Whatever You Love You Are: Sophie Hutchings
Sydney-based composer Sophie Hutchings talks about what has inspired her life in music: from her father’s Jazz collection and fellow Australians The Dirty Three to Tom Waits and Eden Ahbez. Also revealed are the books and films that fueled the inspiration to Sophie Hutchings’s magnificently timeless ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’ albums.
Words: Sophie Hutchings, Illustration: Craig Carry
Is there a particular record (or artist) that was the defining music for you to become a composer in your own right? I know it probably is impossible to answer, but it would be wonderful to hear you talk about a particular moment in your life – a trigger or spark that happened – where you said to yourself: “yes….music is the path I want to explore down.”
Defining a moment is impossible… I guess it’s a natural combination of your surroundings growing up & your personal interests..which was based very much around music. It was a war of the music kind of household … A family of musicians and a family piano always in the lounge room which I did gravitate towards. My dads musical interest was Jazz and Jazz and sometimes Jazz..! My brothers were into experimental and indie rock.. Growing up these heavily influenced my musical taste but the pieces I wrote always came out the same. I always loved instrumental music which is why I always stole my brothers dirty three albums, but it would be a while till I really discovered I guess the neoclassical scene. I fell in love and discovered The Rachel’s because of their connection to the indie scene, and also discovering the Necks was definitely a memorable moment. These albums were on high rotation. it was exciting to hear and relate to music that was coming from a similar direction as my own possibly and I think that was the beginning or at least encouraged my personal pursuit musically.. Not that I thought I would record and perform at that stage. It was purely a creative outlet. It wasn’t something I aspired to do as I was quite shy to express them to people publicly. It felt very personal and I guess still does……
Other influences included Brian Eno & Arvo Pärt & Terry Riley and then filtering in from the Jazz side Alice Coltrane Sun Ra other outfits that stemmed from the indie instrumental world like A Silver Mount Zion, The Dirty Three.. & it all grew from there.. I still feel like I’m catching up.. So much fantastic music out there.
Autumn – It’s a really beautiful time of year.. The ocean has had this continuous silver lining with the sky and air feeling so still you could imagine that time is stationary…embracing simple things like big walks are always an inspiration… Getting out in the open air. Simple things can fuel creativity.
I have a little Gamelan music and in the last year or so have grown very curious and interested in the traditional sounds. I love the tuning and textures that give that eeriness about it. The Rachels also produced some great atmospheric Bell Sounds and the like which kind of resounded in the rigging of boats clinking across the water late at night on their album.. “the sea and the bells” and also “handwriting”. I find those kinda ambient sounds my inspiration right now for just setting the mood at home.
When I can’t sleep:
Apart from feeling really sleepy or sleep deprived there is a certain enjoyment gained from having the night to oneself. Knowing everyone else is sleeping and you’re not offers a completely different mood. I wrote most of night sky late at night…… …. some of my favourite albums played during these periods have been…
Arvo Pärt – Alina
If these two movements don’t put a lump in anyones throat then I don’t know what will. This is one of my all time favourite albums and what Arvo Pärt does incredibly well is make silence or pauses in music more beautiful than almost the music itself or the kinship between the two. The simplicity tells you that what makes something so beautiful is like he says that it’s not how many notes are played but how beautifully a single note is played.. This piece is the personification of that and I think it’s almost more difficult at times to do that with conviction than it is to write something with complexity..
Gavin Bryars – Jesus Blood… I’m a fan of distant noises/ real life recordings in music. It can give it another level.. furnishing the imagination & affect the music has at times.. The first piece that swayed me in doing this was A Silver Mount Zion “He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms”. This piece by Gavin Bryars does the same thing. The doleful repetitive ballad of this man from a poor community along side the same repeated melody. (Some unused dialogue from a film he was Scoring at the time..) I love that Tom Waits unexpectedly creeps in towards the outro (on this version I have).. I first heard this piece years ago driving home early hours of the morning on a late night radio program and wrote it down on a scrap piece of paper and lost it and didn’t know who it was & rediscovered the piece a good few years later.. it’s a piece that is sorrowful but is so musically fixed that if you’re sad you kinda get taken away on the sadness of another…
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – This album offers all things pensive… one of those albums you never grow weary of….. Wraps you in nostalgia.
Windy and Carl – Antarctica… A Lovely Ambient Album my eldest brother gave me.. I never grow tired of this one either…The list goes on…
I love being woken up to the sound of birds….
At the moment my morning album is Day of Radiance by Laraaji… I love that Brian Eno just discovered him busking in washington square park.. the repetitive mood of this continual melody throughout takes you away but it’s kinda energizing at the same time. I also have Discreet Music on high rotation in the morning by Brian Eno. I’m pretty sure I eat my breakfast to side two about 3 times a week!
When I’m cooking or Pottering about the house….
In the past year Eden Ahbez is getting a good run. I’m also a massive Alice Coltrane Fan…. I grew up being force-fed jazz by my father but it paid off as when I left home and was traveling overseas I found myself diving into 2nd hand Jazz record stores and started building a foundation off the things I had grown up listening to… Some of my favourites are Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Bill Evans,and then Last year When I thought I knew every Alice Coltrane Album I discovered one of her best albums ever – ‘Divine Songs’…..It’s a definite cooking and red wine come all things late night and road trips kinda album.. A nice spacey dreamy album..
A bit of Tom Waits never goes astray either… I listen to Bawlers from his triple album the most as I feel like it’s got a bed time story telling style about it.. Doesn’t all his stuff… Even his theatrical ones do.
Right now I’m cleaning the house to:
My Bloody Valentine, DJ Shadow, the knife and Bluebottle Kiss…….
All these artists offer a hook in the best left winged kinda way…
Most played album at the moment:
Charcoal by Brambles.. It’s got such a beautiful warm and open simplicity to it but also at the same time has so much movement … I love the recording sound… it’s very dreamy… and it creates this introspective mood about it…
I’d say a few books have possibly aimlessly wandered into the mood of my compositions non-intentionally whilst writing Becalmed and Night sky. Some were:
The Secret History – Donna Tart. A very compelling read and slightly plot driven that gets a bit suspenseful in a way about a bunch of tight-knit group of students… and….
Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse. I guess one of the classics about the reflections of a semi recluse character who doesn’t really fit into the everyday world struggling with his own conflicting natures set in a semi magical/ symbolic backdrop.
Cancer Ward – Alexander Solzhenitsyn one of the most powerful reads recommended by my Brother Jamie. Even more powerful is understanding the main character of the book is semi-autobiographical..
One of the pieces on Night Sky…… “By Night” was originally going to be called “the yellow sun had left him”… A description of a scene in the book…
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
Since a young age I’ve had a bit of a fascination with the life of Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). Alice in Wonderland offers the best form of escapism as a child or an Adult… I have watched the cartoon over and over…
I love films… I can’t list the many I’ve enjoyed so the latest that comes to mind is Samsara by the Cinematographer Ron Frike. It was filmed over four years in 25 countries around the world. One of those wonders of the world type docs but the message unpretentiously seems to convey that we could do with focusing back to the simple things. We make everything so complicated and mass-produced and everything is done on such a huge scale that we forget about the small things in life that bring happiness..There’s some really amazing shots/scenes….
I love a good belly laugh and Woody Allen has done that time and time again.. He plays the idiot like no one I’ve known before.
Zelig & The Purple Rose of Cairo being two of my favourites.
“Becalmed” and “Night Sky” by Sophie Hutchings are both available now on the Preservation label.