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Sofie Birch - Holotropica Music Album Reviews

Sofie Birch - Holotropica Music Album Reviews
While her work has always had a kind of horizontal drift, the Danish composer’s latest is more song-like and elaborate. It is the most intricate and ambitious music she has released.

Listening to Sofie Birch’s music can be like lying prone on a grassy hilltop, watching clouds drift across a cerulean summer sky. The boundaries between tones are porous; nothing keeps its shape for long. A held chord might turn inside out; an icy arpeggio might melt into liquid; distant birdsong might harden into bright, clear chimes. If at any given time you pause to consider the panorama arrayed before you, you may vaguely realize that it is not the same as it was the last time you checked, yet find yourself at pains to explain what is different, or why.

Most of the Danish composer’s work over the past five years has fallen toward the gentlest end of the ambient spectrum. Across a handful of albums, both solo and in collaboration, Birch has experimented with ASMR, collaged field recordings from her travels into an “audio postcard,” and improvised on a country-house piano at daybreak, inadvertently capturing the clucking of hens in the background. Like its predecessors, Holotropica is marked by a sense of horizontal drift. But where before it was easy to imagine Birch’s music as something naturally occurring, emerging unbidden from the interplay of the elements, Holotropica is more song-like, elaborate, and labored over. It is the most intricate and ambitious music she has released.

This is still ambient music, but where much of Birch’s previous work was loosely minimalist, Holotropica thrums with detail. Her chords have thickened and grown more complex; they modulate in new ways, taking on richly iridescent hues. Her use of acoustic instruments in places evokes the fluid lines and timbres of Nala Sinephro’s 2021 album Space 1.8. On the opening “Observatory,” Nana Pi’s saxophone tentatively seeks out a melody, then falls into a swaying lockstep with a muted synth bass figure. On “Hypnogogia,” clarinet gives way to a slow, pumping pulse, like half-speed dub techno, which falls away to reveal Dolphin Midwives’ harp, glistening like a dewy spiderweb.

What Birch carries over from previous recordings are her instincts for shape-shifting evolution and lateral sprawl. Take “Humidity”: The title is well chosen, as the chords suggest the fecund scent of tropical flowers in bloom. It begins, as so many of these tracks do, with soft, shimmering chords, then blossoms into a lilting arpeggio. Shakers and birdsong flesh out the margins, while a ghostly hint of saxophone gives way to rhythmic bleats and, finally, freeform squeals. Where most ambient music maintains a steady burble, “Humidity” crests to an enormous climax that cuts off with violent abruptness. It's a rare moment of drama for a musician typically given to understatement. “Tide Rose” is subtler but just as mutable. It emerges from a matrix of deeply reassuring cyclical pulses—foghorn peals, chirping frogs, the echo of an alarm clock ringing from the other side of a dream—but an oddly timed arpeggio tilts the axis of this imaginary world, throwing everything gently out of whack and depositing you at a point far from the one where you began.

Birch, a student of meditation, has spoken of her belief in sound’s therapeutic effects. Here as before, her music tends to instill a sense of calm; you suspect she would not be upset if someone discovered it via a self-care playlist. But Holotropica isn’t saccharine—the more you listen, the more nuances you discover. Even at its quietest, there’s a sense that dynamic systems are spinning away, just out of earshot. Tiny, quivering movements jostle in the shadows of each note, and burnished surfaces gradually reveal a world of vibrating detail. It is placid but never numbing; meditative, yet not afraid to linger on a dissonant frequency or uncomfortable thought.

Birch describes her vision of Holotropica—which derives its title from a term meaning “moving toward wholeness”—as “a point behind closed eyes… where nothing happens and everything is.” She began work on these pieces several albums ago, in 2018, when a friend’s pregnancy inspired a two-week retreat in the forest, where the Danish composer meditated and laid down sketches for the record. Birch herself became pregnant in 2021, as she was finishing work on the album. Given that background, it becomes easy to understand Holotropica as a meditation on gestation—on the way that things and ideas come into being, both through our actions and also in ways impervious to them. In the music’s nexus of intent and accident, Birch lays bare the delicate balance between the events we can control and those we cannot. What makes art vital, she suggests, is what happens when opposing forces—singularity and interconnectedness, or stasis and change—collide.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Sofie Birch - Holotropica Music Album Reviews Sofie Birch - Holotropica Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, June 08, 2022 Rating: 5

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