators across disciplines such as video, film, dance, performance and poetry. Primarily making use of a grand piano, field recordings, tapeloops and digitally treated vocals, the trio has discovered a unique niche that straddles identifiable genre boundaries. Repetitions of phrases, digitally glitched-out melodies, superimposing practice takes with studio takes. Call this album modern classical, ambient, new age, Sontag prefers their own nomenclature: lullanoise.
“Tale” was recorded whilst the three members were living in separate cities (Jesse in Busan & Seoul, Jeremy in London and Ian in Brooklyn); the resulting composite is both by design and by circumstance, a pastiche of aural geography, culture, and the subjective experiences accumulated on their respective sabbaticals. “Tale” engages the listener from start to finish (or as the titles suggest, from “tale” to “tail”), performing a pseudo-seance reviving the dead memories and reanimating, if only for just a moment, the instances that inspired and informed the music they have created. We can hear sound documents from a trek through a Columbian jungle, a piano tuner testing the ivory at the Southbank Centre and a South Korean traditional singer hitting a buk. These wordless vignettes bring to mind the retelling of a story, perhaps best experienced between the bindings of an as-yet written collection. All in all, "Tale" is a study in nostalgia: a rumination on our relationship to the past and how traces of memory haunt and shape us with every breath.
The release of this album caps off a particularly productive and memorable year for Sontag, as they completed unforgettable tours through Europe, US and Canada, performing with lifelong friends The Dead Rat Orchestra, Liam Singer, Blevin Blectum, Aaron Martin and Julia Kent. Sontag is already looking forward into the next phase of the band’s existence which will include some short film score composition, a choreographic partnership and recomposing lullanoise for percussion and strings.
Birthed in 2006, Sontag Shogun is the experimental brainchild of co-conspirators Jeremy Young, Jesse Perlstein, and Ian Temple, a Brooklyn-based, ambient-electronic trio whose sound has grown ever more refined since its inception. The stirring classical piano playing of Temple, tapes and oscillators of Young, and field recordings and samples of Perlstein coalesce into a highly personalized and oft-wistful hybrid its creators like to refer to as "lullanoise," something that exists somewhere "between a lullaby and a dirge"; certainly the group's poised debut album, Tale (reviewed here), offers the best possible argument to date for the trio's particular brand of musical artistry. As long-time admirers and supporters of Sontag Shogun, textura is thrilled to be able to feature this exclusive Top 10 from the group. - textura.org
To a greater-than-average degree, Sontag Shogun's music reflects the tripartite structure of its membership, at least insofar as it's represented on the Brooklyn-based group's debut full-length Tale. At certain moments, the musical emphasis is on piano-based melody, thereby placing Ian Tempel's contributions at the forefront; elsewhere, field recordings dominate, a move that signifies a shift to Jesse Perlstein's contributions, while sounds associated with Jeremy Young's tapes and oscillators also sometimes become the focal point. Of course, the tracks aren't structured and arranged so crudely that the creator's respective contributions appear separately; instead, a fine-tuned degree of balance and integration is achieved between all of the sound elements, an outcome that clearly speaks to the circumspection of all involved.
Tale exemplifies a surprising amount of cohesiveness, given that its nine settings present so many different sides of the group (not only that, the album was recorded while the three members were living in separate cities—Perlstein in Busan and Seoul, Young in London, and Tempel in Brooklyn); one could conceivably find it jarring to hear the vocal-based song “Let the Flies In” immediately after the texture-heavy soundscape “Hungarian Wheat,” for instance. Of course, Sontag Shogun obviously recognizes that certain things can be done to ensure that stylistically contrasting pieces can be unified by having an element—a recurring piano pattern, for example—appear in more than one song, a move that automatically establishes a common thread. Even the track sequencing strengthens that unified impression, with the album homophonically framed by “Tale” and “Tail” and with “... And Here, at the Middle, We Listen to the Man Who Tunes Pianos” at the album's, yes, center. Furthermore, the very fact that the album is titled Tale implies the presence of a narrative trajectory that includes introduction, exposition, and resolution.
There's much to admire about Tale: the ease with which the material straddles melody-based songform and experimental soundscaping; the boost the material receives from guests such as Liam Singer and Cheryl Kingan, whose lead and background voices bring a marvelous lift to the ballad “Let the Flies In”; and the beauty of Tempel's piano playing (“The Musk Ox” a good example). And though it is the group's debut album, a considerable amount of groundwork was done in preparation for it, namely a pair of EPs issued in 2012 (Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield) and 2013 (LTFI EP). Certainly the care with which the album has been crafted reflects the three years of work that were involved in its creation. If there's one thing about Tales that stands out more than any other, it's how remarkably poised its material is.
The opening title track acts as somewhat of a microcosm of the Sontag Shogun sound in the way it threads Tempel's elegant grand piano melodies in amongst a fuzzy mass of radiophonic textures, tape elements, and distorted voices. A number of the pieces that follow explore variations on the theme yet avoid repetition by integrating different source materials (NASA-like communications in “Orbit Insertion” versus the plunk of a piano tuner at the Southbank Centre and a recording of a trek through a Columbian jungle elsewhere). In the final analysis, the merging of classical piano playing with laptop-generated textures, field recordings, and tape materials makes for a thoroughly captivating sound that's Sontag Shogun's alone. - textura.org/archives/s/sontagshogun_tale.htm
In this post, we update the continuing saga of Sontag Shogun. Part One was the farewell party; Part Two was the EP. Now the band is happily reunited for Part Three: The Album, which was recorded in three separate cities but will be performed together on tour. It’s been fun to trace this arc all the way back to (the) slowest runner (in all the world), and to note that slow is a less accurate term than measured. The band has allowed its fans to be in on the creative process from start to finish, polishing its pieces to a bright sheen.
“Hungarian Wheat” is the prime example, the only selection to appear on the last three releases. In its original incarnation (a live track on Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield) the track was subdued and sedate. On the LTFI EP, it was still calm, but gritty, thanks to reverb and wind. (The irony of the title was that it was more ambient before its subtitle became “(ambient version)”. On Tale, the track grows longer, incorporates dialogue, amplifies the feedback and increases the dynamic contrast. Is this the final version? Certainly not ~ nor should the prospective listener feel that he or she has just heard the same thing three times. As a song in flux, “Hungarian Wheat” is less three versions than three separate tracks, each with its own appeal.
The same holds true for “Musk Oxes”, which has morphed into “Musk Ox”, sidestepping the small error (one ox, two oxen). Two years ago, it was the set closer, a gorgeous piano ballad featuring a balance of major and minor keys. Last year, it became the album’s lead track, thanks to a haunting video (featured in Part II of our Spring Music Preview). The electronics of the second half are still present, but this time out they are thicker and more amplified. At this point, it’s difficult to separate the impact of the video from that of the piece, but our suspicion is that this may be Sontag Shogun’s signature song. Also reworked: “Jubokko” (now two minutes longer, with field recordings, vocal snippets and an additional layer of drone) and “Let the Flies In” (now shorter and without flies).
In retrospect (and as we had hoped), it’s clear that last year’s “Gekheid Op Een Stokje” was a sign of a new direction: a three-dimensional approach to sound material in which numerous textures play off each other like elements in a tale. The more such elements are added, the more literary this music sounds. Such intentions are evident as early as the title track, an overture saturated with static and stolen conversation. Having lived in different cities, the performers have contributed their own sonic souvenirs, from rainforest recordings to street musicians. The most amusing is the sound of a piano tuner stuck right in the center of the album, adjusting the instrument like a trainer tying the laces of an athlete at halftime. The most evocative is the mission control loop of “Orbit Insertion”, which may once have seemed futuristic, but now seems nostalgic. The loops is a reminder not only of the places we’ve gone, but the places we’ve failed to go. As such, it’s a statement on behalf of the band: that their desire is not to rest on their laurels, but to continue to venture into the great beyond. - Richard Allen
This EP centers around the A-side’s “Let The Flies In”, which is Sontag Shogun’s single culled from their forthcoming full length LP, Tale. LTFI is supported by a reworked studio version of the previously released “Paper Canes” (off Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield, 2012), featuring intricately designed sonic textures and cut-ups of choral voice and acoustic guitar as well as the usual SS fare of processed field recordings. “Hungarian Wheat” is presented in an alternatively ambient version, drenched in reverb and what seems like a flooded corridor of static and breath samples. And finally the album ends in the hyper-cut “Gekheid Op Een Stokje”, a piece that reflects the band’s frenetic tendencies and geographical distance they have experienced in the past year.
This EP centers around the A-side’s “Let The Flies In”, which is Sontag Shogun’s single culled from their forthcoming LP, Tale. LTFI is supported by a reworked studio version of the previously released “Paper Canes” (off Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield, 2012), featuring intricately designed sonic textures and cut-ups of choral voice and acoustic guitar as well as the usual SS fare of processed field recordings. “Hungarian Wheat”, by now a SS repertoire mainstay, is presented in an alternatively ambient version, drenched in reverb and what seems like a flooded corridor of static and breath samples.
Finally, the album culminates with “Gekheid Op Een Stokje” (Dutch, meaning “all jokes aside..” or literally “madness on a stick”), a fragmented collage-piece that symbolically wraps up the last year of SS’s life from Jesse’s point of view. SS spent the year in three separate countries, going through piano recordings and emailing each other tracks to flesh out the rest of the compositions on Tale bit by bit. The samples used here were recorded by Jesse and Lauren Walker (his partner in Absent Warrior) while on tour in April with Foxout!, and just as the title suggests, this track represents a sort of half-joking homage to both this displaced method of working, and the globetrotting that Sontag’s members have recently individually pursued. All in all, the LFTI EP certainly serves as an appetizer for the full-lenth record to come, but can equally stand on its own as a self-contained musical statement delivered by this emerging new-music trio. - www.fluid-radio.co.uk/2013/08/ltfi-ep/