Name: Sophie Hutchings
Occupation: Composer, pianist
Current release: Sophie Hutching's Love & Keep EP is out now on Mercury KX.
Piece of Art: I thought I’d recommend Australian Artist Brett Whitely and Gary Shead who did a joint work called ‘Portrait of D.H Lawrence’ which was inspired by a beautifully picturesque town situated on the coast not too distant from my hometown Sydney Australia called Thirroul. We actually shot the film clip to my piece ‘Surrender To The Deepest Blue’ there also.
Brett Whiteley spent a lot of time in this town and for a long period of time had reflected on his love of the Australian coast particularly this area of coastline for its rugged terrain. Both artists collaborated on a two-panel painting around the theme of D.H Lawrence's stay in Thirroul where he partly wrote his book ‘Kangaroo’. The imagery depicts a stormy scene, with raging waves lashing into the shore line and the hut D.H Lawrence resided in on it’s cliff edge. I’m a huge fan of D.H Lawrence, Brett Whitely, The Ocean and this Coastal Town of Thirroul so I thought the combination was a fitting recommendation
Piece of Music: I think one of the most beautiful pieces that I never tire of is "Coro a bocca chiusa", The Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini who was very moved by the play Madame Butterfly that he went on to write an opera based on the story.
If this Sophie Hutchings interview piqued your interest, visit her website for more information and music.
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started composing when I was about 8 years old. I hated sight reading. It really frazzled me so my teacher would give me themes to write music to for homework to keep me engaged and I naturally thrived in that kind of environment. I had a little tape recorder and I would record my composed pieces for my teacher. My mum still has the tape somewhere of some very early recordings. I still remember a few of the themes. The Zoo, Water Falls, child like themes like that.
I always gravitated towards instrumental music. It seemed to come from an emotionally unfettered place that spoke a language that only needed to be felt and not always defined. As a child I was transfixed by the beautiful music set to the classic old Walt Disney's ‘Fantasia. There’s this beautiful scene portraying the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn to winter set to Tchaikovsky. Some of my favourite discoveries as an early adult were artists like Arvo Part, Harold Budd and The Rachels.
For most artists, originality is 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?
As much as I first learnt classical my influences around the home were mostly noisy jazz and indie rock which my style of playing didn’t really affiliate with yet I didn’t really question it either. I enjoyed my influential surroundings growing up. I didn’t really think about where my music was coming from really. Perhaps naively I didn’t feel the need to contemplate that.
I was very shy about sharing my music so when I played it was always on my own and I wasn’t ever really thinking about influences to be honest. My style hasn’t ever really changed since childhood nevertheless developing and learning to trust it has been the main transition for me.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I’m a bit of a purist and a pretty honest person so there’s never really any pretenses or contemplating how I would like my next project to sound or come across. It very much just sort of comes out the way it is and I like to concentrate on nurturing and working with that rather than questioning it which you can sometimes feel inclined to do. I’m also quite a sensitive and nostalgic person and I think that emotion goes very directly into what I create.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I tend to enjoy naturally creating or composing but I often lacked the discipline when it came to writing out my compositions and it’s taken me time to work out my method of approach over the years which isn’t very traditional and varies.
Sharing my music publicly was initially a challenge for me also. For an outgoing person music was always my very personal place though I think that's changed through learning to trust in my musical expedition. Over the years I’ve learnt that by interacting and reaching out to my audience and in turn them reaching out to me it becomes this shared experience. The music becomes this gateway to another place for both the listener and myself and that can be a pretty moving experience.
Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
I think it can depend on what you’re creatively working on. When it comes to solo piano composition it’s usually a pretty unswerving raw process. Whereas more involved fuller albums go through quite a few stages for me. The way it grows and develops, time plays a really important role to give it the room it needs to breath and grow.
At the outset of any composing, I’m usually letting my subconscious do the work. It’s all about letting the pieces evolve on their own. I find that the most cathartic and the least time consuming that the clock doesn’t usually come into play. If it does I push it away.
Once a piece comes together I work more constructively with time. Planning my day around it, using musical ideas that have entered into my mind at random moments, be it laying in bed or driving in my car, going for a walk, allowing those moments of headspace to creatively build on the piece. Having said all that there can also be a lot of ambiguity and looseness in regards to perspective on time and how it plays a role in all of that because sometimes there’s chaos, sometimes there's order, sometimes there’s flow and sometimes it’s all those things together!
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?
Hmmm that’s a hard one for me because when I’m composing and recording I tend to blend the two into the same meaning. I like the creative process to blend both without thinking upon it too much as they all play a role.
However I guess for me I usually always start with the organics of an acoustic instrument because it has the human element of real touch, the timbre where the feel and emotions of the piece start from and then build on that with texture which I’d say is the sound. Then once the recording and production process begins, sound can take on so many forms from the room you're recording in, to other musical characteristics woven and layered into the pieces..
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?
I like to approach it like I would writing my own music, only there’s a bit more forethought put into absorbing the other collaborators' musical persona and input. Each time is uniquely different so having an open mind to the approach I think is important to the creative development so I don’t really have a preferred way of going about it.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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 try to create a routine as it makes you more productive.
Generally I get up and start with 15mins of stretching alongside some favourite morning tunes. Personally I would prefer to just fire up the coffee machine first and get going however I find it’s a good way of centering and getting focused for the day and then I look forward to my coffee! I really enjoy the whole process of grinding the beans and making the shot of coffee.
I usually follow this by a morning swim and I try to do this all year round through all seasons as it acts as a bit of a tonic for me and a positive start to my day. Then I get stuck into my creative work day. Occasionally I’ll interrupt it with a bit of baking as it gives my mind a break however it sometimes gets a little in the way of my productivity! A few other mundane admin things creep into the day too but thats the general gist of my everyday routine.
I think other aspects of my life creep into my creativity as getting that headspace outdoors can feel pretty necessary to what I’m doing so I would say music and other aspects of my life feedback into each for sure.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I wouldn’t call anything I’ve done a breakthrough work but I did enjoy working on a special performance I did for Sydney Vivid Festival where I performed one continuous piece set to visuals which was based around the idea of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work on the experience of “flow” - which are beautiful, immersive states in which we feel the boundaries between ourselves and our environment vanish. I wrote the set based around those moments by using piano and layering other soundscapes alongside the visuals ... I really love performing to visuals as I think they effectively stir and compliment each other.
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?
The ideal state for me is when you’re not aware of anything. It’s the visceral process where you’re always feeling yet you're actually not thinking anything. Sure there’s distractions that get in the way and you get annoyed however I find if I manage a little alone time it gives my mind enough breathing space to control not letting those things excessively get in the way…
I find noise interference has sometimes been a challenge when I'm working but it’s kind of a matter of soldiering on sometimes. I don’t have any certain strategies that would be too thought out for me, it’s just a matter of letting it happen or not happen and eventually the connection between you and the music that you're creating will find that place where you’re feeling and not having to think..
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I’m hugely nostalgic so yes I’ve definitely experienced both. Music very much stimulates a cognitive and emotional response in humans so I think this day and age the biggest need and potential is to calm, soothe and comfort.
The world has been in a continual state of anxiety. When you’re lost for words music can speak louder than anything as it has a language of its own that doesn’t really have boundaries or limitations
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Hmmm well I guess you could say everything one does throughout their life is based around cultural symbolism and it can represent various abstract ideas or concepts. I think the biggest distinction when looking at this topic on a creative level is differentiating between being ‘influenced’ or ‘copying’. Humans have been artistically influenced by others for centuries and it makes for new and interesting journeys as long as it’s assimilated in their own individual way.
Copying on the other is infringing on one's personal territory which I find a bit feeble and in turn loses conviction which true art has to have to be emotively and substantially worthy.
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?
I think music infiltrates its way into all the senses. It’s so emotionally connective. The signals we hear often relate to the signals we feel. I find hearing and touch is one inspiring overlapping of the senses. There’s an unspoken bond that can often connect the two.
I also find the marrying of music and visuals (so sight and sound) extremely connective as images can intensify our emotional response to music and expand the narrative possibilities and the music can heighten our emotional reaction to the imagery, and enhance the contemplative quality of the visuals.
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?
For me it’s usually always a blank canvas that I start throwing musical splashes of paint on, It’s a form of communication and self expression that comes from somewhere I’m not that really aware of but I would guess is influenced by absorbing and taking things in from surrounding everyday life and the emotional response I may be having to that …
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music chronicles and captures a sense of emotion that spoken language can’t always do. It’s a metaphor of life and there is always a piece for every emotion and every life experience.