Choir, viola and electronics: The sound palette of Astrid Sonne

Over the past year, Danish avant-garde artist Astrid Sonne has made an incredible breakthrough. Armed with a Zoom recorder in her basement rehearsal space, she recorded a debut album, Human Lines, which drew the attention of the most demanding critics and helped Astrid pave the way to leading music venues. Her piece Ephemeral which she presented at the Atonal festival, combined electronics, viola, and choral singing, and became a kind of manifesto in which Astrid clearly defined her creative intentions - to blur the boundary between the new and the academic and turn the traditional musical canons inside out.

We talked to Astrid to learn more about her diverse influences, classical music education and the new opportunities that electronic music has presented to her.

Choir, viola and electronics: The sound palette of Astrid Sonne

Over the past year, Danish avant-garde artist Astrid Sonne has made an incredible breakthrough. Armed with a Zoom recorder in her basement rehearsal space, she recorded a debut album, Human Lines, which drew the attention of the most demanding critics and helped Astrid pave the way to leading music venues. Her piece Ephemeral which she presented at the Atonal festival, combined electronics, viola, and choral singing, and became a kind of manifesto in which Astrid clearly defined her creative intentions - to blur the boundary between the new and the academic and turn the traditional musical canons inside out.

We talked to Astrid to learn more about her diverse influences, classical music education and the new opportunities that electronic music has presented to her.

Choir, viola and electronics: The sound palette of Astrid Sonne

Over the past year, Danish avant-garde artist Astrid Sonne has made an incredible breakthrough. Armed with a Zoom recorder in her basement rehearsal space, she recorded a debut album, Human Lines, which drew the attention of the most demanding critics and helped Astrid pave the way to leading music venues. Her piece Ephemeral which she presented at the Atonal festival, combined electronics, viola, and choral singing, and became a kind of manifesto in which Astrid clearly defined her creative intentions - to blur the boundary between the new and the academic and turn the traditional musical canons inside out.

We talked to Astrid to learn more about her diverse influences, classical music education and the new opportunities that electronic music has presented to her.

Choir, viola and electronics: The sound palette of Astrid Sonne

Over the past year, Danish avant-garde artist Astrid Sonne has made an incredible breakthrough. Armed with a Zoom recorder in her basement rehearsal space, she recorded a debut album, Human Lines, which drew the attention of the most demanding critics and helped Astrid pave the way to leading music venues. Her piece Ephemeral which she presented at the Atonal festival, combined electronics, viola, and choral singing, and became a kind of manifesto in which Astrid clearly defined her creative intentions - to blur the boundary between the new and the academic and turn the traditional musical canons inside out.

We talked to Astrid to learn more about her diverse influences, classical music education and the new opportunities that electronic music has presented to her.

Choir, viola and electronics: The sound palette of Astrid Sonne

Over the past year, Danish avant-garde artist Astrid Sonne has made an incredible breakthrough. Armed with a Zoom recorder in her basement rehearsal space, she recorded a debut album, Human Lines, which drew the attention of the most demanding critics and helped Astrid pave the way to leading music venues. Her piece Ephemeral which she presented at the Atonal festival, combined electronics, viola, and choral singing, and became a kind of manifesto in which Astrid clearly defined her creative intentions - to blur the boundary between the new and the academic and turn the traditional musical canons inside out.

We talked to Astrid to learn more about her diverse influences, classical music education and the new opportunities that electronic music has presented to her.

Choir, viola and electronics: The sound palette of Astrid Sonne

Over the past year, Danish avant-garde artist Astrid Sonne has made an incredible breakthrough. Armed with a Zoom recorder in her basement rehearsal space, she recorded a debut album, Human Lines, which drew the attention of the most demanding critics and helped Astrid pave the way to leading music venues. Her piece Ephemeral which she presented at the Atonal festival, combined electronics, viola, and choral singing, and became a kind of manifesto in which Astrid clearly defined her creative intentions - to blur the boundary between the new and the academic and turn the traditional musical canons inside out.

We talked to Astrid to learn more about her diverse influences, classical music education and the new opportunities that electronic music has presented to her.

Choir, viola and electronics: The sound palette of Astrid Sonne

Over the past year, Danish avant-garde artist Astrid Sonne has made an incredible breakthrough. Armed with a Zoom recorder in her basement rehearsal space, she recorded a debut album, Human Lines, which drew the attention of the most demanding critics and helped Astrid pave the way to leading music venues. Her piece Ephemeral which she presented at the Atonal festival, combined electronics, viola, and choral singing, and became a kind of manifesto in which Astrid clearly defined her creative intentions - to blur the boundary between the new and the academic and turn the traditional musical canons inside out.

We talked to Astrid to learn more about her diverse influences, classical music education and the new opportunities that electronic music has presented to her.

Not a single press entry about you go without a line about your classical music education. You still use viola in your work, but as far as I know, you decided to stop with a classical school. Why so?

I grew up on a small island of Bornholm, and the music school there was really small. It wasn’t like you are playing classical or contemporary stuff. There wasn’t this wall between different kinds of music, so everyone was kind of playing together. That was a really nice place to just learn. Then when I turned 15, I went to a music boarding school, and it was very strict there. I had a lot of misunderstandings with the teachers, and I felt a lot of tension.

I’ve been told my entire life that you are either a performer, and you play the viola or the violin, and you get very good at that, or you are a composer. I was told that I was going to play viola and I need to use all my time to be good at that instrument. So I didn’t even think it was possible to do music myself. I realized that I wasn’t able to go with this discipline and do whatever my teacher told me to do. At some point, I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I found out that there were other possibilities and I felt where I had to go.

Not a single press entry about you go without a line about your classical music education. You still use viola in your work, but as far as I know, you decided to stop with a classical school. Why so?

I grew up on a small island of Bornholm, and the music school there was really small. It wasn’t like you are playing classical or contemporary stuff. There wasn’t this wall between different kinds of music, so everyone was kind of playing together. That was a really nice place to just learn. Then when I turned 15, I went to a music boarding school, and it was very strict there. I had a lot of misunderstandings with the teachers, and I felt a lot of tension.

I’ve been told my entire life that you are either a performer, and you play the viola or the violin, and you get very good at that, or you are a composer. I was told that I was going to play viola and I need to use all my time to be good at that instrument. So I didn’t even think it was possible to do music myself. I realized that I wasn’t able to go with this discipline and do whatever my teacher told me to do. At some point, I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I found out that there were other possibilities and I felt where I had to go.

I have heard many times how classical education and great technique of playing an instrument can limit a musician to think within a certain framework. Like an artist who was told to paint a picture using only one color. In this regard, electronic music provides many ways of realizing your creative potential. What new opportunities has electronic music and digital production opened to you?

I think it can actually be rather interesting for a painter to paint with one color. There are some great possibilities in limitation. I don't think the lack of experimentation comes from one instrument you are on your way to master. It's more because of learning 'classical music' which can be very strict.

I have heard many times how classical education and great technique of playing an instrument can limit a musician to think within a certain framework. Like an artist who was told to paint a picture using only one color. In this regard, electronic music provides many ways of realizing your creative potential. What new opportunities has electronic music and digital production opened to you?

I think it can actually be rather interesting for a painter to paint with one color. There are some great possibilities in limitation. I don't think the lack of experimentation comes from one instrument you are on your way to master. It's more because of learning 'classical music' which can be very strict.

It is so easy for me to say these things and I really do understand the need for discipline when the aim is perfection, but it just wasn't for me. Electronic music opened up space where I could express myself without an old man yelling at me in the corner, and that is great.

It is so easy for me to say these things and I really do understand the need for discipline when the aim is perfection, but it just wasn't for me. Electronic music opened up space where I could express myself without an old man yelling at me in the corner, and that is great.

The 'school' of electronic music is still so new, and there are not that many customs you would find in jazz or classical music, and that gives a lot of freedom. It's really stimulating compared to writing sheet music. You can immediately respond to the sound you hear instead of picturing it in your head. The democratization of music making is great, and I love how everyone can express themselves if they feel like it.

You have recently started producing electronic music. What percentage of your creative process is intuition, comparing to the knowledge you have acquired previously?

It's pretty much a blend, and I think it is changing all the time. Intuition and acquired knowledge is a kind of the same thing for me. They surely work together. For me, it's more about the distinction between the compositional process which is based on randomness and the one that is structured and controlled.

Despite your immersion into electronic music, you might be still guided by some principles learned from years of practicing one instrument. I wonder how much does the prior experience influences the way you work and perform now?

I think in terms of how it informs my personality. It is very much about the discipline, the way I structure my day and time, which I am really good at. I think the background informs that, but I'm not so sure about that anymore. Everyone I know works hard whether they have just started making music or have played an instrument their whole life.

The 'school' of electronic music is still so new, and there are not that many customs you would find in jazz or classical music, and that gives a lot of freedom. It's really stimulating compared to writing sheet music. You can immediately respond to the sound you hear instead of picturing it in your head. The democratization of music making is great, and I love how everyone can express themselves if they feel like it.

You have recently started producing electronic music. What percentage of your creative process is intuition, comparing to the knowledge you have acquired previously?

It's pretty much a blend, and I think it is changing all the time. Intuition and acquired knowledge is a kind of the same thing for me. They surely work together. For me, it's more about the distinction between the compositional process which is based on randomness and the one that is structured and controlled.

Despite your immersion into electronic music, you might be still guided by some principles learned from years of practicing one instrument. I wonder how much does the prior experience influences the way you work and perform now?

I think in terms of how it informs my personality. It is very much about the discipline, the way I structure my day and time, which I am really good at. I think the background informs that, but I'm not so sure about that anymore. Everyone I know works hard whether they have just started making music or have played an instrument their whole life.

Regarding my way of performing, I might have taken some of the formalness into the scene. I'd rather 'perform' than stare into a computer. For instance, I prefer to structure my table or the working space. I like it to be neat. For me, it is much more like a happening, and it is a formal thing, and I like to regard it seriously. But everyone has to find their way and style, and I love all kind of performances as long as I can sense the artist's intention that seems credible.

What were your first steps in electronic music? How have you started?

It all started with one of the tracks, Alta, which is just me playing viola. I needed to work with layers when I was composing. Then I used Ableton, and that was my first meeting with DAWs, and I just started to experiment. I did a lot of sampling at first. I used this Teenage Engineering device, which was the first machine that got me into making music on the computer.

 

Alta was later included on Human Lines, right?

I recorded it on a Zoom recorder in a basement where I used to practice. It was just an experiment, and the way it all came together was more of a coincidence than an intention.

However, Human Lines was well received and provided you with many performances including one at Atonal. Was it a surprise for you?

Yes, it was a big surprise. I had no expectations at all. I thought that I would release Human Lines, then some of my friends would buy it and then I would play a show or two in Copenhagen and that would be it. When it's your first release, you're unable to know how it's going to be received and whether it resonates with someone or not. So that was also the reason, I think.

Regarding my way of performing, I might have taken some of the formalness into the scene. I'd rather 'perform' than stare into a computer. For instance, I prefer to structure my table or the working space. I like it to be neat. For me, it is much more like a happening, and it is a formal thing, and I like to regard it seriously. But everyone has to find their way and style, and I love all kind of performances as long as I can sense the artist's intention that seems credible.

What were your first steps in electronic music? How have you started?

It all started with one of the tracks, Alta, which is just me playing viola. I needed to work with layers when I was composing. Then I used Ableton, and that was my first meeting with DAWs, and I just started to experiment. I did a lot of sampling at first. I used this Teenage Engineering device, which was the first machine that got me into making music on the computer.

 

Alta was later included on Human Lines, right?

I recorded it on a Zoom recorder in a basement where I used to practice. It was just an experiment, and the way it all came together was more of a coincidence than an intention.

However, Human Lines was well received and provided you with many performances including one at Atonal. Was it a surprise for you?

Yes, it was a big surprise. I had no expectations at all. I thought that I would release Human Lines, then some of my friends would buy it and then I would play a show or two in Copenhagen and that would be it. When it's your first release, you're unable to know how it's going to be received and whether it resonates with someone or not. So that was also the reason, I think.

I think the final composition with the choir during your performance at the Atonal festival was the most memorable. How did you come up with this idea?

I started singing in a church choir at the age of 13, where I was introduced to Russian church music, European and American minimalism, etc. That was a big eye-opener for me. Since then I've been involved in different choir-constellations from quartets to 100+ choirs. I use many of the samples from rehearsing with this choir on Human Lines.

What attracts you to it?

That’s a good question. I think it’s the perfect thing for me because I like the way you relate to people singing, but I have some problems using words. When you are using words, it is pretty much like communicating something, and you understand what it is. But when you sing in the choir, you are using words, but it's difficult to get what you sing. I can use the voice, but it is not the direct communication. I am really into that, and it comes naturally. It has been a big part of my life. I love singing so that may be the reason why I am using it.

Why did you choose these very musicians for the quartet?

Andrea Novel, Xenia Xamanek, Henriette Motzfeldt are all part of the music scene here in Copenhagen. I really admire them as artists so they could contribute their musicality and integrity to the show. But I think the main reason why I chose the singers was because they are good friends of mine. I trust their judgment and taste. They are the artists I look up to. So, yeah, it was not like I have found classical singers who did a perfect choir performance. I really wanted to do it with someone who had another character.

I think the final composition with the choir during your performance at the Atonal festival was the most memorable. How did you come up with this idea?

I started singing in a church choir at the age of 13, where I was introduced to Russian church music, European and American minimalism, etc. That was a big eye-opener for me. Since then I've been involved in different choir-constellations from quartets to 100+ choirs. I use many of the samples from rehearsing with this choir on Human Lines.

What attracts you to it?

That’s a good question. I think it’s the perfect thing for me because I like the way you relate to people singing, but I have some problems using words. When you are using words, it is pretty much like communicating something, and you understand what it is. But when you sing in the choir, you are using words, but it's difficult to get what you sing. I can use the voice, but it is not the direct communication. I am really into that, and it comes naturally. It has been a big part of my life. I love singing so that may be the reason why I am using it.

Why did you choose these very musicians for the quartet?

Andrea Novel, Xenia Xamanek, Henriette Motzfeldt are all part of the music scene here in Copenhagen. I really admire them as artists so they could contribute their musicality and integrity to the show. But I think the main reason why I chose the singers was because they are good friends of mine. I trust their judgment and taste. They are the artists I look up to. So, yeah, it was not like I have found classical singers who did a perfect choir performance. I really wanted to do it with someone who had another character.

Are there any other domains that you would like to explore using electronic music?

I did a course in Unity this fall, and I’m hoping that I can somehow use those skills in a working situation. I made music for a tiny indie game back in 2015, and I would love to do it again. It's intriguing, the way you don’t work with linearity when composing for games. Also, the industry is changing and growing a lot these days, so it's really exciting, I think. Then I’m going to continue the investigation of viola and computer and how to combine or extract the different ways I compose right now. 

I know that you have joined a Shape roster for 2019. Could you tell a bit about your plans for this year?

Yes, this spring I'm more focused on writing so I won't play that many shows, but I'm playing By:Larm and Elevate, and then I'm doing a piece for Rewire Festival which I'm really excited about. Also, I've just finished an EP which I hope is going to be released in late spring. And perhaps I'll get engaged in some Shape related collaborations. Hopefully, good things are to come, let's see.

Are there any other domains that you would like to explore using electronic music?

I did a course in Unity this fall, and I’m hoping that I can somehow use those skills in a working situation. I made music for a tiny indie game back in 2015, and I would love to do it again. It's intriguing, the way you don’t work with linearity when composing for games. Also, the industry is changing and growing a lot these days, so it's really exciting, I think. Then I’m going to continue the investigation of viola and computer and how to combine or extract the different ways I compose right now. 

I know that you have joined a Shape roster for 2019. Could you tell a bit about your plans for this year?

Yes, this spring I'm more focused on writing so I won't play that many shows, but I'm playing By:Larm and Elevate, and then I'm doing a piece for Rewire Festival which I'm really excited about. Also, I've just finished an EP which I hope is going to be released in late spring. And perhaps I'll get engaged in some Shape related collaborations. Hopefully, good things are to come, let's see.

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Text: Tanya Voytko
Photo: Vitaliia Zhyriakova

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