Fia Fiell is the moniker of Vietnamese-Australian synthesist, composer and pianist Carolyn Schofield. She performs on multiple keyboard synthesisers, playing and processing them in real time to create dream-like and at-times unsettling sonic worlds that meld lush, nebulous melodic cycles, vibrant digital textures and slowly-shifting, soaring drones. Wielding an improvisational and elastic approach to time, space and rhythm, she expresses with profound depth her interiority; expressions of the body, of health—of emotional tumult and healing. A sense of transcendent possibility emerges as she shifts continuously between complex emotional states; her evocative and arresting compositions often feel as powerful and confronting as they do intimate, organic and tender.
Schofield’s recordings have appeared on Australian labels Nice Music, Butter Sessions, Body Promise and Chapter Music among others, with her most recent solo album All In The Same Room described as coming “awfully close to perfection” in Bandcamp’s Best Cassette Releases of 2018. More recently, 2021 saw the release of Gap Tooth, a new album as part of acclaimed art-rock trio Jaala, as well as Undercurrent 暗涌, a collaborative recording with guzheng artist Mindy Meng Wang.
The title is an attempt to describe an imagining of the endless flow of energy through time and space—the law of conservation of energy, dreamt as visible threads of light interconnecting everything; connecting the stars to the earth on a clear moonless night, and my hands outstretched to everything around me. In this waking dream, each of my palms meets a soft resistance in space as I move, a resistance seemingly carried by light in thin, swaying strands. A soft roar of sound in the distance seem to furl and funnel itself through the space behind me, pulsing and unwinding as the sound of insects rises up in a soft, enveloping layer. Where I sit and stand in the middle of the bridge over the river, I get a sense of the immense, ageless spirit of the land and the valleys around me. I can’t help but think of the journeys my ancestors took, and what they gave for me to be here now. I remember the songs my mother sang to me in her language; songs like those her mother sang to her, like those her mother sang to her, and like those before, going back to the first song. Was the first song a lullaby? Did we whistle to copy the birds, before we could even speak? Do our songs become endless if we just keep singing them?
I recorded this music intending to record a long, loud drone piece I used to perform a few years ago, but sometimes, things you perform don’t exactly make sense as recordings. I didn’t think that piece expressed enough warmth, movement or even love, or my experiences since the time I started performing it. But that was my starting point, then everything flowed on from there. It used to be drone music, but now it’s something else; perhaps a constant pulling, flowing, winding and unfurling of tones, driving away from its source yet meeting a soft resistance.
While completing this music, I kept returning to one of my favourite poems; Life, Life by Arseny Tarkovsky, perhaps best translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. He writes about immortality, death, light and “life’s flying needle” better than I could hope to, but perhaps this piece is an answer to that; there’s a connection here in what I’m trying to express. I feel that it would not do the poem justice to quote it here, but I hope somebody reading this might find it and listen, and come to love it as much as I do.
Deep listening is healing, and meditation through sound. In the process of making this music, I listened more deeply than I had for a long time (for a much longer time, too), and when I was finished, I noticed that I had changed. My mind was clearer and sharper, and I knew myself better. Everything somehow felt easier.
I was surprised, even though there’s plenty of research out there that tells us that music is one of the best things we can have in our lives to combat cognitive decline and improve attention and focus (just like meditation). Surely, then, meditative, attentive, ‘deep’ listening is one of the best things we can do for our minds. Not necessarily for the goal of becoming smarter: I think the end result of being able to listen and ‘give’ our attention better, is that we live more consciously, joyfully and vibrantly, and because of that we act more wisely, mindfully, respectfully and compassionately. One reason we live more joyfully is because we’re giving more of our attention to the works of art that make us feel good or amazing or ecstatic; art that can remind us why we’re alive, or somehow help us come to terms with all of our sorrow, or help us find hope.
I think often we need to be invited or compelled to listen deeply, because it doesn’t seem to be something we tend to make a habit of in our everyday lives, particularly if music is something we usually put on to enjoy while we are doing other things (which makes me wonder what listening was like before recorded music became so widespread). I’ll admit that I’m usually not listening deeply, and that’s okay (maybe I’m absorbing music instead). There’s also a lot of music that probably shouldn’t be listened to all that deeply. But when I fully give my attention to music and sound, the difference then is that I really open myself up to another way of seeing and understanding the world, and another way of being, entirely.
Through deep listening, we’re better able to access an artist’s intention and mindset behind a piece of music; we can better understand its larger context, and the humanity and even spirituality of its creator or creators. If the purpose of that work is healing (which I think it often ultimately is), through deep listening, we’re better able to be transformed and healed through it. Music can really become transcendent and revelatory.
I don’t think deep listening needs to even involve ‘thinking’ about music or sound, in the way we usually characterise thinking. There’s no need to analyse or define, or to try to uncover some sort of theoretical or practical foundation for something; instead the skill is in ‘tuning in’ and opening oneself up to a connection. Maybe we can be more like animals. By relinquishing language and just listening, we can discover more ways to get to the ‘heart’ of something. We can relinquish control, and be passive and attentive at the same time, which can lead to greater understanding. We can be more exploratory, because we’re open to more possibilities. We simply open ourselves up.
Mixed by Carolyn Schofield with additional assistance from Joe Talia
Mastered by Simon Scott at SPS Mastering