Sontag Shogun


I was lucky enough to catch Sontag Shogun play with Aaron Martin at Cincinnati Public Library's ongoing experimental music monthly concert series. That show was a bit of a revelation. Three guys splicing together disparate elements of sound and melody to create something beyond pastiche, but rather music that lived and breathed in its own aural space, not outside of time, not existing in three linear timelines, but compressed and poured into a single shared memory of an invented past. 

To be clear, Tale was not created in that hot flash of collective creativity and subsequent mind-meld that comes with the physicality of being holed up in a studio for days with dwindling funds and the pressure to get it right before you are kicked out. Rather, Tale was created at a leisurely place with each member far away from each other with members in Brooklyn, Seoul and London.

More often than not, Tale is built from the ground up from Ian Tempel's melodic piano lines plucked away on a grand piano. These lines are the surest sign post for the intentions of Sontag Shogun. There is a lilting sense of nostalgia that fill these passages. This isn't to say that they are inconsequential or weak in any way, these lines are ruddy and straight forward, however, even outside of compositions augmented by the rest of clan, they would still stand, possessing a unnamable sense of sadness shook free from every string when the hammer hits.

Tempel's piano lines are not necessarily folded (in the way we writers who write about ambient music like to use the term) into the texture of the compositions. Rather they serve as the brass tacks holding together the gossamer strands of field recordings, laptop noisescapes, oscillators and tape manipulation at the hands of Jesse Perlstein and Jeremy Young, whereby collected fragments of conversation, individuals caught singing unawares, a trip through the Columbian Jungle, NASA type commands as well as a whole bevy of noise-making instruments are washed together like alternating tides in the ocean. Jesse Young's manipulation of magnetic tape features prominently on this record, giving a sense of self-editing. It would be appropriate to discuss how Sontag Shogun fucks with memory in the best sense. Bolstered by musicality that itself is nostalgic in that nameless sense, the manner in which Tale captures conversations and sounds that happened in real life, recontextualizes them into a framework that has no immediate past or future, opens a bottomless pit of free associations to attach meaning that was probably never intended. For example, the snippet in "Hungarian Wheat" brings back distinct memories of seeing the Bicycle Thieves for the first time in College. Something that I haven't thought of in years and years even though it left an indellible impression on me. 

In that way, every listen of Tale opens the chasm a bit further. Do yourself a favor and bury yourself in this record for an afternoon. 

Purchase on Bandcamp

Sontag Shogun - The Musk Ox from Palaver Press on Vimeo.

May 12th, 2014