Somnambulist Quintet

Somnambulist Quintet is an electronic jazz music project by Darren Johnson. The music is a mix of live instrumentation and heavily reshaped samples with a generally free approach to structure and regular shifts in tempo, dynamic, and mood.

One album and two EPs have been released under the Somnambulist Quintet name, The Nightjar Looks On (2009), The Big Sleep (2010) and Iceworm 535 (2013). Some older material has floated about the internet under various names too.

September 2018: New Album

Somnambulist Quintet - Iceworm 535

My latest album has been released and is available to buy digitally on Bandcamp.
The album is split into three distinct sections, originally intended as EPs, and was written between 2010 and 2013. More information here.

August 2018: News

I've made a new website to house all of the best of my music and woodcut art in one place. There's a lot more information on there with regards to Somnambulist Quintet releases, and there's a bunch of free downloads and links to buy stuff etc. etc.

I'm going to keep this (SQ) site running for the foreseeable future, but it won't be kept as up to date as the new one.

June 2018: News

I've been writing a new full length album since about March. Some of it is recorded, some of it still isn't finished being written, hopefully it'll all be done by next Spring. I'm probably going to release it under the Somnambulist Quintet name.

It's largely piano, but with a few other instruments here and there too, and is influenced in part by medieval plainchant and in part by the fin de siecle. A weird mix, come to think of it...

Somnambulist Quintet

The Big Sleep (2010)

  1. Aon
  2. Blackfriars
  3. Esdlr (or Owl Parliament)
  4. Stonegate
  5. Oak

Buy & Download
MP3 / FLAC / ALAC / AAC / Ogg / WAV / AIFF


The Big Sleep was written in York, UK during the first few months of 2010. Aon was the first track written and it summed up the sort of schizophrenic sound I was going for with this EP well enough that it ended up as the opening track. A little messing about with Alexander Scriabin's Prometheus Chord on the piano just about holds together the onslaught of cymbal, snare and avant garde saxophone runs, until the tension is relieved half way and the track falls into a more serene and melodic (though not exactly to say cheerful) sort of a place. This sort of frenzy/calm duality isn't just a theme but is also responsible for the structure of all but one track on the EP. The last track, Oak, being the odd one out. Oak is kind of all over the place - at one point collapsing from a goofy little toe-tapping tune into a funeral march within just a few seconds - but I quite like it that way, and I think it closes everything off appropriately. Incidentally it was also the last fully completed piece, and I think it's kind of obvious from its ending that I was ready to move onto something new.
I've been asked a couple of times about the track names. Aon is meaningless (I just needed a file name when saving the first 16 bars of percussion and my fingertips found those three letters), and Esdlr is an acronym of El sueño de la razón, in reference to the Goya etching. It's only a little piece of music, but I wanted it to replicate the spirit and atmosphere of the etching.

Somnambulist Quintet

The Nightjar Looks On (2009)

  1. Introduction
  2. Suspended Conscious
  3. Danse Macabre
  4. Sevens & Eights
  5. Retirement
  6. Light Pollution
  7. The Awakening (Nineteen 20 II)


The Nightjar Looks On was written during the first half of 2009 in Brussels, Belgium. It was a kind of a big change at the time. Unlike the stuff I'd been writing before 2009, there's no downtempo electronica, it's electronic jazz in a sense that I hope stays true to the jazz part as much as the electronic part. For this reason it was also the first release under the name Somnambulist Quintet.
I'd messed around with rhapsodic structure before - this kind of ABCDE... 'one idea after the next' arrangement - but it had always been out of laziness or else by accident. So the track Suspended Conscious was the first time I sat down and actually attempted to write a long track in this form. To do myself a favour, I kept it really simple tonally, and in fact if there's any kind of constant throughout this nutty piece it's the very ordinary clashing of C major with C minor. With Danse Macabre I turned the difficulty up a bit and opened with some less conventional chord phrasing, intending on writing a similarly long piece, but it seemed to end nicely at around 6 minutes (plus it's hard to describe exactly how much eye strain you can get from painstakingly sculpting those long saxophone lines). Similarly, the remaining tracks were initially a long piece called "Nightjar" which actually looked pretty decent on paper; but it was set to be about 15 minutes long and it became clear that I was biting off more than I could chew. I recorded and programmed the most fitting parts and thus came the medley that takes up the second half of the EP.

Listen & Contact

You can listen on YouTube and similar places, thanks to random people uploading it around the web, but I don't perform this stuff live (even though I would definitely suit wearing one-man-band gear).
You can buy The Big Sleep at Bandcamp and in 2016, the record label Aquarellist Records released a CD of both The Nightjar Looks On and The Big Sleep.
I know my stuff has been shared online a lot, and that's cool with me. If you enjoy what you hear and it's worth something to you then I'd really appreciate a couple of quid in donation, and if you send me an email then I'll make sure you get some high quality MP3s to download. Thanks again to everyone who has donated in the past, I really appreciate it, and the same goes to those of you who just email to let me know you enjoy what you hear.