Sofie Birch is a sound artist working with electronic hardware, electroacoustic setups and field recordings. She has a profound interest in the healing nature of sound and vibrations and works across disciplines with other artists on expanding our understanding of mind and body through art.
Recently Sofie Birch released Hidden Terraces, a musical sound piece exploring wild bird life in Colombia right after the album Island Alchemy, that Pitchfork reviewed with the words “If this is music for dreamers, it’s for the ones who pay close attention to the details in their nighttime reveries, for whom every small moment is full of meaning”.
One of my own personal favourites of long and slowly evolving sound pieces is without any doubt Prati bagnati del Monte Analogo by Raul Lovisoni and Francesco Messina, 1979. This record puts me into a vacuum of stillness, longing and magic I’m obviously deeply inspired by their work in my piece Behind Her Name Chestnuts Fall Forever.
I decided to visit my father in his country house where my grandmother's piano collects dust in the living room. And I recorded a long session of improvised piano early in the morning. If you pay attention you will hear when the neighbours chickens start to chatter. Very subtle in the background. Imperceptibly the chickens are weaved into a new field recording of other birds I recorded later that week to make a transition into a new piano theme.
The whole piece is built upon these improvisations from the same morning. I close miked the piano with a stereo setup of two Røde NT5 and in the room I set up an old B&O ribbon microphone—a very beautiful little microphone that my friend had lent me particularly for this. With these three channels I’ve been able to play with the stereo picture and the very dusty and noisy mono sound to weave in and out of each other. Later I recorded the synths and the voices in my studio in Copenhagen.
My father always says “I better understand your music when there is also an acoustic element”. Referring to that of my music where I only play synthesisers. Maybe he is right, that this combination holds a special quality because we are not alone with the machines and isolated from the creator but we sense the human behind. Though I think it has more to do with how the instruments are played and not if they are acoustic or not. I spend a lot of time playing electronic instruments with a very hesitant hand and without ever editing the sound afterwards.
I’m very fascinated by playing arpeggio-like synth figures without a grid. This whole piece is arranged and played without tempo and grid. I think when working with very minimal compositions it leaves room for other very small things to stand out. Such as repetitive figures that slightly move in tempo and intensity constantly aware of itself and its context. It is these details that makes a minimal composition work because the listener either unconsciously or very carefully recognises small changes. It feels alive. It feels present and personal.
I do love very sharply produced music that mechanically repeats itself in a predictive way. But I love just as much the very opposite. The vulnerable and fumbling music that makes me curious and aware. Still with a certainty that all of what I hear is intended. That all of the small changes and vibrations have been through the creators ears who carefully decided to keep them, so I could experience the same flaws and details as her. It is all about listening. And choosing. The creator listens and chooses. The listener chooses and listens.
Listening to extended sound pieces demands a lot of time and space. Both for the creator and the listener. And this creates a special band between those two. A silent contract of patience and awareness. From the studio of the sound artist to the living room of the listener. When playing live shows I’m always so thankful that people actually sit there and pay attention to such boring music. I mean, they only listen. I have to do something. And I am indeed very impatient and temperamental of nature. But we chose to be in the same room only to listen and I trust that people are there because they appreciate the long form and the anticlimax. We go into a personal and vulnerable state of mind together, we are bored together. Forced to relax and let go. And that is indeed one way of experiencing musical ecstasy. So very different from experiencing loud and rhythmic concerts.
In Behind Her Name Chestnuts Fall Forever we are on a journey together through the fall. The fall of the year. The fall of chestnuts. The fall of the past. And the fall of expectations. We are left open to new beginnings and new changes. Slowly the chestnuts open their torsos to reveal their brown shiny hearts, like wide open eyes staring into our thoughts from the ground. I always get drawn hypnotically into collecting at least one staring chestnut when I come across the big trees in the fall. And my pockets abound with brown eyeballs for many months.
Then winter comes. And time disappears like everything else and I don’t think about chestnuts. And suddenly spring awakes with its pale face and I grab into my pocket to warm my hands, but feel a little something. Out I pull this little jerky nut. It always makes me smile and think about how round and juicy it was the last time I saw it. How cycles rise and fall. Fall into my pocket.
I wish my language had a name meaning chestnut. I would call my daughter that name. Instead she can have this Longform Edition.