MEAWW's Basement Tapes: Sven Wunder's 'Wabi Sabi' is a study of how Eastern arts influence Western sounds
The act's unique blend of Eastern instruments and art with European and American musical styles creates a never-before-seen fusion of elements
Enigmatic musician Sven Wunder dropped his highly anticipated sophomore album, 'Wabi Sabi' on June 12, a release that is a cocktail of such a wide range of components it might make one wonder just how the artiste managed to blend it all together in such a seamless fashion.
When Wunder first hit the scene with 2019's 'Doğu Çiçekleri', it flew under most people's radars despite being released with financial support from the Swedish Arts Council. It wasn't until the album was picked up this year by the likes of Aquarium Drunkard and later re-issued under an English name, 'Eastern Flowers', distributed by Light in the Attic, that Wunder started to find recognition from a Western audience.
But despite the new-found interest in his unique sound, Wunder remains a mystery. There is next to no information about the artiste, which allows his music to stand almost entirely on its own. 'Doğu Çiçekleri' was described by Pitchfork as being "a testament to Wunder’s vision that he’s created something so self-contained out of such wild ingredients," while Passion of the Weiss shared, "There’s this new musician currently blowing minds...Sven Wunder exists like Burial and the Weeknd used to, or like MF DOOM still sort of does." Admittedly, Wunder's brand of music simply adds to the mysteriousness of his identity: blending traditional Central Asian and Middle Eastern sounds with contemporary Western music, Wunder is slowly ushering in a new style of music that reflects a world that is just as expansive as it is contained.
'Doğu Çiçekleri' was an impressive debut for Wunder. It was a record that took listeners to the Levantine Sea using Anatolian rock, European jazz, library, funk, psychedelia and traditional folk melodies, all coming together to paint a colorful aural portrait. The record became a craze amongst psych, jazz and hip hop heads, instantly selling out and now fetching $100-200 on Discogs. Wunder is set to make an even bigger splash with 'Wabi Sabi', seeing as the first edition of the physical album already sold out in minutes.
Taking audiences further East with songs like the lead single, 'Yūgen', this album sees Wunder adopt elements of Japanese philosophy, most notably, the concept of Wabi Sabi which is built on the idea of a perfectly imperfect life. Essentially, Wabi Sabi is rooted in the acceptance of imperfection, which is itself rooted in the concept of transience. After all, impermanence is one of the only few constants in life, and Wunder wholly embraces this for his latest release, welcoming the beauty of imperfection and simplicity and applying the timeless wisdom of Wabi Sabi to his own musical journey.
What you can hear is filtered through Ukiyo-e (which is Japanese for 'pictures of the floating world'), which illustrates everyday life, as well as through Japonism, the study of Japanese art, and more specifically its influence on European works. The result is a surface that creates an illusion by sound through the infusion of Min’yō (traditional Japanese folk music) with jazz-rock, resulting in a sound that evokes the hazy scene of Monet’s 'The Water Lily Pond', which depicts the painter’s Giverny garden with a Japanese bridge, bamboo, ginkgo trees, and the reflection of the sky in the pond.
In Wunder's sonic composition, the sound of the Western concert flute, which stretches back to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, it evokes the sound of the shakuchachi (bamboo-flute), which reached its peak during the Edo period in Japanese history. The guzheng (Chinese zither), with a more than 2,500-year history, helps blend traditional Japanese folk melodies with modern pop percussion and 20th-century electronic instruments such as the Moog synthesizer, Wurlitzer electric piano, and electric bass. Together, these elements create an illusion that celebrates the fleeting nature of all things.
A journey gently moved forward by a deep inhale and a slow exhale, 'Wabi Sabi' is a fusion that reframes familiar musical styles under the aesthetic of Eastern philosophies and traditions in an attempt to connect the journey that Wunder finds himself on with the flows of nature. And from this experiment emerges a new way of looking at music as well as finding immediacy in one's own world, using the wisdom of the past to root yourself in the here and now.
Order Sven Wunder's 'Wabi Sabi' HERE.
MEAWW's Basement Tapes is a weekly column that shines a spotlight on undiscovered/underrated musical gems.