In Conversation: Sunda Arc

Springing from Nick and Jordan Smart’s (Mammal Hands) desire to experiment with sound design and blur the line between the worlds of acoustic and electronic music, Sunda Arc’s sound is probing, compelling and full of vivacity. Set to be released on February 7th, their LP, Tides, successfully bridges a gap between two seemingly antithetical ideas, exploring technical themes of coding and programming whilst remaining emotionally charged at its core. If the releases of ‘Daemon’, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Hymn’ taken from the new album are anything to go by, then we can expect Tides to propel Sunda Arc further towards the forefront of the experimental realm between electronic and acoustic music. We caught up with the duo ahead of the LP release to talk more about what the future holds.

You’re probably best known as members of Mammal Hands, what was it that made you want to set up Sunda Arc?

We’ve always been into making electronic music together and for the last couple of years we’ve been finishing tunes that we were really happy with and wanted to release. Mammal Hands has always been a band focused around playing together acoustically as a trio, whereas Sunda Arc is more about experimenting with electronics, sound design and blending electronic and acoustic sounds in interesting ways.

I think it’s pretty safe to say there’s no one else out there named after a volcanic arc in the Indian Ocean, where did the idea come from?

Jordan was reading about it at the time of putting together our first EP, and we liked it as a concept. A place that’s hidden from view where huge forces and energies collide together, and the power of those impacts which creates new structures like mountains and gorges under the sea. 

You also happen to be brothers, do you come from a family of musicians, music fans or is it more of a coincidence you’re both musical?

Our parents don’t play music but they’re both fans and there was always music on in the house when we were growing up. I remember going through our Dad’s record collection and when he saw how much we were getting into some of the bands, our parents then got us our first guitars and a drum kit. We also had a family piano that we both played on a lot when we were small, trying to work out songs from our favourite artists.

Did you always have similar music taste growing up? What was the first record or album that you both bought?

Our tastes have shifted a lot over the years. We definitely discovered some key things at the same time growing up and took influence from a whole range of stuff that we got excited about at the same time. We heard a lot of folk music growing up from our parents, but the first records I remember getting obsessed with and listening to all the time were mostly rock records by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Then, later on, we discovered stuff like Joy Division and Fugazi and further down the line starting getting more into electronic music and jazz.  

Set to be released on 7th February, you’ve described the central inspiration behind your debut LP, Tides, as focusing around the theme of ‘things that produce a type of controlled randomness on a large scale’. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

This was an overriding theme in our minds when we were writing a lot of these tracks and is reflected a lot in both the compositions and the studio techniques used to create a lot of the sounds. The idea was to reflect the type of chaotic variations we find in the natural world which create larger scale changes and probe interest in small things and simple concepts. This was largely realised through software patches we made to create evolving variations or mutations in parameters and patterns that we were using. 

What else can we expect from the LP?

We’re really proud of this record and feel like it has a nice contrast of acoustic and electronic elements, so that the line between them is blurred. One of the main aims was to keep an emotionally engaging core at the heart of the music despite a lot of the ideas we explored being quite technical and coding/programming based. So hopefully that comes across. We like to create systems and combinations of instruments and equipment that we can play and that speak to us in the same way as an acoustic instrument does, which is often through their individual quirks and unpredictability at times. We often go pretty deep into concepts related to the technical side of things, but still always want to keep in mind that we’re making music and trying to tell a story through music, despite all the programming and production ideas involved! 

You compose and perform using both electronic and acoustic instruments, how does this shape your live performance?

It’s a lot of fun putting together the live shows because we get to walk the line between two worlds. We try and bring our experiences from having worked live with Mammal Hands – the emotionality and performance aspects of that – with what we love from electronic shows and club culture. We like to experiment with using dynamics and the rise and fall of energy to keep an audience involved and try to induce a trance-like state common to both types of musical experience.

How difficult do you find it to try and mingle electronic and acoustic sounds, with the aim of having the two sounds as barely distinguishable from one another?

Sometimes it feels easy and other times it can be a real challenge! There’s certain combinations of acoustic instruments and electronic sounds that just naturally work together and you don’t have to work too hard to make them sound like they are coming from the same source. Sometimes you have to work to get the electronic sounds to have the same characteristics associated with acoustic sounds that you would play on a conventional instrument, but the challenge is all part of the fun for us. A lot of this work involves trying to treat electronic sounds with the same expressiveness inherent in acoustic sounds, and it’s an area with lots to be explored.

What else can we expect from Sunda Arc in 2020? Any dates we need to look out for?

We’re excited to get out and start touring the new tracks! We’ve got our album launches in London (8th Feb) and Norwich (7th Feb). Then some summer festivals in the pipeline, and a few DJ sets also thrown into the mix.

If you’d like to find out more about Sunda Arc, you can follow them via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Their LP Tides is available to pre-order now ahead of its release on February 7th.

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Image courtesy of Gondwana Records.