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Jesse Somfay: “I’m always inspired by the patterns that are present in nature”

Jesse Somfay, a celebrated electronic music figure from Ontario, Canada, is known for his unique approach to minimal techno. Making his debut in 2004 with the respected Cologne label Traum Schallplatten, Somfay has since significantly impacted the scene.

Photo credit: Barbara – Official

Often compared to the British shoegazing movement of the early 90s, his music defies traditional dance boundaries. Instead, it offers an immersive, floating soundscape that deeply resonates with listeners.

His debut album, ‘Between Heartbeats,’ released on Pheek’s Archipel label in Montreal, marked the start of an evolving discography. A believer in constant sound evolution, Somfay explores various musical eras and genres, creating captivating hybrids. He is also known for his dedication to authenticity, frequently portraying his profound connection with nature through his music.

Today, we explore his journey. We will discuss his latest release, artistic evolution, and upcoming projects, which include a focus on his visual art practice and an analog video glitch business.

EG: Welcome to EG, Jesse. Where are you right now?

Jesse Somfay: Thank you for having me! I am currently based in Elora, Ontario, Canada, on the beautiful planet Earth, somewhere within the outskirts of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy, within the Laniakea Supercluster

EG: How does it feel to return to Strange Town Recordings after a 13-year hiatus?

Jesse Somfay: It is always pleasant to make returns, especially when it is the project of a friend. It was an honor to have been invited by Bryan to create the first release for his label, and it is once more an honor to release music with him in the present. I still remember the moment when the idea for my alias, Flourish, arrived one night in Montreal after attending a show.

With ‘Presence’ I am working under my own name, rather than an alias, so in this sense, it is a return that is also a first time, as Flourish was such a short-lived project that was very much of the zeitgeist it was born from, and I have grown and changed a fair amount since that era.

EG: Tell us about your new EP, ‘To Voice The Silent Song / Presence.’ What was the creative process like for this release, and how does it differ from your previous work?

Jesse Somfay: When I am working on a new piece, I tend to start with the main melody first, something that is short and sweet, and then I build outward from there, working with layers as if I were creating a painting; each layer building upon and complementing the other.

Throughout the process, I am accessing a set of feelings and visions from deep within, and doing my best to fit the elements of the piece to the shape of those feelings. I liken it to wrapping the emotions with cloth to freeze their form in time, and then transmitting that captured silhouette to the listener, for them to interpret as it relates to their own life experience.

EG: You have a reputation for creating deep, ethereal electronic music. How do you approach the composition process to achieve this unique sound?

Jesse Somfay: I’m obsessed with detail and subtlety, so I work with a method that I have come to call “subtlety en masse”. I like to imbue each element of a piece with a significant amount of naturalistic texture that allows the piece to feel alive, as if it is breathing, or that it is an environment that one could venture into and explore.

In practical terms, this means that I play with modulation and effects quite a bit in my sound design. For example, I like to set up synth patches in such a way that they modulate slightly in and out of tune very gently, injecting all manner of slight imperfections into the timbre. Whichever modulation options are present on a given synth, I will venture to use most of them on each timbre where it makes sense to do so.

At the same time, I’m also keeping my melodies and rhythms fairly simple, and the effect that this has when adding together many detailed, textured layers, is that you end up with this massive space of slightly imperfect harmony, making the melodies seem much more immense than they technically are.

I’m always inspired by the patterns that are present in nature, where the basic structure of everything is relatively simple, but increases in complexity as those patterns are built upon; especially when they are present in systems where a feedback process is active, like the interference patterns on the surface of water that has been perturbed, where the ripples are all affecting one another, or the formation and dissipation of clouds at different layers within the atmosphere.

“Throughout the process, I am accessing a set of feelings and visions from deep within, and doing my best to fit the elements of the piece to the shape of those feelings”

EG: The legendary Lexicon Avenue remixed ‘To Voice The Silent Song.’ What was it like to collaborate with him, and how did their remix add a new dimension to your track?

Jesse Somfay: It was an honor to have Lexicon Avenue remix my piece. He brought the essence of it into a much more club and dance-friendly space and folded the original emotions into something new. It is like looking at the original through a different set of lenses.

When a track allows for a break, I love when that break is really given the space to build and soar, to let the emotions blossom, and they’ve crafted their version in such a way that does this beautifully. It’s something that allows you to experience something viscerally through dance and, at the same time, encourages you to be vulnerable and connect deeply with the emotions in the piece. I love this balance!

EG: In what ways does the ‘To Voice The Silent Song’ EP push the boundaries of dance music? What do you hope listeners will take away from this new release?

Jesse Somfay: I feel that I typically work on music, by default, outside the traditional boundaries that are present in electronic music, or at the very least, I explore it at the outskirts. This isn’t so much to buck trends – though I always encourage voyaging outside of them and exploring the unfamiliar – but more that I am likely approaching dance music from a less traditional mindset.

Through its various eras, dance music has been many things, though it has traditionally been very visceral, designed for a more physical experience. I feel like I am approaching my take on dance in a more gentle, introverted, and contemplative manner, which isn’t necessarily as prevalent.

While this approach isn’t always the best for the dancefloor, it’s where I feel most at home when I am in production mode; I feel it is important to be authentic and honest with myself in this manner when I am creating so that I’m not trying to project something that I’m not entirely resonating with.

In contrast, when I am playing a set, it is usually a lot more intense and psychedelic, with bursts of emotional color throughout. Because of this, I hardly ever play my own pieces because the vibe is so different from what I enjoy playing out. It’s an interesting balance to play around with in different settings, having the visceral inspire the more vulnerable and vice versa.

As for what I hope this release brings to its beholders, my hope is that everyone comes to it as they are and from wherever they are in their lives. I like for my music to serve more as a reflector, than as a concrete and singular message. It may mean something specific to me personally, but that meaning will inevitably be different when experienced by someone who is coming to it through the context of their own life story and experiences.

Over the years, I have been approached by a few listeners who have had very different experiences with my work than those that I myself had experienced while making the pieces, and yet all of these experiences that were shared with me have been so beautiful to hear. It always brings me something of great value to hear how my work has affected someone and in what context they connected with it.

Whenever someone shares their experience of my work with me, I feel like I have been given a gift, as it is a window into their world, and is an impression of someone having heard your work for the first time; an experience we as creators must sacrifice in order to make any given piece, we’ll never be able to hear our own work for the first time with virgin ears.

EG: Looking back at your career, how have you evolved as an artist since your debut with Strange Town Recordings in 2010?

Jesse Somfay: I feel that the breadth of my musical intake has widened significantly over the past decade. Of note, I had begun to explore, in-depth, a lot of music from the 1980s, both popular and underground, around the year 2014. I found a particular fondness for the way artists and bands approached songwriting and production throughout that era, and I felt that there were so many paths that they could have continued to explore, but for one reason or another, they had chosen not to.

I really wanted to continue onward along some of those unexplored paths in my own way, and the result of those initial explorations was my album ‘Levamentum [Aqua Regia]’. Since then I’ve been exploring a lot of earlier dance music from the first half of the 1990s, and from the middle to late 1990s, which was when I was first exposed to electronic dance music, and in the present moment I’ve been exploring more contemporary pop music, since it is so saturated with intensely sugared melodies; especially the genres of PC music and hyperpop, for instance.

There is always a constant desire within me to create strange and interesting hybrids using elements from all of these different eras and genres, so I’m always open to new wellsprings of inspiration entering into my sphere. I find that, because of this openness, I don’t usually stay with one particular sound for very long.

My oeuvre tends to be constantly mutating, changing, and expanding, though over the years I feel I have gradually become better at weaving a more consistent thread of meaning through it all. Metaphorically, it is as if I am telling one story, but in different languages, where each language is a different lens looking at the same story from varying perspectives.

“Nature is a part of who I am and its influence makes it into everything that I create”

EG: Your music has been featured in prominent mixes by artists like Patrice Baumel and James Lavelle. How do you choose which artists or DJs to collaborate with or feature your music?

Jesse Somfay: I find that when I am approached by someone who wants to feature a piece of my music or to collaborate, we’re often coming from similar frames of mind and our hearts are aligned with the world in similar ways. This makes it fairly easy for me to say yes the majority of the time.

I tend to let things unfold organically in this manner, where I know that if someone is coming to my musical practice in this way, or I am coming to their practice, then we likely have something in common on a deeper level; that somehow comes through in the works we share, and ends up functioning as an attractor of sorts.

EG: As an Ontario-based musician, how does your environment and location influence your musical style and creativity?

Jesse Somfay: Ontario has the benefit of being a truly varied landscape, covering a massive area. One can be in an urban area and travel to a rural area in a matter of minutes in some places. In my case, I have lived in rural areas for the majority of my life so far, and have been exposed to nature for the entirety of it. While this means that I miss out on a lot of vibrant urban culture, I get to be exposed to the natural beauty of this land on a daily basis.

Nature has always had a profound impact on what I feel inside, and thus what ends up in my creative work, so even though I often explore ideas and themes that are closer to sci-fi than they are to nature, there is always something very natural and bucolic in my work. Nature is a part of who I am and its influence makes it into everything that I create.

Living in a rural area also comes with a slower, and more mindful pace of life, that contributes a great deal to the way in which I approach my creative process, and how I spend my energy during the time it takes to create a piece. Everything is slower and more deliberate but also very free, with a vast horizon of potential to explore.

EG: What are your plans for the future? Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations you’d like to share with your fans?

Jesse Somfay: At the moment, I am focusing primarily on my visual art practice and my analog video glitch business, where I manufacture circuit-bent devices for fellow video artists. It is a bit of a black art, with very few practitioners, but I thoroughly enjoy it!

Music-wise, I have a 12” EP coming out soon on Goldmin Music that is comprised of tracks which I recorded back in the summer of 2016. What more shall come is a mystery to me, as I tend to go where the winds of inspiration take me. I have long had a handful of different album projects planned, but they are something that I know will take a number of years for me to realize.

Whatever comes next, it will be from the heart, always.

EG: Thanks for the time and all the best!

Jesse Somfay: It has been my pleasure, thank you again for having me!

Jesse Somfay’s ‘Presence’ is now available via Strange Town Recordings. Stream and download here.

Follow Jesse Somfay: Website I Spotify | Soundcloud | Instagram 

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