Cyclic Selects: Sophie Hutchings


Sydney based pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings has just released her third album Wide Asleep on the Preservation label. The album, which explores ideas of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness, was recorded with longtime collaborator Tim Whitten, best known for decades of work with The Necks. It features some marked departures, such as Hutchings working with voice. You can listen to this piece, Memory II here. We’ve been big fans of Hutchings’ work for a while, we even spoke with her way back in 2010 – how time flies. You can read that interview here. A fascinating artist with such a unique and innovative approach to sound we figured it was about time we asked her to do a Cyclic Selects so we could find out what music that moves her.

Bohren and Der Club of Gore – Piano Nights (Ipecac Recordings)
I discovered this outfit through my friend Tony Dupe who was at the time recording my debut Album ‘Becalmed’ down at his home studio in the beautiful secluded countryside of Kangaroo Valley. He gave me one of their albums to take home. I listened to it driving home after midnight and the music consumed every bit of my being and surrounds into one big beautiful dark dreamy blur… I’ve been following their music since…

They’re a curious mixture of lounge Jazz meets dark ambient and more…

Piano Nights (as is all their releases) is the perfect soundtrack to set the scene to long train journeys or road trips. Painting silent words over the terrain as it passes you by…

It has a lush mellow warmth though its deliberately slow pace and certain restraint casts a shadow of darkness. There’s a haziness in its ambience with washes of cymbals, breathy lingering sax, synth choirs, organs, vibes and hesitant hauntingly beautiful piano melodies. It’s melancholy and solemn yet it has a certain comfort attached to it at the same time, luring one into a imaginary and languid state. It manages to capture a unique solitary mood as if it has the power to idle time, like you could view life in slow motion.

If Piano Nights were nature, it would be like entering early daylight. A thick cloud of fog in the middle of nowhere with a visibility so unclear it’s never ending. Slowly edging your way through, feeling fragments of the atmosphere brush against your skin… A romanticism to it’s surrounds. Staring into unending soft grey hues, a veil of mist meeting uncertainty with contentment…

They cast a silvery spell.

Rachel’s – The Sea and the bells (Quarterstick Records)
Growing up with indie rock, folk and Jazz, Rachel’s was one of the first instrumental chamber groups I was ever introduced to and they became and still are one of my favourite to date. I could say every album they have done is my favourite, however with 15 guest musicians on this album, they venture into rich and ripe orchestral terrain making for one of the best albums of all times in my opinion.

With its musical vision of epic open seas with creaks and whispers, The Sea and the bells stirs themes and emotions with conviction weaving its vigilantly shaped pieces through dark strong contours taking you on a reflective journey. I also love that the founding member Jason Noble came from a full indie background like myself, playing in bands like the Shipping News and Rhodan but loved and steered chamber /instrumental music into other realms with his collaborative band members including Rachel Grimes who still creates genuinely beautiful music.

This is a must have must have album.

Brian Eno – Discreet music
I once heard this piece hovering off in the distance somewhere in my street at the early hours of the morning, seeping through the crevices. I couldn’t work out where it was coming from but its distant sound enveloped the atmosphere in that Eno subtle soothing way. As if from some far off place..

We all know Eno makes naturally calm and beautiful music but there’s something else in his recipe…
Usually we adjust our senses and fit in or immerse ourselves in music but Eno’s music adjusts itself and immerses itself in you, where warm soundwaves coat the walls of your room leaving the heart at ease. Understated overtones and delay of melodies subconsciously entering your mind without you even knowing, it’s placidness taking over.

As Eno said: “I wanted to make something you can slip in and out of.” and that you can do…
Discreet music has kept me company on many a sleepless night and If there was an 8 hour version like Max Richter’s sleep I’d be the first to buy it…

Discreet music sounds like it could freely go on forever. It just seeps into those atmospheric crevices and you could look out to nowhere in particular and ask “Where is that beautiful sound coming from?”…

Pharoah Saunders – Kazuko (Theresa Records)
My father is pretty much Jazz or die when it comes to music taste so the majority of the time (when he wasn’t competing with my brothers blasting indie rock like Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth) the walls of the house reverberated Jazz at high decibels and he felt this would pay off in influencing his children and it did, eventually…

I became totally disinterested in my teens rebelling against my Dad’s force of almost ‘Jazz only’ approach. Then when I left home traveling abroad, I found myself trawling through underground record stores in the search for Jazz and have been broadening my search and collection ever since….. (Thank you Dad)

I absolutely love Classical Raaga, and I love anything “indian Drone’ like. I also love free Jazz, Pharoah Sanders being among the favourites. So putting these two effectual elements together, this piece Kazuko ascends you to a beautiful enlightening listen. Fused with a resonant indian accent of continual harmonium, wind chimes and Saunders shades of colour, the meditative abstract mood swings from beautifully chaotic rich overtones to graceful astral breathy melodies, in particular his calmative circular breathing takes on a sense of warmth and freedom.

There’s never any constraints with Pharaoh and he takes you there with him. I never tire of this beautiful piece.

The Liars – VOX tuned D.E.D (Mute Records)
I absolutely love The Liars tribal like intensity and twangy melodies and even though this album has a slightly different approach (Apparently this was a self confessed learning on the fly process to getting their techi gear on) there’s still a darkness carried in it’s persona from their previous punky grit.

I’ve always digged a good dance off (my family can testify to brightly coloured leotards and singing into the Vacuum cleaner. I’m glad no one else can) VOX tuned D.E.D is a whole lot of fun. It’s a fearless blend of pulsating beats bordering on trance like house vs dance experimental electronica. With big-beat bass and synth lines that devour, you can’t help but groove with attitude. I find this kinda music really energising and uplifting but unlike other dance/ electronica it has a definite personality of it’s own. It push and pulls in mood. Sometimes cheeky sometimes aggressive sometimes beautiful, taking you into their rhythmic swirling limitless outskirts of layered sounds…….

VOX tuned D.E.D enters your bloodstream immediately, picks you up and takes you into a multicolored musical cosmos. Best played at top volume…!

Mulatu Astatke – Tezeta
If you want a brief holiday – Close your eyes, grab a wine and swing n sway to this. Mulatu Astake’s Tezeta. This is about easy evenings pottering about cooking with a big glass of red.

It demands little of your attention yet your sub consciousness welcomes this kinda waltz in ‘a let go be free kinda way’. I love how the loose harmony gives it that unusual edge. The warm fuzzy sax melody, woody earthy tones of the bass lines, the effortless almost slightly out of tune piano and mysteriously charming guitar riff hushly driving from behind embraces that good sense of emotionalism.

It’s simple but enjoyably sultry. It offers a space and atmosphere that’s just good for the soul…

Arvo Part – Für Alina (ECM)
I really love the space and emptiness in the notes of this piece. It’s naked stripped back spirit hovering introspectively in the pit of your stomach pushing upwards to produce that lump in your throat. The sincerity in it’s simplicity is something seldom found. This piece is a wonderful example of how the emotions drawn are not through how much is played and how clever a piece is but HOW it’s played and when.

There’s a timeless beauty in it. A mysticism in its’ openness. One that almost doesn’t lend itself to words in explaining it. Just a feeling…..

For that, it will remain beautifully timeless

Brambles – Charcoal (Serein Label)
One of my favourite semi Melbourne based ambient come neo-classical discoveries since releasing my own music. Mira Dawson – AKA Brambles.

Most of this album was recorded in late night seatings at “The Painted Palace”, a communal house in Melbourne open to all varieties of artists in what seems like a very open and natural setup. Charcoal takes you on a luminous like late night sedative journey through layers of dissonant piano notes, bowed strings, warm repetitive timbre like woodwind lines, natural soundscapes and sometimes a trail of distant vocal samples. It effortlessly flows though spacious and is a bit of a salve to the soul. It has kept me company on long road trips and sleepless late night meanderings. It gently wraps itself around you…

There’s a lot of space and musical solitude offered in this mesmerising listen. Allowing a slow stirring hypnotism in the best way.

Murcof – Rostro (The Leaf Label)
One of my favourite ambient artists. Fernando Corona from Tijuana, México, well known for his ‘less is more’ approach to Electronic minimalism combining subtle loops, rhythm and atmospheric orchestral arrangements.

I love all his music but ‘Rostro’ grabs me most. There’s a very dark contemplative quality to this ambient melodic electronic piece that I immediately gravitate towards. Rostro’s emotive shades of sparse electronica, sampled with orchestral recordings and combined with intended moments of silence heightens its mood. It takes you on that hidden and wandering pensive journey that we all like to transit to with music. It somehow intertwines and makes itself part of the environment you’re in at that moment…It becomes the rain against your window pain, or the storm approaching, or the horizon in front

The tension, delaying movements and the minor details captured in the film clip for Rostro also makes for one of my favourites. There’s a beauty and fragility that I can’t place and maybe that’s the aim. That unknown element.

My Bloody Valentine – Soon (Creation Records)
My brother first bought this Album ‘Loveless’ home from Art school declaring “Sophie I’ve got a song that you are absolutely going to love”. I remember him putting on “Soon” the last track for me and we blasted it from his bedroom and I blasted it for days on end on my way to school feeling like I’d found something I’d never found in music before.

I love all the obscured vocals in this dance oriented track. A continuous addictive riff carrying you through layered guitar tremolo and melodies bending in and out of tune. Blending sounds and echos resulting in that rich wall of shoegaze sound generously saturating your soul. One of the best Shoegaze songs of all time. This song is like stepping out into the open and without haste stretching your palms upward to a brewing storm as the sky makes its downpour on you. It’s a bedim of dreamy bliss. Layered harmonies complimenting each others chimerical like sphere…

You can find Hutchings here. And her album Wide Asleep here. She’ll be launching it September 10 – Glebe Justice Centre, Sydney and September 22 – Paris Cat, Melbourne.


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.