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Road Atlas: Sophie Hutchings

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Sydney-based composer and pianist Sophie Hutchings recently toured Japan for the first time where she recorded her impressions and thoughts on her voyage which included performances in Tokyo, Nara and Kobe. The trip also featured musical guests including the sublime talents of guitar/violin duo Ryan Francesconi and Mirabai Peart as well as the Japanese artists Ikebana and Casio Tones. 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 stunning studio albums, ‘Becalmed’ (2010) and ‘Night Sky’ (2012), confirm Hutchings as one of the most talented and inspiring of modern composers making music today. 

Words: Sophie Hutchings 



From gritty chicken gizzards, octopus balls, and crab’s brains to melt in your mouth sushi.

When stage fright in a public toilet becomes a thing of the past thanks to an automatic soundscape of running streams.

Where rubbish bins sometimes don’t exist but all is somehow immaculate.

Where getting naked for a natural osen soak is a must.

Flashing neon lights, a raving warren of streets, golden story book rural thatched roofed villages……

Welcome to Japan.


Shinjuku Station is one of the busiest train stations in the world, and when it’s near midnight it’s easy to become lost in the pandemonium. Finally we surface and meet the bright battle of neon lights. We’re hungry and it’s late, but the local Seven Eleven surprisingly serves its purpose; and satisfyingly so. We’re not talking greasy fries or hot dogs so preserved they’d survive WWIII. We’re talking fresh bento boxes and more. I get my first sushi fix here and discover the best snack ever – onigiri – a rice ball type hit wrapped tightly in seaweed, with a lucky dip treat embedded in the centre be it tofu, tuna, pickled kombu or whatever else and for approximately $1.50 it soon became a staple when hungry.


First Tokyo Show with Ryan Francesconi and Mirabai Peart

Eastern Tokyo is a largely residential and industrial area with very few tourist attractions. This only spurs the local experience. We make our way through a warren of streets luckily with the help of our friend Masami the Jedi behind Impartmaint.

Typically Japanese – you enter a nondescript building and head down a steep timber stair case to find yourself in the basement gallery of Nanahari. A casual vibe, and a mood set by some earthy 60’s Zaire traditional spinning on vinyl, plus a bit of Don Cherry amongst others. There’s a little upright sitting in the corner waiting for me; I thought Japan was full of Yamaha’s. This is an old masculine Kawaii.


It’s my first time in Japan, I’m not really sure what to expect but I’m told everyone is ridiculously respectful and polite. It’s true, but they’re not just ridiculously respectful and polite – they’re cute, funny and a bunch of individual groovers. Everyone sat attentively – huddled on little timber stools, lounges with some cosily packed up the stair case.

Ryan Francesconi and Mirabai Peart (partners and band mates in Joanna Newsom’s line-up) play a beautiful set. Watching Ryan and Mirabai weave in and out of each other’s musical movements is pretty special, with a fresh yet oldish nostalgic sound stemming from their fusion of Balkan/Bulgarian classical come folk compositions….


I catch up with the Charismatic Yas who has booked most of this tour. We all mingle and I write down a long list of the music that’s been spinning tonight.

Back on the train and following the bright neon lights and sky scraper buildings, Yas weaves us through the tiny ramshackle alleyways of the Golden Gai district navigating us back to wherever it was we came from. Streets almost wide enough for a single person to pass through, an area of tiny shanty-style bars and clubs where musicians, artists and the like gather. It’s a great little hub for food and drinks in a very rustic Japanese style atmosphere. Our first taste of Tokyo is good indeed!


Bullet trains and central Honshu:

We are heading for ‘nowhere’.

Tastefully minimalistic in style – walls covered in creative offerings and records from all around the world for sale – ‘nowhere’ is the perfect name for this tiny iconic venue as it literally feels like no – where. Surrounded by steep mountains and endless fields that embrace a deep bay.

We arrive at the small city of Toyama (in the northern centre of Japan). I meet the very charming venue owner Eiichi Yasukawa and his wife Aiko. Eiichi not only designed and built the furniture but is also seriously the finest chef in Japan, not to mention the possessor of a ridiculously copious music collection.


Eiichi starts out as your typically shy, polite and extremely accommodating Japanese host. However by the end of the night he’s dancing around the tables laughing and spoiling the dinner guests with his modern Japanese delicacies: morohay – a smoky tasting morsel of whisked up egg white, seaweed and goodness knows what else that you somehow have to manage to scoop up with chop sticks. The texture resembles things I’d rather not say… however it’s surprisingly tasty! Tofu okra salad, Japanese style beef pockets, radish and pickle green bean salad, jelly infused with an orange and milk coffee base…and on it goes. With such a generous supply of food and drinks, our ‘lost in translation’ zone doesn’t seem to matter. By now our dining conversation is led by weighty and animated role play.

Winding up the evening all sleepy and full bellied, with the heat of the summer’s day rising and the cold air sinking from the Toyama Mountains, a cracking thunder-storm hits. A beautiful and dramatic spectacle in light. Toyamas closing act for the evening…


NARA: City of Deers

We drop off our backpacks at Naramachi guest house. It’s an old restored calligraphy house and with the now familiar scent of bamboo and incense I’m feeling at home already. The rooms kind of remind me of an old wooden doll palace.

Nara is a place full of hungry deers and little historic treasures awash with long narrow lanes. Former residential merchant buildings and warehouses have been preserved, and now run as cute little vintage boutiques, shops and cafes. On one of these many narrow lanes you will find cafe taken; a small gallery cafe with a quarter of it  taken up by a beautiful Yamaha grand piano I am to tinkle on. With rustic timber floors, a beautiful piano packed into a cute space and everyone tucked in around me; It made for a cosy loungeroom atmosphere.

We spend the next day walking through Kasuga woods, playfully fighting off the deers, temple hopping, grabbing another rice ball hit and then finally jumping on our next bullet train to Kobe.



Wedged in between the coast and the mountains lays Kobe’s cosmopolitan port city. We meet the Ikebana girls at the nearby train station who I’m doing a couple of the Japan shows with. Ikebana (meaning flower arrangement) are a local duo from Tokyo consisting of Maki and En. They create dreamlike minimalist shoe-gaze guitar tones  over atmospheric drones and sweet distant  vocal harmonies  injecting a calm somnolent mood in the best kind of way.


Our group makes its way up the hill-side, there nestled at the top overlooking the sea is the beautiful Guggenheim house. One of the appealing things about Kobe is its unique historical, colourful array of European style architecture. Apparently this dates back to the large community of expatriates who arrived in the early 1940’s so its style stands out.


I’m slow to admit that my rice ball hits are getting a bit dreary so I could do with a  good cake hit! Thankfully Guggenheim House is run by  a half Belgian, half Japanese gent named Ali . Upon arrival we are welcomed with rich heavy Belgian cake goodness for afternoon tea before sound check. I’m a satisfied guest…

Playing at Guggenheim house is like playing in a big old ballroom and the audience as usual are an attentive delight. Ikebana  play a beautiful set alongside the quirky opening electronica outfit called Casio Tones. Casio Tones are a concoction of six artists playing musical chairs over continual keyboards, loops and beats. I could only describe it as walking into a video parlour; but instead picture people playing musical instruments instead of games. Very entertaining stuff.


I feel at home, there’s a relaxing vibe crashing out here. Almost an elegant “Great Gatsby” feel combined  with a family friendly, hippy commune-like element. The back-end of the property is occupied with full-time dwellers who all hang out together pursuing all things creative. After the show we all mingle over santori highballs and we become like family.

We spend the next day taking the cable car for a fine view of Kobe city, pottering about the funky area of West Tor and meeting up with our new-found friends who run spacemoth. Spacemoth is located in a cool old hospital building that now houses several clothing and music themed boutiques.

This place certainly lives up to its cosmopolitan reputation.


Back to Tokyo

Being based in the sweet little neighbourhood of Shimokitizawa this time around is a bit of a treat. It acts as a rewarding breather if you’re overwhelmed by Tokyo’s more hectic suburbs. Only three stops from the fun and bustling Shibuya – it’s the Japanese Greenwich Village with a laid back vibe full of funky cafes, vintage clothing stores, second-hand record stores, live music venues and groovy little bars and restaurants often arrayed with a mural type graffitied shop front..


The Last show is held here in Shimokita at the enchanting old Fujimigaoka Church. The church is often used for concerts and also affords a neat little view of Mt Fuji. I’m performing again with my newfound friends Maki and En of Ikebana. Playing at an old church always feels totally natural thanks to their naturally lush acoustics. To top off the evening Yas (who is as nutty and fun as the mad hatter) has booked a bunch of us into one of the local Izakaya – the Japanese version of a good pub all-you-can-eat-and-drink style eatery. Huge platters of sashimi salad, whole grilled fish, agedashi-dofu (deep fried tofu in a dashi broth) and the list goes on! Plenty of Asahi or Kirin beers go down nicely in the heat…


With plenty to do in Tokyo other highlights were the tranquil parks, six-seater bars and a long headphone session at Tower Records.


There’s often a notion of rigidity and conservatism attached to Japanese society.  However its music and art scene is definitely a unique quirky hub all of its own, with the most polite and appreciative audiences you could ever ask for.

Thanks to Yas, Masami and my travel buddies Reuben, Charles and Nicolette as well as all those involved with the shows for making this a fun and memorable trip.

Go go gai daiski des!



‘Night Sky’ and ‘Becalmed’ by Sophie Hutchings are out now on the Preservation label.



To read our other articles featuring Sophie Hutchings: Sophie’s current inspirations here; an interview about the making of ‘Night Sky’ here


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October 29, 2013 at 11:27 am

Whatever You Love You Are: Sophie Hutchings

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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.


Current inspiration:

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.

Sopie Hutchings website   /   Preservation website


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June 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

Chosen One: Raven

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Interview with Peter Hollo, Raven.

Raven is the moniker for Sydney-based cellist and composer, Peter Hollo. Armed with a looping pedal and his beloved cello instrument, Hollo is capable of conjuring up sounds to awaken your senses and evoke landscapes of vivid colours and textures. 

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


The debut Raven record is entitled ‘New Resolution’, which showcases a masterful artist at work. Many of the tracks are recorded live in one take; the magic sparks of spontaneity diffuse across the studio’s space and into the atmosphere of the listener’s world. It’s an appropriate title too. ‘New Resolution’ showcases a new world of musical possibilities where boundaries are constantly blurred. This particular solo project crosses many genres and styles, from neo-classical music to electronica, and beyond. One feels the special sense of time and place, where creativity is in full bloom throughout the sonic journey of ‘New Resolution’. I was introduced to Raven through the music of Sydney-based composer Sophie Hutchings. Music, quite often I find is like a network of branches or roots, where one artist leads you to another. It’s a truly beautiful thing.

‘Night Sky’ by Sophie Hutchings is one of my most cherished albums from last year. Peter Hollo plays the cello on this record, as he has done so on Hutchings’s debut album ‘Becalmed’. The instrumentation of piano, harmonium, accordion, percussion, vocals, violin, cello, oboe, flute and saw creates a haven of otherworldly sound. The piano-based compositions of Hutchings are very special indeed. As you listen to these pieces of music unfold, one feels an ocean of emotion pouring from the very heart of the gifted composer. Similar to the work of Peter Hollo, the instrumental work of Sophie Hutchings shares an unspoken connection with the listener. I can only imagine how collaborations like this and others, must seep into the slipstream of inspiration for Peter Hollo’s own projects. Interestingly, Raven is just one of several sonic ventures Hollo is at the heart of, most notably as cellist in FourPlay String Quartet and indietronic trio Haunts. Furthermore, as presenter of Utility Fog on Sydney’s FBi Radio, Hollo explores the crossover between organic & digital, acoustic & electronic, live & studio-constructed. It is clear that innovative music is forever embedded in the consciousness of the floating world between the vast array of collaborations and sonic ventures.

Album opener ‘Faux-Naive Journey of Alrightness’ is sublime. Layers of cello are performed live in one take. The piece begins with a cello bassline, which belongs somewhere between The Balanescu Quartet and Charles Mingus. This piece of music is joyous and uplifting. The hypnotic bassline is soon joined by layers of soaring strings that breathes new textures and depths to the canvas of sound. I sense the arrival of a new day; a slow sunrise forming on the horizon when listening to this opening piece. ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ is steeped in cinematic delight, with film score strings casting brooding emotion onto a landscape adrift and long-forgotten. The emotive strings could be the score to a John Hillcoat film or a lost Dirty Three record.

‘The Deafening Clamour Of Distant Cars’ is the longest cut on the album, at over twelve minutes in length. I think this piece is the essence of ‘New Resolution’. The epic piece of music mutates from ambient/classical worlds of drifting piano and heart wrenching strings to avant jazz/electronica of fresh beats and electronic glitches. Think modern classical a la Max Richter, Sophie Hutchings combined with the electronic mastery of Autechre and Aphex Twin. ‘Headache Music #1’ opens with synthesizer and laptop sounds echoing Germany’s Modeselektor, before gorgeously delicate cello rises and falls gently into the mix. A beautiful contrast is created between the futuristic beats and programming and mournful cello strings. A dichotomy of worlds; classical and experimental, are wonderfully fused together here.

‘Replicant’ has an irresistible slow-tempo groove. In fact, the bassline in places has an infectious dub sound. The electronic pulses and looped cello are effortlessly combined forming perfect late-night headphone listening for the small hours. ‘Replicant’ contains the trademark Ninja Tune sound with a jazz infused dance odyssey created. Raven’s rework of Telefonica track ‘There’s Something About Your Face’ is sublime. Cello strings are the first notes you hear, before a crystalline pop song comes to life. The song’s arrangement is pristine. The refrain of “Can we leave it at that?” sung over a crescendo of strings transports me to the magical world of Owen Pallett. Is there higher possible praise? The song is a study of construction, and the art of a perfect pop song. The symphony of ‘Improv When Doing Something Else’ is yet another glorious live improvisation of cello, where beautiful looped strings bring ‘New Resolution’ to a fitting close.


raven_newresolution_craigcarryInterview with Peter Hollo.

Please can you explain the genesis of Raven, your first solo music venture?

I became obsessed with idm in the mid-’90s, and as an aside from playing cello in my band FourPlay String Quartet, I started to make beats and sample-based messy stuff on my laptop, with limited knowledge of how to do anything. For some years, raven was mainly a vehicle for remixing other people, as I didn’t really have any synths and based everything around chopping up and multi-tracking samples.
At some point I realised that of course I had access to some sound sources of my own – I play cello and piano, after all.
I bought myself a looping pedal when I was asked to make some music for the live accompaniment of some animations by one of my favourite cartoonists, Jim Woodring, when he toured Australia for the first time a few years ago. So the first raven gig in this incarnation was at the Sydney Opera House (when you’re a musician living in Sydney this isn’t really anything to write home about mind you).


Congratulations on your album ‘New Resolution’. What most impressed me on first listening is how many genres are crossed over and in turn, the boundaries are blurred. Please discuss the recording of this album and the use of cello, piano, laptop and loop pedal as choice of instrumentation?

For now, raven has two different lives. Live, it’s almost entirely cello with loop pedal – layers of cello, sometimes rhythmic, sometimes free, with melodic and other sonic elements. The laptop isn’t integrated into this, although that will be the next step in raven’s evolution.
A number of pieces have therefore been written for this setup, or in fact improvised this way live to hard disk over 2012. But when I have the luxury of recording music “in the studio” (or at home), this (useful) structural straitjacket is removed, and sounds can be added or subtracted, looped and processed at will – as well as piano and other instruments being available.

All this aside, the album is a hodge-podge of genres because it is more like a compilation of material recorded during 2012 than a coherent album.


What are the sources for this album?

(I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, but…)
In the sense that it’s a compilation, the pieces have a few different origins; the earliest is a remix of my friends Telafonica, a wonderful indietronica band from Sydney. Two tracks appeared on compilations in 2012, from the amazing Futuresequence and from Sydney’s Feral Media label. One was written for the inaugural Sydney International Animation Festival, and was played live to accompany a short film written by 1st year animation students at the University of Technology, Sydney. And the longest work was written for the radio show Ears Have Ears (on Sydney’s FBi Radio, where I have a show too), who commission Australian artists to write “soundtracks” to imaginary movies for them.
There’s more info the individual track pages found by clicking through from the album itself in Bandcamp 🙂


The album opener is a sublime introduction. There is a very organic and warm percussion and electronics bubbling throughout. The free jazz groove of acoustic cello echoes cosmic sounds of Alice Coltrane. Please talk me through this compelling piece.

This piece was written as a soundtrack for a short animation by 1st year students. I needed to make something quite upbeat, and I’m usually drawn to mopey, dark sounds, so it was enjoyable to let go with this.
Most friends have commented that it sounds the most like FourPlay of my raven music. In FourPlay String Quartet over the last 18 odd years(!) we have developed a style of string playing that’s pretty far from classical, influenced by rock but also gypsy swing, dub, klezmer, Cuban, hip-hop, jazz, you name it. Although I don’t consciously draw on any of these influences necessarily, when writing my solo stuff (or with the band), there’s no doubt all this is bubbling away in the background. The sorts of basslines I play in FourPlay, percussive techniques we’ve developed together, and melodic elements that I’m not often able to introduce in the band, all surface when coming up with a piece like this. It was improvised live, after a couple of exploratory attempts – and all percussion and electronic-sounding elements come from the cello. In the end section I just send the looper into double time, pitching everything up the octave, and continue layering on top of that.
People also tell me it sounds Celtic, which wasn’t the intention, but if that’s how it turned out then so be it.


‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ could be a soundtrack to a John Hillcoat film. An eerie landscape is etched on a large canvas of sound; from a meditative bassline to a soaring cello melody. With your music, is the cello always the starting point to a piece being born?

This also was a live improv, in the best way possible – when I wasn’t intending to even write anything. I always like to have new material for gigs, so I start playing around as soon as I set up the cello and loop pedal at home. An eerie landscape is indeed what I was starting with, and from there it all flowed without any pre-conceived idea, with cello-percussion, screaming dischords and droney ending. I guess it came from the sleeping dog hidden within. Hopefully I didn’t disturb it too much.
So yes, frequently the cello is the starting point. But that said, any of my pieces with piano usually begin with that instrument, serving as a bed from which the rest develops.


I hear a gorgeous dichotomy of worlds throughout ‘New Resolution’. The experimental side of your use of technology (laptop, looping) and cello, piano instrumentation. Please discuss your use of electronics in the music you make and how this combines with more traditional playing (cello, for example) in creating your sound?

As mentioned, raven actually began years ago as an attempt to make electronic music. In the live context, mostly it’s tended to be about the cello with loop pedal, (mis)using what contemporary musicians call “extended techniques” to generate interesting sounds with the wood of the bow, bow on the bridge, knocks on the body, etc, which are often in recording mistaken for electronic techniques (glitches, sampled percussion, distortion).
But “in the studio” I’ll use whatever I have in my armoury, including my other instrument, the piano, and lots of electronics. I remain a fan of music with beats, and also love the drones and soundscapes of Machinefabriek and Jasper TX, the broader world of postrock, delicate post-classical arrangements, and the last 10-15 years of noise music (Burning Star Core comes to mind).
Sometimes I’ll try and consciously incorporate sounds from this wide spectrum of listening into my productions, but it’s more likely that they’ll just surface through instinctive improvisation.


Tell me please about Raven’s version of Telefonica’s ‘There’s Something About Your Face’ and how it is interpreted here? For me, the indiepop song conjures magically the sound of Owen Pallett.

The vocal here is actually from the original piece. Telafonica are one of those bands who can comfortably write completely electronic music and then turn around and sound like an indie band. I took the original and literally re-recorded every part on the cello, including most of the backing vocals, beats and so on. I’m a big fan of Owen Pallett’s, so that’s a big compliment, thanks!


The longest piece on the album is ‘The Deafening Clamour Of Distant Cars’ and this track epitomizes the album’s compelling sound for me. Half way through, the piece evolves into an infectious groove of electronic glitches and beats. I would love to gain an insight into your love for electronic music and how and when did this originate for you?

I recall when I was at school, especially in the last few years (which takes us up to about 1991), being fascinated with synthesizers and then samplers, with bands like Depeche Mode and then Pop Will Eat Itself. Through the ’90s my biggest musical obsessions were idm and drum’n’bass, and the glitch of Fennesz, Farmers Manual et all as that became a thing. In the 2000s, it was the original folktronica of Four Tet circa Rounds and Tunng’s first couple of albums that was where it was at.
When I started my radio show Utility Fog in 2003, it was clear that hybrids of genres and particularly of organic/acoustic sounds with digital techniques was what I wanted it to be about, and inevitably it’s also one of the main things I want to do with my own music. Other than with remixes, it only rarely finds its way into FourPlay’s music – although they let me glitch up a (full-band) studio improvisation at the end of one of our albums
I do enjoy the way I managed to take this track on a trip from straight piano and acoustic cello, through cello noises and reversed piano into the very ascetic drum machine beats and piano glitches at the end. It does somehow express my philosophy of music in one track. The next album should take things further in this direction.


I first heard your music indirectly last year with the absolutely beautiful ‘Night Sky’ album by Sophie Hutchings. You play the cello on this record. I would love to hear your memories of recording this special album and what it is like collaborating and working with such talented composers, like Sophie?

Musical collaboration is something I’ve loved doing since I was very small. Solo music is exciting because it’s 100% your vision, and as long as you can realise your ambitions technically, you can do whatever you like. Playing with other people adds at the very least an element of surprise that can be a wonderful catalyst for stretching your own musical muscles, can lead to co-creating amazing music you’d never make on your own, or can just lead to the satisfaction of playing someone else’s beautiful music. With Sophie, I first played with her after the first album had come out, so it was partially about learning parts. But the new album came about after playing together for a while, and was more of a meeting of minds. Jeremy (Kong, violinist) and I worked out our parts with hints/instructions from Sophie, although Soph had the final say and mixed the album with the wonderful Tim Whitten (The Necks, etc etc).


You are the cellist in Fourplay String Quartet and indietronic trio Haunts. I am new to both these artists and I intend to seek them out very soon! Tell me please a little about these bands and their sound?

I’ve written a little bit about FourPlay above. We are four string players (albeit with two viola players), playing non-classical music. We gained some notoriety in Australia after our first album came out in 1998, because we covered Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” among other things. That album’s pretty primitively-recorded, although scores of fandom ensure that the Doctor Who theme cover remains popular.
We’re all fans of a wide range of music and the idea with FourPlay is to do the music justice – it’s not “classical” arrangements of rock songs; it’s rock, or any genres, that happens to be played by four string players (with amplification and effects).
We continue to do the rock and other unusual covers (“Killing In The Name” recently, as heavy as an electric string quartet can get), but lean far more towards original material these days. We have a great dynamic for writing together, based around group improvisation, semi-agreed-upon structures, and a democratic approach to moulding these into finished pieces.

Haunts is a trio with two members of Sydney band Underlapper, whose postrock/electronic leanings fit nicely with my looped cello. We’ve influenced each other’s music taste a lot through the years, and it’s great to be playing in a real group with them. There’s real vocals in there, along with crunchy beats and processed sounds, and that ol’ hybrid thing with the wood and catgut of the cello…

The other project I have right now is Tangents, an improv quintet (or smaller subsets) that, as is common these days, doesn’t fit in the usual genre boundaries. While piano/rhodes, guitar, drums, cello and electronics are the basics, anyone can be looping their vocals or triggering samples at any time, and you’ll find raw noise coalescing down to cello & piano interplay or beats’n’drums madness. It’s inspiring to play with fantastic musicians, and I feel we’ve achieved a few transcendent moments along the way, which should hopefully be released sometime this year.


You are a presenter of Utility Fog on Sydney’s FBi Radio. Please discuss the mission statement of this program and what music for you provides essential listening at the moment?

As mentioned, the mission statement was always broadly to explore the crossover between organic & digital, acoustic & electronic, live & studio-constructed. But I’m happy to play pure folk or pure electronica.
Recent highlights:
As with their last few releases, the digital release of the new Autechre has landed with a thud, a month before the CD (or vinyl) is out, and I’ve been delving into that. The new Boduf Songs is massively exciting – Matthew Sweet’s whispered/murmered vocals sitting with more electronic processing & beats than before, but still a sort of minimalist, doom-laden grungey folk that appeals strongly to me.
I’ve been listening back through a lot of the Rune Grammofon catalogue, and discovering both Deathprod and Arve Henriksen’s solo music for the first time (both are members of the towering Supersilent). And I’ve been listening to the back catalogue of post-metal heroes ISIS and post-metal/industrial/shoegaze/electronica pioneer Justin K Broadrick in all his incarnations.
There’s lots more, but maybe this will do for now 🙂


For more information on Peter Hollo’s Raven and his other projects, please see here:

For a link to Peter’s wonderful radio show ‘Utility Fog’ see here:

To listen to Sophie Hutchings’ ‘Night Sky’ album out now on Preservation:


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February 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm

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.

For more information please visit:

Written by admin

November 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm