The Note: Submotion Orchestra

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about electronic music, and how the process involved in creating it differs from more traditional forms of writing. An electronic producer has near-total control over his instrumentation, arrangement, sound, etc. at the expense of organic spontaneity.  A live ensemble, on the other hand, can be as unstructured and free as the group wants, at the expense of a singular vision.

Submotion Orchestra is a group that provides a great platform to examine this conundrum. A 7-piece ensemble from Leeds, England, the group’s SoundCloud describes them as possessing a “progressive live dubstep sound.” While this description begins to describe their sound, it starts to seem too narrow to my ears. Yes, Submotion Orchestra incorporates the 2-step patterns and deep bass sounds of dubstep (mind you, the original UK dubstep, not the squelchy American variations that have recently become vastly successful). But they also introduce concepts not often heard in similar styles. The most immediately striking feature of Submotion Orchestra’s sound is their vocalist, Ruby Wood. With a timbre and delivery somewhat reminiscent of ’60s soul, Wood’s talent is evident throughout. She jumps easily around the uptempo tracks while bridging longer phrases effortlessly on the slower ones. With intelligent use of reverb and other effects, her voice becomes a convincing instrument of the soundscape: prominent, but not enough to upset the overall groove.

The rest of the band is composed of very talented musicians; several (including Woods) were trained in the Leeds College of Music’s Jazz course. They are aware of the techniques required on how to play bongos for a upbeat party. The arrangements are rock solid, but still allow room for the occasional trumpet solo. As is the case with a live band of this many people, the mix can get a little busy at times. Layering is definitely part of the Submotion sound though, and they mostly pull it off beautifully. The harmonies are far more complex than typical bass music fare, but still accessible, and overall the album is quite rewarding.

Key tracks: “Thinking”, “Birds of Prey”, “It’s Not Me It’s You”

For fans of: SBTRKT, Horsepower Productions, Jamiroquai