Nick and Jordan Smart, Electronic Brothers of Sunda Arc, Talk ‘Night Lands’
Sunda Arc is made up of brothers Nick and Jordan Smart, who are also the two-thirds of jazz-influenced minimalist trio Mammal Hands.
With Sunda Arc, however, they are able to create tunes based on their love for electronic and dance music that draws from various genres – from techno to post-rock.
Their music includes analogue synthesisers, home-made software patches, piano, saxophones and bass clarinet to showcase their unique soundscapes. These combine both electronic elements and the energy of acoustic instruments.
After Sunda Arc’s successful debut album Tidal was released in 2020, DJ Magazine described it as “sounding like John Hopkins’ long-lost sibling”. A major compliment indeed, and rightfully so, as their approach is both expansive and compelling.
The release of Sunda Arc’s sophomore 11-track album Night Lands showcases their ability in storytelling in electronic music that is truly cinematic by being in control yet chaotic at the same time.
Here, we spoke to Nick and Jordan about their band's names' meanings, their commonalities as brothers in work, and the evolution of their creative process.
Hope 2022 has been great to you both! What was your biggest musical highlight over the past year?
Nick: I think releasing Night Lands was the most satisfying moment. We had worked at it for so long and many of the tracks had gone through different versions, and had a life of their own before we finished them. So it felt great to finally share that music and hear people's response to it.
Tell us about why you decided to create music as Sunda Arc – how do Mammal Hands and Sunda Arc coexist in your creative worlds, and how do they fuel you differently?
Jordan: As brothers we have always spent a lot of time making music together in different forms, and the Sunda Arc project generally grew as a way of representing our home-studio based work together.
So, it inherently included more sound design, experimental compositional techniques and use of gear, our programming interests, and more – all fused with our playing and instruments where they felt appropriate.
The way we use these things has shifted over the years as the sound world has developed and become clearer, but the project is generally a documentation of this process together.
Care to share how you found the names Mammal Hands and Sunda Arc?
Nick: Mammal Hands just came into my head out of nowhere one day when we were walking with our records to a DJ set in Norwich. I still have no idea what it means but I thought it was a cool band name at the time and it was right after we met Jesse so perfect timing!
Sunda Arc has a more specific meaning as it's named after a volcanic arc in Indonesia where two tectonic plates meet.
We are fascinated by this type of topography and the intensity of volcanoes, and the mystery of the deep sea trenches, as well where there are still very unlikely undiscovered life forms.
How would you describe the sound of Sunda Arc? What was the process of finding that like?
Jordan: It has been quite a long process, we have been using home-made electronics, Ableton, synths and programming since we were in our early 20s, but in many different ways. The canvas when working this way is almost infinite and you need to experiment lots and develop techniques and knowledge in order to find a path that is coherent when working in this way.
I think we both really felt with the new album Night Lands that we were able to spend a lot more time on developing some of the paths we set out on initially in our first record, and the sound world feels more enveloping, coherent and immersive to us as a result.
Were you inspired by anything in particular when creating the latest album, Night Lands?
Jordan: Of course, almost too many to list, but we were both very affected by the mood of lockdown, the isolation, the sudden shift in activities and expectations, and the loneliness of London at the time.
As a result of the lockdown, we were also both reading a lot and watching a lot of movies, many of which the mood seeped into the compositions at different times.
Did your creative process change at all from when you were working on the Flicker EP and Tides album?
Jordan: Yes, very much. We made those albums on a shoestring and with mainly homemade equipment and software tools.
We invested everything we earned from those records straight into being able to build a good home studio. It gave us a huge creative boost for the new album and allowed us to realise and create more easily some of the sounds we were imagining, as well as enjoying the creative spark of having to learn new skills and equipment.
It also allowed us to develop our mixing skills, as we have mixed all the records so far ourselves, and this is an ongoing process we hope to improve at with each release.
What’s the first song that you’d introduce to someone new to Sunda Arc?
Jordan: If they were in a dancing mood maybe “Daemon” or “Ritual”, and if they wanted to chill and relax, something like “Static Waves”.
What are some of the commonalities between you two as brothers when it comes to your creative process that you think makes the dynamic so compatible?
Nick: I think we both have different strengths we bring into the project in different ways.
Obviously, the instruments we both play are one element but then our treatment of these instruments and how we process and manipulate the sound is another thing, and we come at these things from different angles sometimes and it's always interesting to see which method seems the most effective or pleasing to our ears in the end.
I think also because we both have a lot of history playing instruments together in a more simple way, it's always fun for us to imagine more conventional instrumental ideas being transferred into an electronic domain and how that can completely shift the meaning or emotional impact of a sound.
Are there any other creative projects you’d want to pursue besides your two musical acts?
Nick: Jordan has another project with Milo Fitzpatrick from Portico Quartet that have released a record recently and we also worked together on some stripped back piano and saxophone material recently too.
We are both always working on musical ideas alone and often these ideas developed alone feed into all of our projects.
That might be developing a particular playing style on an instrument, learning how to use a new piece of equipment or exploring an unknown sound manipulation technique on the computer.
What do you think has been the biggest musical achievement so far for the both of you?
Nick: I don't think either of us think in terms of achievements really, obviously it feels great when we get to play a really special venue and you can feel the appreciation of the crowd, there are few things more life affirming than that!
But just getting to make the music we make and being satisfied with the results, and seeing the effect it can have on people feels like enough of a reward for the effort we put in!
If you could score for a film or television show as Sunda Arc, what would it be and why?
Nick: I think in a dream situation we would love to make music for a show like Black Mirror. We have a soft spot for sinister synth tones and dark bass clarinet sounds and would love the chance to see what we could do with a show with some darker content.
What can the world expect from you both in 2023?
Jordan: We hope very much to bring our live show to more places and people in 2023. It has been great fun playing shows this year, especially as this is a relatively new side to the project.
We have spent a large time of our existence as a band in lockdown. We are also always working on new material and of course hope to follow up the album with new tracks very soon.
All Images: Alex Kozobolis
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Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.