“My ethos with material items is minimal – I suppose nothing’s more tasteful to me than simplicity.” Brooklyn-based artist Sophia Saze shows us around her streamlined studio.
My Studio – Sophia Saze
I use a fairly conservative setup and firmly believe that efficiency in workflow is key. I’ve visited too many dazzling studios packed to the brim with gear, of which little is used. I’ve also encountered countless extensive live rider requests working as a promoter, which in reality are barely touched during performance. I therefore make it a point to not repeat the same habits in my own process. I find it distracting personally and like to really familiarise myself with each instrument to its fullest before hopping onto new things. My general ethos with material items is being more minimal – I suppose nothing’s more tasteful to me than simplicity. I think neither complex nor pricey gear makes for better records but optimising readily available tools does lend itself to creativity, limiting the parameters to what’s there.
The approach has more to do with my upbringing than anything else. I moved around a lot in my childhood and learned very quickly to adapt to whatever resources were presented to me at any given time, effectively. A lot of musical innovation historically also stems from this philosophy. One example which comes to mind is the deficit of vinyl in the USSR, the answer being homemade records imaginatively pressed on discarded x-rays. Not to mention, it’s more exciting seeking unique solutions in a plethora of possible sonic rabbit holes.
Someday, I’d like to own a larger studio space with each instrument tactfully and tastefully handpicked, but until then, I feel content with the current setup. My Williams Legato keyboard is probably the most worn – I try to practise at least 20 minutes daily. It’s only semi-weighted, which isn’t technically ideal for any pianist. I enjoy the contrast though, having practised only with weighted keys prior. Besides being therapeutic, piano puts me in the right headspace before diving into new projects. Harmonies are essential to my work as they dictate the personality of the track. I tend to focus on wrapping the other elements around that.
Korg MS-20 Mini
It took me a while to crack this one, I spent a few years in a love/hate loop. It’s a powerful remake of the OG analogue ancestor from 1978. Robust and versatile sounds, somewhat limitless in capabilities. The self-oscillating filters create very unusual distortion. Another favourite use is the sample-and-hold circuit control with pink noise as input, which makes this odd acid-like sound. I also integrate a lot of the machine hiss for voluptuously rich, deeper textures.
Roland products are by far my favourite. Japanese design is conceptually totally in line with my value system, efficiency and control being leading proponents. I know exactly how to get what’s needed, fast. I’m more of a loner in the studio and not as keen on collaborations, but I do like to occasionally see how others work, swap knowledge, etc. I’ve sat in sessions with other producers toying away at complicated synths, three hours later proving to be a complete waste of time. I definitely spend less time sourcing the elements or sketching ideas quick while they’re fresh, and mostly in sound design or rewiring through pedals anyway. I love this piece exactly for that. Some preferred features for me are the triple oscillator, polyphonic step sequencer, the filter and amp parameters, integrated vocoder, and sound banks from the classic Jupiter-8 and Juno-106.
Roland TB-3 & TR-8
Two other pieces heavily used in my work, equally for the same reason as the Roland System-8. Every track in my last EP had some aspects recorded from these machines. Intuitive controls make them an obvious choice for me in both production and performance alike. The scatter function on the TR-8 is also very exciting. I like to chop and rearrange the output, layering with percussion panned down the middle, sharp tremolo, and running subtle distortion through the MXR guitar pedal. This creates honest rhythmic modulation and randomised swing with a raw-feeling industrial sound, like mini helicopters blazing through a dancefloor. I used that method on the hi-hats in my upcoming remix on Ghostly.
Probably my most cherished pieces, as my personal fascination and focal point is sound design. I spend my days in cable spaghetti, daisy changing and rerouting. I’ve also fallen into the habit, more recently especially, of swapping pedals to find ones that really fit my tonal needs. Again, it’s not always the most expensive ones that stroke my preference. I’ve traded down a few times even. I’m currently using the Dunlop Tremolo, TC Electronics Echobrain, Joyo Actone and MXR Distortion but my newest infatuation is the Big Knob Octavius – super crunchy octave fuzz, perfect for percussion but also sounds incredible paired with bass like the TB-3.
Records & Audio-Technica LP120
There’s a vintage shop in the basement of my building. They toss a bunch of records weekly. I guess one lady’s trash is another’s treasure. I thoroughly enjoy digging through the bins and coming across grainy gems to sample, like this recent one, The Slavonic Dances Op. 46 & Op. 72 by Antonin Dvorak.
They tend to have a lot of classical pieces, actually. The vintage crackling sounds of the seemingly wonky keys hitting the needle are really something else. Sometimes just getting straight fuzz and scratch from vinyl is extremely practical. Texture is imperative to all my compositions. I guess other artists’ records in general are super inspiring to keep around to take a listen during breaks in between production. I’ve probably cited this one way too many times at this point but, Claro Intelecto’s ‘Peace Of Mind’ is by far one of my all-time favourites and a real staple of quality work.
It’s not pictured above, but the Tascam DR-05 is one of the most essential pieces in my setup. Field recordings are a massive part of my output. Adding sonic environment at its most discreet frequencies almost always immediately triggers the brain into impactful spatial awareness. I record as much of everything as possible. For example, in my upcoming remix for Heathered Pearls’ ‘The Packard Plant’, I spent a week walking around grungy warehouses in my neighbourhood to grab atmospheric recordings which accurately captured the essence of the track.
I’ve also been working on a more downtempo emotive record which is unreleased. I sampled all my family’s old VHS tapes for ambience, percussion and other sounds alike. Another useful application is layering the field recordings to add grit especially to percussive elements, such as a distorted swooshing wind sound gated to a snare drum.
Therapy and moreover, inspiration. Constantly reading new material keeps my sanity and fuels my ideas. Technology has certainly taken its toll on our generation and books are nowhere near as respected or widely read nowadays, but this only makes it more stimulating to me to frequent the library religiously and keep my mind fresh. A recent favourite of mine is Sound System – The Political Power Of Music (Dave Randall), a study across historical eras and various waves, analysing what makes music the powerful force it is.
SKETCHBOOKS & ARTWORK
This image was actually drawn by my friend and visual artist Kyle Hopkins. It was the original sketch for the artwork we used on the first vinyl release for my label, Dusk & Haze. I work with different illustrators per release to select art that visually complements the music’s intent. I also store a large paper box in my studio space which contains all the material content we use for the label. I like to keep an analogue, tangible feel to everything we put out – a collection of hand-drawn images, scanned collages and merch. I make a large portion of the art myself also, from flyers to videos and lately getting back to drawing again. Adding multi-media facets outside of music expands my palette of creativity to challenge and push boundaries even further.
I have a slight obsession with cartoons, especially the Minions. My friends know what to gift me over the holidays by now, like this toy which sits above my interface and serves as a daily reminder to not take music too seriously. It’s important to remember that this is all meant to be an enjoyable experience and not perplexing.