By Thomas Johnson, March 7 2018 —
On Bandcamp pages, the space beneath the tracklist is usually reserved for a lengthy write-up. But on the StegoSarahs page, there sits a handful of words that are the purest distillation of her latest album — “The goal was to make things simpler.”
Simple Subtraction arrived in August, only seven months after her debut, Experimentations. Despite the short interval between releases, Sarah Rowe, the CJSW 90.9 FM production coordinator, approached her sophomore album in diametric opposition to her debut.
“Experimentations was more goofing around in the audio-editing software and figuring out how to make music in general. I found I was putting in sounds for the sake of having sounds,” Rowe says. “Doing that and becoming more confident and comfortable with making music, I wanted to revel in that feeling of being comfortable with what I was doing [with Simple Subtraction]. There’s not as many different sounds or loops or things like that in there but I think it comes out a little more polished.”
Though wary of genre classification, elsewhere on her Bandcamp page she describes her sound as “left-field electronic with a post-IDM feel.” It’s a fitting descriptor — Simple Subtraction and Experimentations are quirky and heady dance records fuelled by an infectious curiosity of sound. In stark opposition to the fluid, off-the-cuff freewheeling done on Experimentations, Simple Subtraction is tight and structured. Despite being 10-minutes longer than its predecessor, Simple Subtraction feels even more concise. It’s a lean piece of music, clocking in at just under 33 minutes. Songs progress linearly with textures shifting from their beginning to a logical endpoint. Bleeps, ticks or throbbing baselines feel right where they should be and each synth has a purpose. An emphasis is placed on the individuality of the songs and how they stand solo as opposed to how they homogenize into the album.
“With Simple Subtraction, it feels like each song stands better on its own. I guess they kind of contribute to the whole album but I didn’t approach them in that way,” she says.
Rowe found inspiration through Brian Eno’s “Obliques Strategies,” a deck of cards intended to promote lateral thinking in the throes of mental blockage. On each card is an outside-the-box idea to spur unorthodox problem solving. “Try faking it!,” “Ask your body” and “Discard an axiom” are all examples of the challenges presented by the cards. Simple Subtraction is built entirely off this approach.
“You flip one and it says, ‘Breathe more deeply.’ So when you read that how does it impact how you think about your current problem, your current creative block? What I decided to do was get the cards, flip it and whatever it said, that would inspire what the song would be,” Rowe says. “The song titles fall under those cards. Whatever the card was, that’s the song title. If this was to be a song, what would that sound like?”
Simple Subtraction is a great success, charting in !earshot magazine and many campus radio charts from Victoria, British Columbia to Kingston, Ontario.
Rowe splits her time between her output as StegoSarahs, production duties at CJSW, co-hosting the horror movie podcast Scream Scene and helping to produce the score for CJSW’s radio drama Darkside Drive, which wrapped up its second season in January. Find Simple Subtraction on the StegoSarahs Bandcamp page.