Sofie Birch – Productive Gear Flipper

1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?

Filter cutoff slider

The cutoff fader on the JP 08. It is so small that not everyone can use it. But for me it is perfectly formed. After so many years of using that instrument almost everyday, I have practised how to make very small changes with very small knobs. The faders on JP-08 are all the same, but the cutoff is without a doubt the one I have used the most. High frequencies is not my thing, so I like to cut a lot.

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

Roland JP08

I would love it, if the JP-08 had more tracks like for example the Analog Four. Just four tracks would make it possible to make beautiful patterns on top of each other. Or if you could play tapes on the Casio CK-500 while playing its keyboard. Then you could record pads and soundscapes and play on top of them. Would also be pure magic if my clarinet had a wireless invisible incorporated microphone 😀

Clarinet

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?

I always bring my Octatrack mk1, Roland JP-08 and my Strymon Big Sky when I play shows. I think I could do all of my shows on just these machines, but I always feel like I have to add something. An extra element, like a mic, a clarinet or some more effect pedals. So I usually have these machines as a basic setup and then add some more on top!
When I go on holiday or travel I bring my zoom recorder and my laptop and headphones. Then I can mix and edit unfinished stuff and add new recordings on the go.

Octatrack, Strymon Bigsky and Roland synth

What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

I wish that the chorus from Ableton Live was also a hardware effect pedal. Somehow it always gives me exactly what I am looking for when I want to spread or diffuse a sound. I have used it a lot on vocals. It makes it easier to mix my own voice when it sounds differently, but I’m also starting to like the effect on vocals in general. Makes the voice kind of dubbed and takes the sweetness out of the sound. It is also very nice to use on synths.
Don’t really know about the other way round….

Ableton Chorus

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

I like to have a minimalistic and managable studio setup. Instead of having too much gear that I don’t use, I buy something new, use it and record it, sample it and compose with it, and then I sell it again. For example: I used the Roland EP-30 as the main keys for half of my latest release Island Alchemy, and sold it right after the release. Recently I bought a Casio CK-500, which I have great plans with. It has two cassette players incoorporated and some really nice sounding presets. Especially the reverb and sustain function/switch adds very nice layers to the presets. Also there is a radio in it, that can be sampled directly to the cassettes. Right now, I have borrowed a MOOD pedal from Chase Bliss, that I have hooked up with the Casio – it can create some really nice pads together with the organ preset for example. 

Anyways, this way of buying and selling, creates a good flowing creativity that constantly brings new ideas. AND it fits my very small studio!

[Editor: I couldn’t agree more! No more agonising over purchases or regrets of selling. Just be ok with being a gear-flipper and feel comfortable using that as an aid the creative flow. Even better than gear-flipping though, are generous friends that you can borrow gear from]

Casio CK500 with cassette decks

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Roland JP-08 is the boutique version of the old Jupiter 8 synth (which is <3). It’s a very small synth. I bought it with the 25 keyboard and even though it can be hooked up with a bigger midi keyboard, it just lives in that bundle and has done so, ever since I purchased it. I love that it’s tiny. I love how it fits in everywhere. And it is no problem for me to use the transpose knob when changing octaves. I know this little machine in and out.

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

An Octatrack. Or at least I would have gotten a sampler way before I did. It makes so much sense to use a sampler for my music. I love to layer sounds and I love to record nature sounds and atmospheres. When I began to play live shows, I started out with bringing tape machines to play my recorded atmospheres.

Elekton Octatrack

I also use the OT as a looper now which could have saved me from using the Boss RC-30 loop pedal for years. I have always missed a MIDI input on that pedal, but on the other hand it is also very nice to create unpredictable and organic floating patterns and harmonised pads on it.

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

Before I started using my OT as a looper also, I would have said the Boss RC-30. I needed it to layer my sounds, but it is so unprecise and bad sounding. Now, I don’t have any annoying gear!

Boss RC30 Loopstation

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

I remember when I learned to play with the FX track on Elektrons Analog Four from a guy who tipped me about it, after I played a concert. You can create some incredibly atmospheric and suspensefull buildups by playing around with the parameters on the FX track, especially the feedback and the filters (HPF, LPF and overdrive). And then you can send the FX track to the reverb and delay again and make it feed into beautiful suspensefull pads.

FX tracks on the Octatrack

Artist or Band name?

Sofie Birch

Genre?

Experimental, minimalistic synth and ambient.

Selfie?

Sofie Birch

Where are you from?

I’m from Denmark and grew up both in the countryside, on a small island and in Copenhagen, where I currently live.

How did you get into music?

I started singing and playing guitar as young girl. But I quickly got interested in the process of recording and producing, because I felt there was more to music than composing and writing. I started out with Reason on my parents computer. This led me to study sound design many years later and that really got me into hardware and experimental music.

What still drives you to make music?

When I listen to some very beautiful music that inspires me to imprint or interpret it into my own.
The constant need in me to improve and develop ideas is what makes me want to keep on producing. But also the fact that I get peaceful and concentrated when I produce and play.

How do you most often start a new track?

I start by making loops and figures that can be replayed over and over and extended and layered with new figures and so on. And then at last, I have a big amount of work in deleting tracks again and find out what is really working together.

How do you know when a track is finished?

I know the track is finished when I’m no longer interested in working with it. There is this perfect moment when a track is not too finished and not too unfinished. When it still has the soul of a one take and the sound of careful work.

Show us your current studio

Birch home studio

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

Go listen to Hidden Terraces which was aired on the swedish radio channel Retreat Radio.

It is a 36min long sound piece of synth figures and ambiences from my trip to Colombia this winter. It’s an audible postcard, a travel through nature and harmonies. It will be released on cassette through the german label VAAKNER later this year.

[Editor: Do you have any tips, tricks or fun techniques with any of the gear mentioned in this interview? Leave a comment]


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Martin

Is a composer of ambient lofi beats with soundscapes on top, also sometimes a writer of alt-folk songs with a unique lyrical shock.

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