An atrium of nostalgic warmth – A Q&A with Suryummy

Emmett Feldman has been making music for the past 15 years. It’s always been a huge part of his artistic expression, alongside his work as a visual artist and he finds there’s a definite “symbiosis between the two art forms”, one in which visual elements often influences, and are dependent of music for Feldman. Feldman first found a common ground for these two elements of as part of an audio-visual group called Extra Sensory Projection back in the early 2000’s. “It was kind of an early time do be fusing music and visuals and doing it with midi and early VJ programs” says Feldman looking back on the era when I call him up at his home in San Francisco. I’m not calling him up to talk about Extra Sensory Projection however, because my first acquaintance with Feldman came through his most recent sonic project, Suryummy. It was through this alias and his debut, Prismatic Escalator that I would come to know the sound of an electronic music artist that is able to find a light and airy disposition in the serious language of machines and electronics – as something approachable, yet significant.

Today Feldmann has just released his second album under that alias, and with Genesis Clarity we again find this familiar sonic aesthetic in the music, with something deeper lying behind the infectious pop melodies and upbeat rhythms. Genesis Clarity finds Feldman digging deeper yet again into the contrasting elements of pop electronica and left field music, honing the Suryummy moniker closer to its ultimate concept. Feldman’s voice cuts through the receiver, and he sounds shy but sincere. It’s the first opportunity he’s had to talk about Suryummy to a larger audience, and it’s important that we reflect on his career as a whole to understand how he arrived at this new alter ego, but before we can get to that we have to understand Suryummy, we must turn back the clock to where it all started, in the margins between visuals and audio. He remembers his time at Extra Sensory Projection as “ a fun time,” a time in which they “were struggling to get our visions out there with technology that was very rudimentary with what’s happening now.”

I can imagine that would have been super exciting with the technology that was happening back then.

Yes, there were only a few acts that were performing live AV sets back then. When I initially started doing it, we were mixing VHS decks together while playing our music. Everything, like printing to VHS tape, feels like Stone Age technology now, but it was also the start of early VJ programs that would allow you to send midi signals to trigger specific clips during certain parts of the song. It took three people to man all the equipment. You had to create hours of content that was original and make sure it synchronised with the music, and told something of a story in a sense and wasn’t just pure abstract visuals.

Was it focussed on the live context?

It was mainly live, but I was also involved with a VJ label called Light Rhythm Visuals and we started putting out audio-visual DVDs. It was like an album with visuals and the label manager Ben Sheppee would pair a visual artist with an audio artist, and that way you could create a 12-track DVD, with the intention of using it like a DJ would. It worked for a little bit, but technology accelerated so quickly and it soon became outdated. It’s totally cool to see where things are now and not to be hindered by certain constraints. Although constraints are cool sometimes, when they are not a VHS Tape.

So lets get back to the present with Suryummy – which as excellent name. How did you arrive at the name and the project?

When it comes down to it, the name is a combination of surreal and yummy, and I thought visually they looked neat. The designer part of me liked the double ‘y’ and the two ‘m’s. With regards to the meaning behind it, I wanted something that felt innocent and painted a picture of surreal landscapes. Yummy is kind of an innocent and naive way of describing it actually, but I liked it. It reminded me of jewelled glistening landscapes that are nurtured and healthy. Like if you were to look at a natural landscape and maybe add a dash of hyper realistic 3d graphics on top of it. I go back and forth on it. The older I get, the sillier it gets too, but I’m sticking to it.

Innocence, I feel is a perfect description of your music.

Yes, there’s definitely an intention behind it, and it’s something that I’ve been honing for many decades now. I think back then I was probably less jaded and as the years go by, there are more levels to it, which keeps it interesting for myself. I like to think of it as this atrium of nostalgic warmth.

Yes, there is this nostalgia to it, and yet it is also ingrained in a contemporary professionalism.

When you reviewed Prismatic Escalator, it’s crazy how you described things to a tee and I haven’t really experienced someone getting it so quickly and so easily.

Did I use the phrase “serious fun” to describe it?

Yes.

And when I got Beer on a Rug’s promo announcing the album, I think I literally expelled the word “yei” when I saw it. And with this new album I think serious fun still describes it perfectly, but there’s also something more severe to it in the background on this occasion.

There’s something to that even with the album cover and the vibe it creates. I view the album cover as a multi-layered compass with many different vectors pointing different ways. There’s not necessarily a clear pathway and it has something to do with the title “Genesis Clarity”, which is about first experiences and these archetypal memories that we might have, which get distorted through time. So it’s really important to try and peel back the noise that enters our lives to have these clear representations of our feelings, and be careful that it doesn’t get buried in unneeded thoughts.

So did you have that concept in mind before you started putting the album together?

The name came after the songs, but I guess that must have been subconsciously what I was thinking about while creating it.

So the end result for you, was finding that clear beginning in the music?

Yeah, or trying to get to that clarity.

Was there anything that influenced the origins of the album, and did all the songs come together as an album with that subconscious concept underpinning it?

There were a few tracks that were made maybe a few years ago, but most were made in the last six months. In a way it’s more of a painting of a picture of what I’m going through right now. One important aspect to all of this is that I have a five-year old daughter and she’s just started kindergarten so she’s experiencing a lot of new things for the first time and putting things together with these new eyes, new ways of thinking, and new connections. That must be affecting me in some ways.

It’s about you looking at your own music through new eyes?

I think so, because finally, after doing it for some time, I feel it’s getting out there into the world a bit more, and I feel very humbled and grateful. I guess it makes me view the music with a different set of eyes and makes sure that I’m a little bit more clear and forthright with what I’m putting out there, without it necessarily guiding me. It’s something in the back of my mind I guess, and maybe that’s where you’re getting this sort of deeper rumblings that are going on.

You seem to think of music in visual terms, like in a synesthesia kind of a way?

Yeah, definitely. That goes back to some of the groups that I’ve really loved from the beginning. Groups like the Orb and Future sound of London. They’ve always created these amazing landscapes of sound. They create ecosystems of sound that I’ve always really loved and tried to tap into with my music.

Can you give me an example of this at work through one of the tracks on the album?

When I was making Heavy Earth Masters (and many times it comes after I make the music), I was thinking of these gigantic tectonic plates that extrude up into the stratosphere and deeper into the earth. You have to think of these as watchful entities of the earth that influence everything; the air, the forest, the people and the cities – everything that’s around them, they gently take care of. It’s unseen to us in a sense, but if you could see it, it would be this giant crystalline structure that extends into the sky and bends light and creates these patterns that nurture the world, or can create negative impacts. It’s up to that heavy earth master to try to put it into line. It’s very convoluted, but in my mind there is a purity to it too.

It’s super surreal. Do you ever try to accompany the finished piece of music with imagery to relay this point?

I used to be able to do that more, but these days it’s just tougher to find the time. Ideally each track would have a visual representation.

Pacific Trash Vortex is another pretty heavy one. I have always been fascinated – in a horrible sense – by the trash that enters our oceans and our ecosystem. In certain areas of the world’s oceans, plastic and all sorts of junk just get stuck in these giant vortexes and they don’t escape, because of the currents. The pacific trash vortex, I imagined as being more visible to humanity and not just in the water, but floating above the Pacific Ocean like this giant artificial structure that was kind of beautiful on its surface. I was imagining the sun hitting it and plastic just melting off it, creating these toxic fumes that sizzle into the ocean, destroying the life that was there.

It sounds like this is an issue that is quite close to your heart. Do you often rely on themes like that when you approach music?

Yeah. I want to create these visual landscapes that are routed in reality and expose it in this hyper real way. You kind of need to do that to get through to people. You have to package it in a certain way that strikes a chord.I rely on these very surreal visual landscapes, which brings us back to the meaning behind the Suryummy name again, and you probably won’t get this from what’s happening in the music, but this is what happens in my mind when I’m creating it.

Yeah, this imagery is not really something you’d associate with the music at all, but when you mention it, it all kind of makes sense.

I think in the long run, I would like to make things more obvious as I hone my artistic skills and the ability to harness certain samples that might hint at certain things. And it doesn’t have to be a dogmatic way of how to interpret the music, but if I could leave some breadcrumbs for the listener to get to that conclusion, it would be wonderful.

And that leads quite perfectly me to my final question with what’s in the future for Suryummy?

I’m still working on music. This has been a strange kind of golden age of creativity for me. I went through six or seven years before this, where I was on unsteady ground with regards to whether music would be with me for the rest of my life. In terms of the future, I just want to ride this wave, because I know how fleeting creative strength and abilities can be. At the moment it feels good to be riding the stratospheric refractive jet stream at the moment.

*You can also find some of Emmett Feldman’s visual work here.