- Efdemin combines techno with avant-garde ideas on this inspired fourth album.
- Efdemin is of two minds. There's Phillip Sollmann, who in 2017 marshaled a stage full of Harry Partch and Harry Bertoia instruments for a subtle, modern composition called Monophonie. And there's Efdemin, the emotional techno producer who DJs closing sets at Berghain. Until now, the German artist has kept these pursuits mostly separate. Yet over three albums for Dial and various experimental works, he's yearned for a synthesis of these approaches. "These two identities are coming together," Sollmann told Resident Advisor in 2014. On New Atlantis, Sollmann gets closer than ever to reconciling his avant-garde and dance floor sides, folding microtonality, invented instruments, hymns and field recordings into an immersive and gripping techno album.
A mix of practical and lofty inspirations fostered this alchemy. Ostgut Ton's label manager, Alex Samuels, told Sollmann to bring on his outré side (heard on his A-TON-released collaboration with Oren Ambarchi and Konrad Sprenger) on New Atlantis, his debut full-length for the label. But the dreamy, ineffable quality of Sollmann's music is not a put-on. "I'm dreaming of music I haven't done yet," he told RA. "Everything I've put out, everything I do is just an attempt to get there and to bring in all my other interests, to bring it all together. I'm dreaming of a different music than I'm able to deliver. I can't describe it properly, if I could then I would do it. I sometimes hear it when I wake up in the morning."
Sollmann is trying to realize the music of his dreams, which explains his attempt to break the strictures of typical instruments by composing for Bertoia and Partch's otherworldly musical inventions. This grasping towards the unattainable also drew him to the utopic fiction of Francis Bacon, whose unfinished 1627 novel, New Atlantis, gave the album its concept. "We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation," Bacon wrote. "We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have." It's one of several prescient passages in New Atlantis that describe something close to modern, technologically aided living. The idea of the sound-house leads Sollmann to integrate a broader range of instruments and ideas into his productions, all while retaining the classy minimalism that has defined his career.
Unlike Decay, which explored melodic diversity while retaining a crisp four-on-the-floor rhythm, New Atlantis drifts through a variety of tempos and moods. The opener, "Oh, Lovely Appearance Of Death," layers a plaintive rendition of the eponymous hymn sung by the artist William T. Wiley over Sollmann's evocative drones. The brief "At The Stranger's House," which takes it name from a scene in Bacon's work, eschews the kick for something called a "sing-drum," hitting on gamelan-esque tones close to Partch's bass marimba. New Atlantis's techno tracks are no less inventive. "Good Winds" nuances its foundational, dubby stab with far-off field recordings, not unlike Monolake's "Cyan." The 14-minute title track weaves in electric hurdy-gurdy, while "A Land Unknown" unleashes a raft of microtonal chords.
It's on the final two tracks that Sollmann unveils the full potential of his thesis. "Black Sun" begins as driving, acidic techno before a dramatic slow down, like what would happen if you pressed the start/stop button on a Technics turntable. Soon, nothing is left but elegiac drones, which set the stage for the breathtaking closer, "The Sound House." It's a mix of hammer dulcimer, woodwinds, saxophone and Partch-style melodic wooden percussion. Bacon's description of the "Sound House" is read over this joyful medley. "The Sound House," both the track and the overall concept, represents Sollmann's creative liberation. An infinite number of sounds are now at his disposal, opening up vast new landscapes to be harnessed.
01. Oh, Lovely Appearance Of Death
02. Good Winds
03. New Atlantis
04. At The Stranger's House
05. A Land Unknown
07. Black Sun
08. The Sound House