Sounds of DourPartnership
Janelle Monáe, Bladee, Aphex Twin, LYZZA and many more.
On Holotropica, Sofie Birch forges sonic microcosms. Connected with one another by gravity, yet all distinct in fauna. Bended and tilted loops, inhabited by field recordings and pulses. A varied record, but above all one about ‘wholeness’. At the dawn of Holotropica’s release and her concert for the opening night of FIBER Festival, I spoke with Sofie about the inception of the record, guidance and (sonic) sincerity.
Hello Sofie, how are you?
I’m good! I have my release show tonight, so I’m just starting to get a bit excited and nervous.
Exciting! At the time of speaking, we’re just a few days away from the release of your new album, Holotropica. You’ve described the record as an imagined place. When did you first visit there?
The idea of this place came to me when I went to a summer house in the countryside – on my own, for two weeks. That’s the time I started to work on the sketches for this album. I did a lot of improvised meditating. I sat on the beach every morning, resting my eyes in front of the light, trying to be in this kind of nothingness. That nothingness is very interweaved in the starting process of the record.
How would you describe the place, Holotropica?
It’s a place full of light. At one point I wrote this very long description of what it was. I thought of it more as a physical space. Like an atrium of something. Or as a house, with a garden in the center. It felt nice to picture myself as this house, with an open space in the middle from where one can look up, into the stars. But, from there you’d still feel safe, as your home is around you. A space which you can decorate with whatever you want. That’s one way to picture Holotropica. It’s a place, but it’s also… nothing.
On Bandcamp, music is tagged for exploration purposes. Holotropica is tagged as ‘ambient’, ‘instrumental’ but also as ‘breathwork’. Can you tell me something more about that?
So, when I worked with my friend Christian, who’s credited as _iC_iC_ on the record, on the album, we spoke about several topics. Of which one was holotropic breathing – a special kind of breathwork. Breathwork can be as simple as using your breathing to create calmness, or to help coping with stress. Breathing is something that’s there all the time, so you can use it as an anchor. An anchor to land in your body, to let go of too many thoughts or of anxiety. So, I took the concept of holotropic breathing, and added an ‘A’ after it to make it a place, instead of a method. A little play on words.
I see. If we move from textual cues to visual ones; can you tell us something about the music videos for Holotropica? All three of them seem to focus on a particular filter of vision.
Well, I was surprised by the videos and their connections. Three animators, who separately and rather randomly connected with me, asked if they could do something for my music. I welcomed that, and didn’t brief them other than sending my music and a couple of words about it. So, when they all returned to me with their videos, I thought of it as kind of magical how they correspond. I mean, they’re very different in style and technique, but they all feel to me as if they really got behind the music and share similarities in working with lights, orbs, movement and focus.
That must be very nice! They were a very nice entry point in exploring the record.
Thank you for watching!
In the press release of the record, I read that pregnancy orbited around the creation of the album. How did that tie unto the album?
Yes, but, I didn’t create this music thinking of pregnancy or something. At the starting point of creating sketches, at the summer house, I got very emotional by not being a mother. I had friends who were pregnant and an avalanche of emotions started flowing in. At this point in my life, it was like my body really wanted to be a mother, while the time wasn’t right at that moment. Almost like a biological reaction on that I wasn’t in a situation where I was having a child. It kind of felt unnatural to me. So, partly for that reason I went to that house to understand and work with these emotions. To find something inside myself that could calm me down. And well, when the process of the record ended, I was actually pregnant myself. I didn’t think about it during the process, but then suddenly the album was finished and I gave birth to my child.
Thank you for sharing that. It’s quite beautiful how those moments are two parameters in which the music was made.
I didn’t give it a thought but only until the very end, but I feel the same!
One of the tracks on the album is titled ‘The Sun XIX’. which is one of the most positive cards in the Rider-Waite deck. What does tarot mean to you?
I’ve been interested in tarot cards for something like ten years now. I mean, not only interested, but very passionate about it. I use tarot as a guide during some periods of my life. You know, to get second opinions or new angles and perspectives. It’s a tool I use very seriously to improve my life.
And that particular track, how did it end being titled the way it is? It does sound like the sun to me!
Yes, for me too. But, that track found itself from the beginning. You play a little melody, and it’s like “oh yeah, this is it. It’s perfect as it is.” We didn’t change much to it, but then Christian introduced the last part, which made the very simple melody start growing into something bigger. When the track was written I felt this feeling of bliss and immediate joy. I think that’s also what the card The Sun XIX can describe. The cards can describe a thousand things, but it’s about joy, being present and being connected with your inner child and curiosity.
When listening to Holotropica I find myself grabbing an anchor point in a lot of the tracks. For example in ‘The Sun XIX’ it’s that texturally scorching sound that, to me, feels like a ray of light. In other tracks it’s a saxophone or a beat. As the record explores the theme of wholeness, I was wondering if you think that wholeness needs an anchor point? If it needs a center of gravity that holds things together?
Yes. Part of the concept of the album is that to experience the whole, you have to be in this state of nothingness. You have to find this point inside, which also has been described as the third eye. A point from which you can have innervisions with clarity. This could be something like an anchor that allows you to experience wholeness. Here, your body and mind meld together and become one. I remember when I worked on the sketches, I had this vision that the album was going to be called ‘O’. Just a ring. But, it didn’t really fit when we finished the album.
Another track is titled ‘Hypnogogia’ – which I think refers to the transitional state from wakefulness and sleep?
To me, that’s a state where body and mind seem to get seperated. I was interested in your take on separation, as Holotropica focuses on moving towards ‘wholeness’. Does separation find a role in moving towards wholeness?
That’s interesting, because I never thought about it like that. But, I think separation is a big part of moving towards wholeness. In order to really go into that state of mind, you have to let go of some things. You have to work on letting go of old habits, thoughts and beliefs. You might have to let go of some relationships in your life that won’t allow you to investigate this thing inside yourself. Does that make sense?
It does! So, to wrap it up; In another interview you were asked when you would feel a track is finished. Your reply was about a perfect moment when a track is not too finished, and not too unfinished. To quote: “when it still has the soul of a one take and the sound of careful work”. What is important about this soul of ‘a one take’ to you?
I actually was frightened that his new album was a bit too much of a careful work! But, it’s important to me to keep that ‘one-take’ feeling in the production. I think it resonates a bit with my character as well, as I’m very impatient and I love to improvise in every matter of my life. I mean, I try to navigate with my gut feeling, and that’s also how I approach producing music. It just doesn’t occur to me to change things often. And, I think it’s also something about, you know, to keep a sense of honesty in what you do. Both personally and in music. If you don’t cover up or think too much, then you are very honest. Honesty is important to me in every aspect of life.
Thank you Sofie. See you on the 16th.
Thank you! Looking forward to the show.
Sofie Birch plays at the opening night of FIBER Festival on Thursday, June 16th at Likeminds. Subbacultcha members get free access to this concert, plus selected other nights in MACA. More info on how to attend here.
“FIBER Festival is an Amsterdam based meeting place for everyone interested in contemporary audiovisual art, daring conversations and experimental electronic music. The festival takes place from June 16 – 19 in multiple locations in Amsterdam. The club night takes place at Garage Noord on Saturday June 18. With its 6th edition FIBER invites a curious audience to explore a multi-sensory programme that reimagines the relationships between humans, technology and a radically changing world. Find more info on the full festival programme here.”