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The Director's Cut: Sophia Loizou - Untold

Sophia Loizou explains the concepts behind her beautiful, complex and riveting new album 'Untold.'
Sophia Loizou

Sophia Loizou

Doctoral researcher, music lecturer, producer and artist Sophia Loizou released her new album Untold towards the end of September. Deep, meditative and powerful, the record is the combination of organic and electronic – a collection of her experiences at raves and her explorations into nature. The movement of waves, sounds of insects, vultures and lion roars were used with skittering breakbeats, flickering signals, deep, ambient pads and swirling synths.

The album is beautiful and dreamlike, taking you into distinct worlds that feel colorful and magical. Loizou takes us to the deepest parts of the ocean, to the plains and down to the molecular level, channeling flows of matter and energy in their sometimes chaotic and turbulent manners.

She is currently working on a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is a lecturer in music production. In addition to the album, she released a collection of poems titled Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum with some beautiful pictures shot from drones in Iceland. This follows her last album Singulacra in 2016. Untold is her first LP on Houndstooth.

To get more information on the album and the complex concepts behind them, we asked Loizou to go more in-depth with us for a Director’s Cut feature.

Listen to the album now and get your copy here.

1. Anima

“Anima” is about extending our love and respect beyond human boundaries - reaching out to try to hear the sentience of other forms of life. It is built on the premise that by accepting that all living entities are connected and enmeshed, the boundlessness and inexhaustible nature of life becomes a known and accepted truth. The air-like whispers that are present throughout are modulated and combined forms taken from the vocalizations of vultures, lions breaths, human stutters and the wind howling through industrial buildings and trees. Through creating this atmosphere I wanted to communicate the sentiment that all living bodies are composed of carefully balanced assortments of collaborative species, whose symbiotic interactions influence their overall perceptions.

The main vocal part is a combination of my own recorded voice, sampled human voice and computer generated voice, layered, shaped and pitched - this non-individualistic hybrid technological voice is an empathic gesture, an act of connecting, affiliating and being with others who are beyond my immediate reach. This attuning, harmonizing and resonating with, also exists across the other tonal sounds in the track; for example the pad like sounds are made up of layers of granulated biotic life-forms and synthesized materials then shaped by the movement of the air.

In many ways I wanted this track to offer the listener glimpses of possible futures in which the sense of belonging to the fabric of life enhances our ability to empathize with and to live well alongside other forms of life.

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum pg 14

2. Celestial Web

“Celestial Web” is based around the meeting of distinctly different worlds; it's about how intensive differences of form can help to create new ways of thinking and being. The track centers around the concept that through balancing oppositions a state of intensity can be maintained, which holds an open space where new things can happen. In this track the rhythmic, the environmental and the tonal each hold a space that hits up against each other, but in a way that doesn’t follow or mimic one another. The atmospheric and environmental sounds inhabit a constructed space where tiny cybernetic entities, human-like drones and sculpted rainfall exist within a large industrial complex. These collectives of different forms busily go about their lives unaware of the actions of other aspects - yet on zooming out their place in the ecosystem of the piece is vital to all of the other forms.

I wanted the rhythmic sounds to come across more like collectives of chattering entities rather than repetitive mathematical structures so I constructed long non-repetitive phrases, rather than short loops, and then punctuated them with deep subs and basses. I also found that by introducing delayed and pitched rhythms behind the main parts the breadth and depth of the industrial space became much more apparent.

More than anything, I wanted this track to communicate the idea that non-homogenized states of tension are vital to the creation of new methods of thinking, that between states of difference lies innovation.

3. Vestal Waters

“Vestal Waters” is probably my favorite piece on the album, it was heavily inspired by the 2003 film Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, which is about the ancient life forms that exist in the deepest part of the ocean. In these dark and molten depths of the ocean lies an extraordinary landscape that is composed of strange and enchanting sculptural forms - almost alien in their composition. I wanted to create an environment that tells something of these oceanic depths and the beings of alien origin that reside in its extreme heat and toxicity.

The atmospheric and environmental aspects of this piece are constructed from a variety of deep water recordings and granulated sonar, whale and dolphin sounds. The movement of the textural materials is based on the shape of waves crashing on a sea shore, made up of layers of sounds of oceanic life, human voice and cross synthesized sine waves. This combination of sounds move as one entity, much like a sentient sea that observes and archives global flows of information and energy. The deep subs align with recordings of sonar sounds, which is intended to pull the listener to the depths of the ocean to experience the sense of timelessness that microbial aquatic beings embody.

The title of the track points towards the recent scientific proposal that the earth formed as a wet planet and that the carbonaceous chondrites and rocks that exist on earth have the same chemistry as meteorites from the large asteroid Vesta. This really brought home to me that these primordial ocean dwelling microbial life forms in many ways are akin to ancient manuscripts containing classified codes for the emergence of life.

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum pg 23

4. Inner Dreams

“Inner Dreams” is about the hidden and unknown aspects of the lives of others, and how we can never really know the full scope of their existence. It’s inspired by ideas present in Philip k. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and in particular the dilemma surrounding how we define life and what constitutes sentience. By observing the spatial and temporal connections to all that exists on our planet, it becomes evident that there are intelligent communications of many forms that exist on vastly different timescales or spatial arrangements, so are not directly accessible to the human senses. It is through encounters between entities that some of these hidden aspects can become visible - if only for a short time or under certain conditions.

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The textures and environmental aspects of this piece share many properties, with the dynamic shape and tonal qualities of one affecting the other and bringing out elements that would otherwise be unheard. There are a lot of interdependent parts in this piece, and it is through their complex interactions that new behaviors emerge, which in turn provide different conditions by which new relationships are formed. The synth-like sounds and vocals are continuously changed or modulated by unheard control signals derived from randomly combined environmental changes.

It was important to me that this piece brings home the idea that each localized entity or being is intricate and never fully knowable and in many cases our attempted acts of constructing a whole picture from these partially elusive entities closes doors of possibility, rather than opens them. The unknown, hidden or withdrawn aspects of a being carry properties of untold potentiality.

5. Fluxes

“Fluxes” is about how intensive flows of matter and energy are unpredictable and how their chaotic and turbulent interactions produce new and exciting developments. The track is built around the premise that changeable and undecipherable happenings forge paths towards something other, something that could not be reached through rational thought. The piece oscillates throughout, as a non-fixed state it simultaneously shows multiple views or aspects of its material properties, which at times are unexpected or contradictory.

Throughout the piece structures are defined by their material interactions. Across the different layers and movements these forms in flux establish and embody multifaceted systems of complexity. While the overall dynamic shape of the piece follows the erratic and stuttering vocal parts, the atmospheres and textures are controlled by chaotic interactions of different forms of biotic life, colliding within a multi-granular environment. The distortions, modulations and residual effects that arise as a product of these encounters, reveals something other - something not normally accessible.

An important idea at play in this track, and one that is really important to me as a creative artist is that only adaptive methods of thought can access new forms - a thinking “with” materials rather than “about” them.

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum pg 8

6. Hypnotik

“Hypnotik” is the darkest track on the record and is about the connections between extreme climatic events and the opportunistic responses that occur in the midst of public fear and mass confusion. The uncontrollable and unpredictable are often interpreted as environments of threat by governing structures, which pitches non-human ecological forces as enemies towards mortal bodies. Throughout the main body of the piece the atmospheric and environmental aspects are less of a controlling force than in my other tracks - instead the machine-like rhythms and warfare sounds dominate the space creating a consistent atmosphere of potential threat.

The use of repetitive snares and industrial sounds were a really important feature of this track as I wanted to communicate the types of territorial behaviors that are at play through processes of drilling, mining and extracting. I arranged the snares to sound like a machine that is tirelessly working towards a meaningless and empty task, on some quest that serves nothing but an abstract and fictional all consuming entity. In the main body of the piece the rest of the sounds are intentionally subdued and disrupted, only being able to breathe once the machine is no longer present.

The title refers to how we have been seduced or hypnotized by an idea that the earth exists for our consumption, that we as humans foolishly see ourselves as a dominant force and somehow independent or separate from nature.

7. Sylphonia

“Sylphonia” is about how sound can be thought of as a form of message-bearing system, carrying material communications across vast distances. The track was very much inspired by the idea that sound waves from other parts of the universe are time traveling messages that can be accessed and decoded through technological devices such as radio telescopes. So in his piece the bass and drums work together as phrases, I wanted them to sound like powerful transmissions or bursts that really punctuate the space. I’m quite drawn to the idea that low frequency sound waves travel very long distances with ease, passing through solid objects and setting them in motion.

As with many of the other tracks on the album, multiform or multispecies life is at the center of the work. The air-like atmosphere that is present throughout is made up of layered field recordings of the wind, taken from multiple locations at different times and then convolved with human and animal breaths - it holds an ethereal space, but one that is full of earthly life. The synth sounds in the piece were inspired by the iridescent figures of butterflies and lizards whose nano-patterned skin is made up of intricate photonic crystal-like forms.

I really wanted this track to create these outward reaching spirals, like transmissions reaching out across the cosmos in search of connections to other life.

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum

Sophia Loizou Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum pg 52

8. Bicameral

“Bicameral” is about the binary logics that have dominated western thought, and challenging these dualist notions of mind and matter; of the divine and the earthly; and of human and nature. It takes the form of an internal song, playing out in the emerging conscious mind of an artificially intelligent life form. The voice is completely synthesized, and the lyrics are an internal dialogue about living inside a human skin but being aware of a deeper connection to the material world than is common to humans. At the time of writing this piece I was thinking a lot about how the matter/spirit divide diminishes the status of other material forms, whose conditions are assumed to be nothing more than how we perceive them.

The overall shape of this piece was extracted from granular phrases of vocal parts and atmospheric sounds, all taken from different times and spaces. Because of this the rhythms in the piece are quite alien and weird, they are totally off grid and are really a response to how the final vocal phrasing formed.

One of the take away ideas from this piece is how biotechnological discovery has the potential to extend the realms of life by offering new potentials for meaningful multispecies collaboration. This is something that I find really compelling and a constant source of inspiration.

9. Apeiros

The word Apeiros is based on the Greek word “apeiron,” which means boundless or infinite. As well as being the last track on the record and hinting towards this being an open-ended work, it is also about the idea of the “end.” While writing this piece I was thinking a lot about the human idea of heaven and how it opposes the material beauty of living on as another form of life on the earth. So many of the sounds in this track are made up of morphed or repurposed fragments taken from the other pieces on the LP. It is set in both an oceanic and ethereal environment, and brings together sounds of multiple types of biotic and abiotic life forms that are then informed by instrumental gestures.

Rethinking the process of decomposition really influenced my thinking with this piece. Microbial beings flourish after a body dies, this in itself is an explosion of new life - and the subsequent recycling of nutrients paves the way for the birth of new forms. I find the same can be said of creative work, finishing a work only brings about new ideas for me, which is something I have really engaged with in this project. For example my book Untold: A Tellurian Memorandum was written from within these pieces of music. It describes the environments that I have constructed through sound and the philosophical ideas that are at play in the work. I found that engaging with this process really amplified the concept of the end also being a beginning.

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