Behind the Music: Interview with SØNTH Collective

‘Before creating the album, we researched female and gender minority artists – we wanted as diverse a group as possible to be involved.’

With Denmark-based SØNTH Collective’s latest album ’15 Waves for Ciani’ arriving 4th June, we chatted to project initiators Cecilie Penney and Sofie Søe to discover more about the electronically-centred release, the importance of composer Suzanne Ciani, and how they are doing their part for the representation of women and minority groups in the music industry.

Hi Sønth Collective, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Introduce yourselves to your future listeners. Hi! We are a feminist synthesizer-based collective based in Copenhagen, Denmark which consists of the four artists ALOO, Cecilie Penney, Excelsior and Sofie Birch, and is a community that has more in common than the love for synthesizers. The collective works actively for gender equality in the music industry, arranging concerts, making joint releases and inviting to workshops for and by women and gender minorities. Behind the compilation album ’15 Waves for Ciani’ is Cecilie Penney and ALOO (aka Sofie Søe).

What initially drew you to creating electronically-centred music? We both come from a more singer-songwriter based background, and as we often experienced working with producers who didn’t create the exact result we were hoping for, both started producing ourselves. Diving more into music production woke up our interests for electronic music, and the fact that we lived in artistic environments in Göteborg and Berlin for years probably also helped shaping our electronic paths.

Being a collective, do you ever find yourselves taking inspiration from the work of each other? Yes definitely! As we love sharing ideas, discussing production techniques and recommending tunes to each other, we can’t avoid leaving a bit of a mark on each other in the creative process too.

Your forthcoming album ’15 waves for Ciani’, is an audio tribute to Suzanne Ciani. To what extent do you feel she shaped the development of synth-based music? Ciani was one of the world’s first women to work in the field of electronic music and sound design. She was – and is – also a virtuoso in playing and understanding the Buchla synthesizer. Being a woman, or a gender minority composing electronic music, it is extremely important to have role models that remind you of yourself. If we only see men playing electronic music, we are less likely to think that we can do it ourselves. So not only has Ciani been important to electronic music, she has also been very important to representation of non cis-males on the electronic music scene. 

‘We would like to thank all the amazing artists who decided to put time and effort into composing different, beautiful tracks for our compilation! We are so honoured that you wanted to be part of this release!’

Diving deeper into the album, while there is a huge amount of sonic contrast there is a real sense of flow as well. How did you ensure this was the case? We asked all the artists to take inspiration from Ciani’s discography in any way they wanted. So even though the tracks are different, all artists had her music in the back of their minds when composing their tracks. We also put a lot of thought into the rhythm and relation between the different tracks. 

As electronic composers, how do you approach balancing musical experimentation and musical structure within your tracks? Cecilie: I often start out experimenting with different sounds, melodies and chords without a specific plan. After playing around for some time, I’ll settle on an element that becomes the keystone of the track. From here, I’m pretty much influenced by pop/rock arrangements – verse, chorus, bridge and so on. When I composed the track for this compilation, I tried to go against my urge to make a “typical” arrangement. Instead, I decided to repeat the melodic theme for much longer than I would usually do, to give it a more meditative and less urgent feel. Having said this, my work is pretty deadline-based so sometimes the experimentation phase has to be hurried up quite a lot.

For those who may be new to this style of music, why should this be their introduction to it? This is a great all-round introduction to synthesizer-based music! We were amazed about the diversity in sound when we received the tracks from all the different artists. They are all high quality compositions, and whether you’re into ambient soundscapes, clubby beats or more easily-available pop-tracks with an edge, you’ll find them all on the album. We feel it’s a wholesome experience to go on the journey of listening to the full album, so even if you’re not familiar with synthesizer-based music, we believe you can get stimulated by the sounds and the journey it will take you on. Afterwards, we’re sure you’ll be able to distinguish the sound of synthesizers! 🙂

And if they want to ease themselves in, which track should they head to? We would  recommend “Thea Nyboe – waves: my lullaby” or “Hannah Schneider – MIKADO”.

Considering the format of the album, how did you decide which other composers would feature? We researched female and gender minority artists, primarily in Denmark, who create music with synthesizers and who produce themselves. We wanted to be open and let as many and as diverse a group possible participate, and we therefore invited around 25 artists -and ended up having 16 featuring artists total. 

And which track, by one of those other artists do you wish you had created? Sofie: It’s hard to choose! But I would have loved to have composed “Revenge of the introvert” by Ingefred for this compilation.

With your emphasis on creating joint releases, what are the blessings and/or curses of this? The blessing is for sure the feeling of community and excitement, which has been very strong making this compilation. Since a lot of us haven’t played concerts in a long time, it was a very welcome gift for us to work alongside each other. It has also been a way to get to know more female, transgendered, and non-binary artists who play electronic music. The curse is mainly that it involves sending an large number of emails forth and back! 

It’s clear you do a lot for the representation of women and gender minorities in your projects, but what do you feel can be done to improve representation across the music industry? Festivals and venues still need to book a lot more women and gender minorities. We also need more radio play and press covering non cis-males, which I hope will increase as we start talking more about this subject. Denmark is a little behind when it comes to these questions, as we only had our real #metoo breakthrough last year, so hopefully things will start happening soon. 

And finally, what would be your advice for artists who are unsure about releasing that may not be considered mainstream? Ooo, this is a difficult one, since we struggle with the exact same thing ourselves. I guess it’s a balance of trying to push mainstream media to focus on more experimental music, but also to accept that your music is the way it is and not try to make it more mainstream in order to get more airplay etc. We also found a real strength in working collaboratively, which means that a lot more people can help promote the album. 

Thanks SØNTH Collective for chatting with Listen to Discover

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