Oh, lovely appearance of death, No sight upon earth is so fair; Not all the gay pageants that breathe, Can with a dead body compare.
– Charles Wesley, A Funeral Hymn for a Believer, 1780
So begins New Atlantis, the fourth full-length album by longtime Berghain resident Efdemin aka Phillip Sollmann. The words, sung by 60s California art icon William T. Wiley and embedded in glowing drone swells, set an otherworldly tone for Sollmann’s first solo release on Ostgut Ton.
Over eight tracks, New Atlantis oscillates between fast, kaleidoscopic techno, multilayered drones and acoustic instrumentation, fusing for the first time Sollmann’s deep dancefloor productions as Efdemin with his sound art and experimental music projects. The latter include 2017’s Harry Partch- inspired Monophonie performance and 2018’s Panama / Suez EP with Oren Ambarchi and Konrad Sprenger.
Long drawn to utopian musical traditions, Sollmann took inspiration for New Atlantis from Francis Bacon’s unfinished 17th century novel of the same name, which describes a fictional island devoted to social progress through the synthesis of art, science, technology and fashion. In the story, Bacon imagines futuristic ‘sound houses’, which contain musical instruments capable of recreating the entirety of the sounds of the universe; a 400-year-old prophesy of today’s digital sonic reality.
Through Sollmann’s lens, Bacon’s vision ebbs and flows over 50 minutes in varying speeds and colors, emerging as a tapestry of different utopian musical traditions – through billowing synth lines, early Detroit techno, resonant wooden percussion, trance, droning organs, dulcimer, electric guitars, hurdy-gurdy, just intonation, poetry, hymns and murmuring voices. Sometimes they merge into epic, rhythmic journeys like the 14-minute long title track; other times they appear as a briefly open sound portal (“Temple”), or in the forlorn human voice on “Oh, Lovely Appearance Of Death”, calling to be freed from jail of the human body and pass into the afterlife.
Like previous Efdemin albums on Dial, New Atlantis veers off the techno path to explore other musical territory. Here however, Sollmann occasionally abandons the club entirely, returning only to push its boundaries with other instruments, mythologies and psychedelic story telling.