making difficult sounds easy to listen to (isan)
From minimalism to melody and back again, isan have been on a musical journey since a chance meeting brought together Robin Saville and Antony Ryan in 1996. Once they'd discovered their shared love for electronic music and decided to work together, not much has been discussed. Isan prefer to allow their sound to develop on its own, allowing their intuitive grasp of melody and the manipulation of sound to dictate their direction.
Their "Salamander" album, released in 1999 was the third release on the then fledgling Morr Music. Thomas Morr won the band over to record an EP - the EP became an LP and the label and the band have been closely linked ever since. Four albums, an EP and a single later and the friendship is stronger than ever.
And as the friendship strengthens, so does the music. Always reinforcing their passion for sounds and melody isan are not afraid of giving their compositions space to breathe, placing as much importance on void and silence as on sounds - sometimes vibrant and scratchy, sometimes hymnal and opulent. Their sound sits somewhere between the Düsseldorf sounds of Kraftwerk and neu!, the invention of a young Eno and the smart-pop expertise of the Cocteau Twins.
Isan's music is inextricably linked to their equipment - sometimes caught up in a nest of wires and flashing lights, sometimes no less tangled in virtual space the duo listen with respect to their machines. Ryan "Sometimes I have to teach my machines to generate the melody. You find it in a dialogue with the equipment".
"Salamander", isan's first Morr release, was a collection of melody miniatures, loose soundscapes modulated with warmth. "Salle d'isan" and "Lucky Cat" followed, further clarifying their expertise with obtuse rhythm and transparent melody.
A collection of hard-to-find singles and compilation tracks, "Clockwork Menagerie" offered an overview of the duo's musical obsessions, taking in sparse arrangements and concrete flavours.
"Meet Next Life" (2004) and finally "Plans Drawn in Pencil" (2006) offer a more precise vision and are reduced to the greatest clarity. "Plans.." in particular has been described as their "most isan-like album to date" and the band have utilised all of their experience and expertise to seek out a darker sound and produce their most cohesive album to date. As Saville says: "we've realised that isan is about making difficult sounds easy to listen to".