FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week, April Clare Welsh talks to electronic adventurer and viola player Astrid Sonne, whose Escho debut Human Lines, released earlier this month, is one of the most breathtaking experimental albums you’ll hear all year.
NAME: Astrid Sonne
MUST-HEAR: Human Lines (Escho, 2018)
FOR FANS OF: Laurel Halo, Holly Herndon, Posh Isolation
Astrid Sonne’s computer broke down at the very moment Lorenzo Senni turned up to her performance during Copenhagen’s CHART Art fair in 2017. “There was this multi-channel thing going on and my laptop just crashed,” laments the rising Copenhagen-based producer. “I’m such a big fan of Lorenzi Senni, so of course it had to happen right there and then.”
Thankfully for Sonne, the glitch was only temporary and the show went on, but for a classically-trained musician who had barely even clapped eyes on a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) like Ableton Live or Pro Tools or messed around with an Access Virus synth until two years ago, it was another lesson learned about the unreliability of software and machines.
Sonne – who began playing viola aged six – was born and raised in Bornholm, a little Danish island outside of Sweden, before moving to the Danish capital at 16. She endured a strict classical training as part of a pre-conservatory program in Copenhagen that she quit at 18, shifting to digital composition. “I couldn’t really express the things I wanted to express… as soon as I found out it was possible to make music myself, I began experimenting.” explains Sonne.
Having discovered the politically-charged mutations of Hari Shankar Kishore (aka Denmark’s DJ HVAD) in her teens, when she was at boarding school, Sonne began honing an electronic palette that prioritized the melodic over the percussive. Over time, she has managed to translate this preference into her own alchemical blend that plays to her strengths as a composer. “I just locked myself in a rehearsal room and played a lot of viola,” she says. “Then I bought a lot of pedals and tried out a few things out before I found my way to the computer and started producing. It was the best way to execute the ideas that I had.”
For someone who taught herself how to use Ableton with little external guidance, she’s just created one of the most exquisite computer music albums you’ll hear this year. On Human Lines, Sonne navigates an analog-meets-digital world with an experimental mindset that aligns her with contemporaries like Swedish composer Ellen Arkbo or Laurel Halo, whom she describes a “big hero.” There are elements of Steve Reich and Kara Lis-Coverdale too.
Sonne thrives on the glorious dissonance that comes from using live viola and a chamber choir in the same breath as brain-scrambling noise and glitchy abstraction. This hybrid element of her sound chimes with the ethos of Copenhagen-based experimental DIY label Posh Isolation, members of which she met after spending time at the city’s underground music den Mayhem. In January, Sonne composed a track for the label’s new 24-track compilation I Could Go Anywhere But Again I Go With You, which you can hear below.
Human Lines is all about contrast, from the bleep-strewn minimalism of album opener ‘Also’ to the lush strings of ‘Alta’, the first track Sonne ever composed and the album’s closing piece. “I really wanted to experiment with what happens when you take a choir sample and put it together with a dubstep synth,” she offers. “So all the choir bits on the album are much about creating these contrasts. I perform in a classical chamber choir so I sing a lot and I get a lot of inspiration from that.” Sonne has constructed a unique sonic universe where every single track teems with life like a living ecosystem and where the line between the electronic and the organic is purposefully blurry.
“The way of creating form and the way you orchestrate music has helped me – there are so many different sonic layers for example when you play in a symphony orchestra,” Sonne explains. “It actually just took me a while to learn in general, because when you work with analog music you don’t know what something like gain means, for example.”
But the Danish artist wasn’t willing to let technology get the better of her and impede her progress as an artist. “I watched a few tutorials but they didn’t really interest me, so it was just a case of trial and error. I didn’t want any help,” she admits. “Essentially, I’m just a really stubborn person.”
April Clare Welsh is on Twitter.