The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Sophie Hutchings

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Interview with Sophie Hutchings.

Sophie Hutchings is a Sydney-based composer and pianist. Her cinematic music belongs in the realm of modern composition, alongside neo classical composers like Nils Frahm, Dustin O’ Halloran, Peter Broderick, Rachel’s, Max Richter and Johann Johannsonn. Hutchings’ piano based compositions are both personal and mysterious, all at once. It is divine instrumental music where the ethereal layers of sound shares an unspoken connection with the listener. Her two studio albums, ‘Becalmed’ (2010) and ‘Night Sky’ (2012) have been lauded with critical acclaim. 

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

On ‘Night Sky’, Sophie Hutchings has worked again with The Necks long-term engineer, Tim Whitten. The instrumentation of piano, harmonium, accordion, percussion, vocals, violin, cello, oboe, flute and saw creates a haven of otherworldly sound. As you listen to these pieces of music unfold, one feels an ocean of emotion pouring from the very heart of the composer. The eight instrumental pieces on ‘Night Sky’ are utterly captivating.

Endless moments of magic are revealed upon repeated listening to ‘Night Sky’. An incredible diversity exists within the pieces themselves:- the haunting vocal samples on ‘Shadowed’ towards the end of the piece; the Hauschka-esque piano and otherworldly sounds (saw) on ‘Between Earth And Sky’; the sombre accordion on ‘Saber’s Beads’. The moment the accordion and strings appear in the album opener ‘Half Hidden’ is one of my personal highlights. It’s almost as if the accordion itself is ‘half hidden’ and the effect once it’s heard amidst the piano and saw, five minutes in, evokes vivid emotion. My favourite piece is ‘By Night’. I can just feel the stillness of night in the meandering piano. The violin adds a certain darkness and sadness. The piano becomes more reflective alongside the strings. The sound of woodwind brings hope. The saw adds this realm of wonder. The voices heard later is akin to Julianna Barwick, bringing solace and hope, before descending piano notes brings the piece to a close.

Congratulations on your amazing new album ‘Night Sky’, Sophie. It is one of those truly transcendent albums that is filled with beauty and wonder. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions in relation to your music.

What was the recording process like for ‘Night Sky’?

The recording process was as relaxed as one can make it.. Being in a studio is not the same as when your writing pieces at home in your natural environment so it was really important to try and create an atmosphere to encourage and envelope the emotion of what you are creating.. You try to take it as it comes and you end up getting lost in it all in a good way….
The studios all had their little touch but I have to say Oceanic studios was a highlight as it was a adventure rummaging through all the different instruments and creating organic tones that I’d imagined being on the record which is why I wanted to try that studio…. Like the wind on beginning of Half hidden.. bits of percussive elements the tacked piano and harmonium. Things like that…


How did it differ from your previous album ‘Becalmed’?

I guess last time it was more of an unknown Journey.. I didn’t think of every piece in advance as much as I did Night Sky (though in general, when I write, the initial stage is always very vague and builds from there).  I felt pretty strongly about how I wanted the end result to be with the instrumentation on Night Sky hence it was probably slightly more focused.


In terms of instrumentation, how do you decide which instrument to use for each piece of music? 

I don’t like to over do things. I really wanted ethereal type layers but I also really like space so there is room for it all to breath… It doesn’t really feel like a decision making process to me. You write the piece and whilst connecting with it, it’s almost like it tells you, and once I hear the melody of another form of instrumentation it stays with me and you make sure you write or capture it in some way.


When composing music for piano, do you imagine other instruments being added at a later stage? 

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Half Hidden’s accordion riff came to the fore front of my mind straight away and the huge gaps with the intro to allow for the piece to start is a personal favourite in composition to me.. Other times it comes at a later stage when your bonding with the piece.


My favourite piece of yours is ‘By Night’. I can just feel the stillness of night in the meandering piano.

I’d love to have an insight into the instrumentation used in each section of ‘By Night’ and the process involved to bring it all together?

A finished product is different to when you’re in the thick of it.. I find it a difficult thing to break it all down really…That’s the beauty of instrumental music. People can feel & interpret it the way they want & it keeps it personal and mysterious though you can also share an unspoken connection.


What composers and musicians have inspired you the most to make music?

Like most people who love music I like a wide range… I grew up listening to a lot of Jazz because of my father and my brothers were very involved in the indie rock scene.. I loved shoe gaze and anything intense & repetitive. My record collection earlier on really consisted more so of that genre….Instrumentally I was listening to people like The Dirty Three, A Silver Mount Zion & also bands like The Necks, Brian Eno and Rachels a lot & from there I built on people like Arvo Part, Alice Coltrane, Johhann Johansson, Terry Riley… I also really love Ambient music. Murcof being one of my favourites.


At what age did you first play music? 

We had a family piano that was free for all. I can’t remember the age exactly, I’d need to confirm with my mum…!


What are your current inspirations?

Space & the night..


Describe Sydney and the effect the place has on your music?

Sydney is beautiful city Surrounded by Ocean & Harbour with the city landscape weaved in & out of that… A wonderful place to get lost in your thoughts is on Road trips out of Sydney..

I think i would write the same music where ever I was though…. It’s more my own sense of mood that sets in when I’m playing that I think possibly affects where I’m placed in my music if that makes sense…


Are there any plans for a European tour? (I hope so!) 

I hope so too! So yes if possible.


What’s next for you?

I’m not really sure.. We will see…


‘Night Sky’ is out now on Preservation.

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Written by admin

November 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

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