Track By Track Guide: Sunda Arc – Night Lands

Our ‘Track By Track’ guide sheds light on the stories behind some of our favourite artists’ music.

We’re just a day away from the release of Night Lands, the second album from brothers Nick Smart and Jordan Smart, aka Sunda Arc. It’s a gorgeous album that draws from techno, electronica, neo-classical and post-rock influences. Sunda Arc composes and performs using electronic and acoustic instruments, such as synthesisers, saxophones, pianos, and bass clarinets. These are all fine-tuned and channelled through their own personal creative strategies.

Released through Gondwana Records, Night Lands follows their debut album ‘Tides’.

Ahead of tomorrow’s launch, you can listen to a selection of tracks as Nick and Jordan guide you through the album track-by-track…

Distant Siren -This was a track that went through many iterations, as we were playing with different moods to frame the main melody. We ended up settling on a darker, murky sound world, with the bass clarinet representing a more hopeful melody struggling to emerge throughout the track in different ways. It was heavily inspired by walks around east London’s docklands area during the first lockdown. I think for us it feels like taking an early morning journey on a night bus; the thoughts and feelings and sights and sounds that emerge and fall back into the darkness.

Phantoms Gift – For this track we used our modular system heavily to make a lot of the synth and drone parts have lots of movement and organic energy. It has some of the most detailed sound design on the record and was really enjoyable for us to make a deep, immersive sound world, with lots of detail. We’d especially recommend listening to this one on headphones. We went into the production thinking of pushing the bass and drums as much as possible, the bass sound was inspired by some 70s Lee Perry and Scientist records where the bass and drums really shake the speakers.

Beacons – This was the last track we wrote for the album, and definitely has more of a hopeful feeling. We spent some time gathering the field recordings and voices to make it feel like the music is emerging from the noise and clutter of a modern urban environment, with the voices and saxophone intertwining and calling out with their melodies. This was another one where we were inspired by the type of delay on 70s King Tubby and Lee Perry Records and we tried to create a sense of the saxophone really emerging and expanding out into the mix in the breakdown section.

Endless Fields – This was one of the first of the album tracks that we started writing, and represented a new approach in the compositional style. We tried to focus everything around the arpeggios and chords to create a feeling of a river of sound. The melody for this came very naturally through improvising over the sequence. This track also features some blended double bass from Milo which helps give the bass a more organic and natural feeling. We also ended up recording the main synth part to our reel to reel tape machine to give it some added warmth and colour.

Night Lands – This was another where we let the melody emerge from a flowing harmony sequence, and allowed it to sit as the centre of the track, framed and supported by a flowing sound world. The main synth arpeggio is heavily processed using lots of analog equipment to give it as much detail as possible and movement, which matches the movement and long form of the harmony. We also had the idea of trying to create a bit impact without relying on a heavy beat, just focusing the melody, harmony and the low end to provide the feeling of depth so you can really focus in on the melodic elements.

Static Waves – This track has a very late night feeling and we wanted to create a sound world where snippets and snatches of sound could emerge, very much like being tuned into radio static and voices drifting in and out. We created tape loop on cassette, sampling Nick’s voice and then pitch shifting it around until it had this breath type effect. Then we started improvising with different synths through our tape delay over the top and layering in little bits of radio static we were tuning into to create some texture. With this record we didn’t want to make the more ambient or interlude type tracks too flat, we instead wanted to create spaces you could enter, and that also have jarring and disconcerting elements hidden and emerging from them.

Neon Forest – This was a very fun track to create and was one of the first where we used the Ney flute. We had been quite influenced by the use of these types of sounds by producers like Mad Zach, Khan, Commodo, Gantz etc. but wanted to start by creating our own recordings and treating those as sampling material. Jordan has been studying the ney flute and Arabic music quite heavily throughout lockdown, so it felt quite natural to incorporate it. The flute has a very lo-fi and degraded feel but also, the overall production aesthetic is quite modern; we talked about trying to make it sound like an old 70s recording that we’d sampled and manipulated but still trying to keep the detail of the Jordans playing in the parts.

Forgotten Dream – This was the result of a period of experimenting with creating and degrading our own tape loops. The piano loop on this was recorded in a very lo-fi way, using a micro cassette recorder and pitched down, with the melody on top played in live using a midi wind controller to play a synth through a Roland RE201 tape delay, which gives it a very organic and responsive feeling, closer to improvising on a saxophone or wind instrument. We were aiming for something dreamlike and mysterious in the mixing approach, making the some elements feel familiar and homely, using our upright home piano for the recording and a field recording of some water we took but juxtaposing that with a crisper, more detailed improvised synth parts, nearly like a siren song luring you into the dream world.

Mirai – This track is named after the Japanese word for future, which is also very similar in sound to the moirai from Greek mythology. It incorporates some more folky-type elements in the flute melodies and a slow but heavy forward motion, taking some influence also from post-rock with the weight and steadiness of the drum groove and bass line.

Ritual – This track started from the synth and drum groove, which Nick had made while experimenting with the Make Noise 0-coast, that went through many iterations, and we played live in different formats before settling on this version. It is one of our favourites to play live as it has a great energy and sits on the edge of feeling like it might tip over at any point into chaos. We have purposefully mixed it in quite an edgy way for the album to honour this feeling too. Nick was listening to a fair bit of electro around the time of making this, artists like The Exaltics, Elecktroids and Dopplereffekt and their production style influenced the drum and synth programming on this one.

Endless Skies – A couple of the tracks on the album include bowed double bass and cello that we recorded in a session with Milo. We were really enjoying listening to just the double bass, cello and saxophone parts and felt that the recordings had such a strong feeling on their own that we made this track as a reprise of the Endless Fields melody to highlight how the skeleton of that track would sound completely stripped back to melody and harmony. We also felt it made a reflective ending for the record, to reference an earlier melody but to hear it in a different context where it’s more exposed and heard in its simplest, purest form.

CF Smith

Permeating your ears with good music.

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