Name: Sonja Tofik
Occupation: Sound artist, producer
Current Release: Sonja Tofik's album Anomi will be out on Moloton on October 30th.
Recommendations: Nature and Organisation - Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude (1994); Áine O’Dwyer - Music for Church Cleaners (2012)
If you enjoyed this interview with Sonja Tofik, visit her soundcloud profile for more music and updates.
Sonja Tofik is part of a group of artists working in a shared studio space called 'Drömfakulteten'. For 15 Questions interviews with other artists from or associated with this community, check out our Maria W Horn interview and Peder Mannerfelt interview.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started when I was 19 when I bought my first synthesizer, a Roland Alpha Juno 1. I had been into electronic music and noise for some years and I had interacted with the local experimental scene in Stockholm for a while, which inspired me to start producing music myself.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think my process is all about imitation and finding my own sound through it. I have no musical background but developing knowledge of how sound affects people is something that interests me. Producing is all about discovering how different components work together, like in collage making. When you are self-taught, like I am, discussing technical issues with others and uniting through your special interests is mainly what makes you progress in the process of learning and understanding your own voice.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
When I was a beginner I was quite hard on myself because I was thinking too much about what others would think about my sound. I wanted to sound different from what I did, but later on in the process I learned to accept that weirdness is something good and that the field of experimental music fits all kinds of sounds, even mine.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was at Drömfakulteten in Stockholm, a separatist DIY studio collective for women and transgender people. We shared studios and shared some gear. For certain periods we made music together but mostly I was making music by myself. I’m still true to my Juno because it has an essential part in my sound, but I’ve added a small plastic organ and a Moog. My gear set-up has been quite the same for a long time now, maybe it’s time to evolve on that front.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology is my enemy and friend. I hate to troubleshoot but I’ve realised and accepted the importance of it. Technology definitely gives you more creative space, but creativity is also a natural instinct that is in all human beings regardless of technical conditions.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
My set-up hasn’t changed for a while now and I guess that makes my sound consistent. I wish I could be more experimental and dare to try new things though.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
My work so far has been both solo and in duo collaborations together with Marlena Salonen (Moonilena, Mar-llena). We produced an LP together (Vilar i dina spår, Moloton 2018) and we collaborate well. It is a different kind of creative process. But I also enjoy the focus and expressivity of solo practice.
However, I’m excited right now about my new neo-folk cover project with Anja of Orphan Ann, almost like a cover band! She has really good taste in music and we usually share tunes with each other.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wish I had more time for music, honestly, as it does not blend in with the rest of my occupations at the moment.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
My musical output tends to be the result of a stream of consciousness, rather than a specific idea onset. It usually starts to take shape when I happen upon something that conveys an interesting mood or setting.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I wish I knew! Distractions are my worst enemy. The ideal state of mind is when I’m in contact with myself and my motivation. Giving myself time to explore my creativity is probably the only strategy I have.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Playing live is both joyful and difficult for me. It can sometimes feel disconnecting to perform - it is a complicated experience … yet worth pursuing.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
If it sounds spooky or sad, I can probably make a song out of it.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I find sound to provide the strongest sensations in general, but especially in regards to artistic experiences. What we see cannot be sensed, but what we hear is also felt, vibrating and traversing our body.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Under current politics in the world, engaging in art is a privilege, unfortunately not available to each and all. I think all artists should feel pride and honour in that and uphold and promote the values of art for all.
That said, I don’t think art needs to have political ambitions, but it does have potential in its inherent mechanisms to be influential in politics.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Bring back folk music!