If the sounds of your deepest, most vivid dreams could be made into reality, they’d probably sound like the works of Brooklyn-based ambient trio Sontag Shogun. Named after famed American writer, filmmaker, and political activist Susan Sontag, the band prides themselves on what they call “lullanoise,” a combination of lullaby and noise, primarily comprised of piano scores, modulated tape reels, a full mod synth setup, and strong reel-to-reel visual components. Stepping into one of their compositions is like traveling through time and space in a musical T.A.R.D.I.S. The inner workings of each song feel larger than life itself.
Sontag Shogun started out as a drone project, crafting lengthy scores of sustained sounds, abstract note patterns, and tone clusters. It was formed by three members of the “post-baroque” ensemble [the] slowest runner [in all the world], Jesse Perlstein (samples/atmosphere), Ian Temple (piano), Jeremy Young (tapes/synths), back in 2006. The sonic experiment, as they’ve been called, has evolved monumentally over the years, through albums like 2012’s Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield and 2014’s Tale with “Hungarian Wheat,” “Paper Cranes,” and “Musk Ox” to the more recent Patterns For Resonant Space, which saw a reverse engineering of their improvisational style. “This album was an experiment in reverse engineering our normal composition process,” Temple wrote on the 2017 album’s creation. “We started with sounds and noises, and then I responded to those with piano.”
Truly multifaceted, they work meticulously to bring art history and immersive visual experiences to a physical, tangible space. If you’ve seen a live Sontag Shogun set, you know that you’re in for more than just a cool listening experience. The trio move and meld sound as one flowing entity, creating music for solidarity and sentimentality both in the studio and in front of a live audience. They are the sonic equivalent of a sweeping pristine landscape seen through the murky filter of a LOMO LC-A. We caught them live in Brooklyn a few months ago, where they had two keyboards and a full table of synthesizers, oscillators, and modulators all set to a backdrop of images from a reel-to-reel projector (see below). Although the weather was a cool 30ºF, the warm sounds of their live compositions filled the room with a comforting blanket of heat that floated the entire space to a radiating universe where everything and nothing make sense all at the same time.
If you’re looking for a chance to get away from reality for a few moments or to find comfort in your current surroundings, let Sontag Shogun be your guide. Find your best pair of headphones or fill a dark, silent room with speakers and press play. You might get lost, but you won’t be disappointed in what you find.