INTERVIEW: Sømnus | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Picture this: after pottering down to Cobalt Studios, at the heart of Newcastle’s buzzing creative scene, you arrive into a soundscape of incandescent classical sounds melded like a 3D mosaic painting to insistent, electric rhythms. This unusual mixture can be identified as the experimental project, Sømnus, which merges classical styles and aesthetics with the rhythms and percussive effects of electronic dance music, coordinated by Newcastle-born composer Benjamin Fitzgerald. Sømnus brings hair-raising textures and juxtaposing musical combinations to life with a performance at Cobalt Studios on Friday 9th June, and I chatted with Ben to get more details on what to expect. “Think the sphere of neo-classical but with a lot more of a dance influence,” he told me. “The melodies, harmonies and strings I took from my love of classical, but the composition of rhythms and other electronic sounds has been taken from dance music.”

It’s a project which has evolved from Ben’s previous work and performances with his eight-piece band which goes under his own name. Having been recently reborn under Sømnus, a name inspired by the Roman god of sleep, the project marks an exciting new era which explicitly delves into the relationship we have with sleep, and what happens to our mind as we are dreaming. Ben discusses explains why it was important to adopt this title: “I’ve always liked the idea of personifying sleep, with it being a physical thing you can interact with and have a relationship with.” This connection to sleep adds a new meaning to the project’s transfixing textures; one which explores the serenity and mystery of the dreamworld. “It’s also the title of one of my favourite ambient albums by Bristol-based producer Phaeleh, who has inspired a lot of my work previously.” Ben added.

Sømnus embraces the soul-felt expressions of contemporary classical music in their own entrancingly immersive way

Compositionally, the ensemble creates their sounds through a process of communication, experimentation and the passing around of ideas. Most Sømnus members are folk musicians who Ben met at university, including violinists Sam Baxter and Anna Hughes, and their ability to play through listening was an important trait for Ben’s composing style. “I needed to find musicians which were susceptible to the way that I composed, which is purely audible,” he said. “The folk musicians are brilliant, they do it by singing at each other and singing back and being able to replicate what’s going on.” This circumstance was another factor which motivated Ben’s decision to change the project’s name. “When it was my full name and I was performing with eight people, I started to feel uncomfortable,” said Ben. “I didn’t like the narcissism, because it just wasn’t about me. It has a very collective drive. We’re all experiencing it, I’m just heading it.”

For their Cobalt gig, the ensemble prepares arpeggiated synth modules and electricity with transcendent strings, delicate harp accompaniments and intricate polyrhythmic piano lines. Old tracks can be heard amongst new as the audience is taken on a journey through excitement and reflection. Sømnus embraces the soul-felt expressions of contemporary classical music in their own entrancingly immersive way.

Sømnus play Cobalt Studios, Newcastle on Friday 9th June.


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