The Manchester producer celebrates the release of his new album, Wander Lands with a two part guest mix. Read on for our interview with Sarmism, and a mix tracklist that includes a large sampling of fellow artists from his label Bricolage (run by Fragile X, who gave us SBC.014).
Name: Pete Sandbach
Hometown: born in Chelmsford, Essex, UK, but…
Where do you live now?
I’m settled in Manchester, UK which to be honest I consider my spiritual home. It has a kind of eclectic, collectivist magic which I find completely intoxicating. Not to mention its musical heritage.
Manchester United or Manchester City? Or couldn’t care less?
Honestly I’m not bothered really! My 10 year old son currently supports City, but I’m in a more United part of town, so who knows!
You released your debut Sarmism album Lessons last year, and have already followed it up with a second, Wander Lands. How long have you been making music under the Sarmism name overall? Did Wander Lands come together all in the last year?
Before Sarmism I was Tokyo (in the days of MySpace). Before (and for a period after) Tokyo I was my own name, creating Christian soft rock.
Since I first heard music, I was trying to work out how it was made – whether I could create it myself, on my own. So as for writing, I’ve been doing it since I first mashed about on a piano at the age of 4. I had lessons from 5 or 6 onwards, and then picked up keyboards and guitars in my teens, whereupon I started composing and recording. It was a combination of house music and worship music in my teens, which was the origin of music production for me. So I guess I’ve been producing music for the last 27 years really. Maybe the last 10-15 as Sarmism.
Both albums came together quite quickly really. Lessons was really inspired by the time my daughter sort of fell out of school. She’s autistic and the school she was in was not at all suitable for her, and so there was a horrible process of trying to persevere, realising it wasn’t going to happen, and trying to work through her feelings of rejection, our feelings of failure in supporting her, and starting to see glimpses of another shape of future with some hope in. Needless to say, partly due to the fact we’d already experienced home schooling, (and partly as I’m a key worker when I’m not bleeping) the lockdown periods of the pandemic weren’t entirely the shock for us that they were to many other people. Wander Lands arose from the feelings of joy in the small things in life like hearing the birds when there’s no traffic noise, or rediscovering a place you know well after a year of absence.
With any label there’s obviously some lag time between finishing the tracks and the release going out there, so most of the songs are probably around a year old now. Bricolage has been amazingly responsive in putting out both albums in such a short space of time though.
Do you still think there’s some religious influence to your music now?
Well I’m not so religious now…that’s not to say I don’t have a faith, but I’m pretty liberal and not terribly churchy so many churchgoers may not define me as Christian! However I think any faith or belief permeates through many elements of personality, so I think an element of my spirituality is inescapable in my music.
You’re mostly using a modular setup for your albums, right? I’ll probably have little to no idea what you’re talking about but for the hardware heads, what instruments and gear do you use?
All my kit is essentially a way of restricting possibilities…I’ve found I get overwhelmed by computers and their infinite options – so a hardware setup works best for me in terms of actually getting tunes recorded (which sometimes get recorded live as jams and then burned straight onto my releases, and sometimes get recorded as stems before mixing and mastering). So the general setup consists of a eurorack modular, with some effects processing either in the box or with pedals. My favourite pedal of the moment has to be the Hologram Microcosm which is like a delay that’s been completely reimagined to make pure magic and joy.
I have a couple of really vital hardware synths in the Korg Minilogue XD (lush, analog polyphonic synth) and the Synthstrom Deluge (sequencer, sampler, digital synth, general composing hub). I also like recording random audio snippets from life, nature and so on and incorporating them into tracks like a sort of special sauce. I’ve just got myself a minidisc recorder to weird this process up a bit more.
As for the modular, things vary wildly depending on what I have in my module ‘library’ at the time. The XOR Nerdseq sequencer is crucial – it’s a tracker (like in the first days of computer music) but in hardware form. I love modules by Mutable Instruments – Emilie their creator is a true genius when it comes to instrument creation. I like modules that take samples and warp them into interesting new sounds, sometimes unrecognisable, so I use QBit Nebulae V2 and Mutable Clouds a fair bit. For the beats, it’s a lot of samples picked up from the modular or various other places and mangled in stuff like the Roland Scooper.
Tell me about the mix! Is there any particular theme that inspired you?
There are a couple of themes to be honest. Many tracks are from artists in or around the North West of England or connected with me via the label I’m on, Bricolage (based in Glasgow). Amazing artists writing beautiful ambient, techno, and synthwave stuff. Another theme was that I wanted to play some tunes from some of the amazing women in electronic music. Women are often forgotten in the genesis of this rather male dominated genre/world, from Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire to Suzanne Ciani. It’s not right and I want to do what I can to put things right (hopefully without sounding like a patronising tool!) Once the tracks were chosen it was a matter of working out a flow in Traktor and enjoying mixing and effecting them.
Could you pick two songs from the mix and say a little bit about them, what they mean to you, and / or why you picked them?
Dark Fidelity Hi Fi‘s “Rotations” is a beautiful track. Rick (DFHF) is a great bloke – I played on the same lineup as him in a local Manchester festival a few years ago and he introduced me to John from Bricolage which led to the release of Lessons. His tracks always tell a story – they sort of wind down a mysterious path of beats and delicate melodies and take me to somewhere really interesting and beautiful. “Rotations” is fascinating as it feels like it has a few different time signatures yet just works so well as a composition. Of course it has Rick’s trademark lush harmonic textural work and jazzy undertones.
I first heard about Panic Girl from one of the modular synth podcasts. It will have either been ‘Podular Modcast’ or the now ceased podcast from Divkid (modular types will know him well from his amazing demos on YouTube and the lovely community he has built). I chose “Morning Coffee in Tokyo” as I love it. From its jaunty pace, cleverly chosen sound palette, atmospheric found sounds…and of course its theme – I love Japan and am desperate to visit and this just lures me in so evocatively!
What do you have planned for 2022? Any goals, hopes, live performances scheduled?
Well, more music is coming out of the modular so I’d like to release another album or EP. I’m messing about with many formats in addition to digital so maybe something physical?
As for gigs, I’ve got a couple lined up for the end of this year (next in the Lancashire city of Lancaster for the excellent Hymns For Robots night), and then I guess we’ll see what transpires…maybe another spot at the Manchester-based Subliminal Impulse if they’ll have me! That’s always excellent – loads of local (and some big) artists performing in venues all across the creative bit of town, so I’d love to be involved again.
‘Keyboard Warrior’ Wonky Mixtape Tracklist:
Part 1: Eclectic Synth Shenanigans
Sarmism – “Affirm” – Wander Lands (bc065)
Panic Girl – “Morning Coffee in Tokyo” – Cake on Jupiter
Belial Pilgrim – “Cyanide Tooth” – Imitation of Faith (bc050)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “The Steady Heart (John Wizards Remix)” – The Mosaic of Transformation Remixes
Dolo Jones – “Vibes” – Vibes
Field Lines Cartographer – “Consume and Prosper” – YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE
Dark Fidelity Hi Fi – “Rotations” – Beautiful Fragments (bc062)
Apta – “Equinox” – WF-24 Vignettes
Polypores – “Exopheromones” – Shpongos
oqbqbo – “Sensors of an Age” – Tired Sun EP
Synth Witch – “All We Have Done” – Synth Witch
Steve Hadfield – “Circuit Bored” – Industrial Chillout Complex
Part 2: Breaks, Beats, and IDM
ReturnCodeZero – “Blank Out” – ReturnCodeZero – Memory Programme
Meemo Comma – “Nefesh” – Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter²
Ty Lumnus – “What if They Trigger a Memory?” – What if They Trigger a Memory? (bc064)
Urgula – “Use of Weapons” – Frequency Wars (bc053)
cCmndhr – “Huff Duff” – sBtrfge (bc058)
Esef – “Through the Static (Fragile X’s White Noise Remix)” – Static Control (bc055)
Sarmism – “Trig Points” – Wander Lands (bc065)
Tempal – “Ring Road Around Salford” – Tempal – Bristol Sounds