The latest instalment in Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco’s increasingly finessed contemporary output is the stunningly deep, subtly shifting electroacoustic colours of ‘Sollbruchstelle’.
Due to a dangerous combination of Covid 19 risk and an operation for his cell disorder AL amyloidosis, Jas has spent most of the past year in real isolation. Having slept, eaten and created this music in one room, he comments “all records are a document of their time, but in this case, it was quite literal.”
Like the gradual shift between discreet-but-finely-detailed ambience and more immediate foreground vibrations, the emotions felt by Shaw whilst creating also vary; ranging from anxious expressions of vulnerability, to a welcome distraction, to soothing remedy and sense of hope.
Due to his quarantine, creating this longplayer became a surrogate world for Shaw, who lived within the music rather than outside in ‘real’ life. Occupying his own liminal territory between Gigi Masin, Harold Budd, Raymond Scott, Global Communication, Laraaji, Mika Vainio and Múm, ‘Sollbruchstelle’ ebbs and flows between different spaces.
Ambience as discreet as scent, new age, gauzy vapourwave, pointillism, post classical, minimalist nocturnes, cosmic symphonia and 4D kosmische all feature in Shaw’s soundworlds, which are understated but reveal power on closer listening.
Bright glassy shards of fractured synthesis, deep chasms of melancholy and pensive electrostatic stasis contrast yet merge with the air of refuge: Zones and atmospheres range from filigree stars twinkling against rich blue-black sky, to the cool-walled sanctuary of a Mediterranean church, to a spring-like sense of childhood and life.
Ironically, despite a key element being Jas’ escape into cerebral travels, ‘Sollbruchstelle’ is also a sonic recreation of the environment in which he was confined. He used resonances from the room and a piano, combining them with his sound design skills to create spatial dimensionality, replicating the space not claustrophobically, but acoustically.
“This album both is and isn’t acoustic. There are no actual instruments being played, but electronic noises were recorded as if live instruments, and a piano was used as an ‘unplugged’ amplifier/effects unit”, says Shaw on the process, adding:
“I made a system where I could play the synth sounds and send them to Exciters, which are small flat speakers without a cone that you fix onto a surface, which effectively then becomes part of the speaker itself. I attached the Exciter to the soundboard of my piano, which gave natural amplification and added the instrument’s acoustics – all of which was then recorded through various microphones in different positions. It was very Heath Robinson.”
Musing over potential versatility from personal to universal, Jas comments, “what makes this a more interesting prospect, trying to step outside my situation, is how everyone has had to isolate. I expect that others have become very familiar with, comfortable in, and tired of a few rooms. It’s difficult to tell from in here, but as well as capturing the aural qualities and demeanour of my environs, it felt like it probably matched the conditions outside too.”
On the title, Shaw explains, “Sollbruchstelle means ‘breaking point’ in German – either where something likely to break (a person, or society as a whole for instance), or where something is intended to break (like the indentations on a bar of chocolate). It’s got a kind of built in mixture of sadness and hope, which I found an appealing concept.”
“‘Sollbruchstelle’ comes as one extended LP, but will also be released as trilogy of EPs. I’m offering the option of segments, which can be used for a digestible short nod out of this ragged situation for a bit”, he adds on the format.
The cover images are ‘Arcs’, which were made by musician and artist Leafcutter John specially for Jas, who saw parallels to the pattern-modulating-another-pattern technique in his own work.
As one half of Simian Mobile Disco, Jas Shaw has been a big fixture in electronic music for over a decade. With SMD on temporary hiatus, he has been on an extended field trip, exploring the far reaches of electronic music.
In 2018 City Slang released the melodic techno heavenscapes of Jas’ ‘On Reflection’ LP with Gold Panda under the name Selling, and 2019 saw a self-released solo EP of abstract dance called ‘Exquisite Cops’. In collaboration with Søren Siebel AKA Bas Grossfeldt,2020 brought a record on Richard Fearless’ Drone imprint called ‘Klavier’, which explored prepared piano, thus providing a sort of part 1 for Jas’ experiments using the same instrument herein.
‘Sollbruchstelle I: Become The Scenic Route’ EP released today. Stream in full here