2.04gb zipped. 28 wav files. 137 minutes of audio. Thousands of tiny sonic fragments, trimmed and enhanced and repeated, stacked into precarious pillars and cobbled into crooked pathways, arranged into an electronic music that resourcefully substitutes seamless, fit-for-purpose connection with a brute-force fusion, with noises hammered into gaps that aren’t quite big enough, the rhythms bulging and slanting with a confidence that, somehow, elicits its own assurances of structural integrity. In other words: a gigantic retrospective of Japanese artist Sofheso, compiling choice cuts from the last four or five years.
The fact that I may never give Archive its due credit could be down to a capacity issue. That is, the lack of time and cognitive bandwidth required to conduct a goldsmithing evaluation of each sound in turn; rolling it around my hands, feeling the alloyed weight of field recording and radio dialogue and sample and FX, putting it down, picking up the next. The hard edges of these sounds – their rich, unequivocal choice to be present – means that each creative decision is like a flashlight between the eyes, each demanding to be appraised in its own right. The upcoming weeks will see an attempt to saviour as much of Archive as one mind can fathom.
This may strike you as listening reduced to administration, yet it’s important to note that while the jagged complexity of this collection scrambles my intellect, the emotional impact is that of a solitary battering ram to the gut. In this sense, the pay-off is immediate. The spluttering thumps of bass drum, the crisp crack of distorted handclaps, the flabby slugs of bass synth, sheer volume…the excitement I feel when listening to Sofheso is utterly primal, and it is this excitement that spurs me to dissect my own state of cognitive overwhelm. I’ll see you further down.
The process by which Sofheso harvests his samples feels manic, perhaps even dangerous. Scissor hack through rolls of source material, while fists rip off chunks with frayed edges and lopped sides. At his feet, there are strips of bass guitar that mumble at the wrong tempo; fragments of cleared throat and butchered speech; blobs of unidentifiable noise whose surface comes caked in the residue of tired analogue machines. The means by which Sofheso wedges these samples into place is just as graceless as their capture. The resultant structures hold together but only just, often resembling those DIY rescue attempts, unevenly striped by masking tape, concluding with hands poised on either side of a tower that wobbles precariously, before a self-congratulation on a “job well done” that screams with a wilful denial about the inevitability of collapse.
This instability resides in the electronic beats too, which are punched in prematurely and belatedly, albeit with a conviction pleads ignorance to the difference. The intention feels boisterous. He spots a gap between the granite and the rust, and hammers in another jagged cut of noise. I listen anxiously as it booms like a cannonball shot through the side. The structure tilts and corrects itself. For another second at least, Sofheso defies the odds that conspire towards his structural downfall.
Often I’m reminded of the most oppressive aspects of city life. For instance: the sick hum at the start of “0103”, which is the sort of thing that might ooze through the walls of an apartment at some ungodly hour, courtesy of a factory situated far too close to where people are trying to sleep. I place the blame on the bass frequencies that, unlike the refined whirrs of electronic music elsewhere, bleed outward like those obnoxious byproducts of industry, smothering intricacy and conversation, filling up the head like a fog. Elsewhere, there are textures resembling the raw, building site mess of rubble and concrete (e.g. the crumpled syncopations of “0205”), spilling across my path as a jagged hazard. And of course, there’s the dangerous buzz of cowboy wiring that cakes this entire two-hour slog, meaning that not only does Sofheso barge its way into my urban life, but there’s a high chance of receiving a lethal electric shock if I come into contact with it.
Prior to the release of Archive, Sofheso’s primary distribution format was a weekly upload on SoundCloud. Even when rounded up onto cassette, this material feels like a product of the “music feed” medium: not a finished product with hard durational edges, but a continuous accumulation of character and progress, never done, eternally undergoing refinement. And thus, those clangs and bangs of percussive impact start to feel like limbs pounding on the walls of cassette plastic, bulging beyond a captivity that runs counter to its existential instincts. I should say that this tension – between unbounded process and the lockdown of physical format – feels utterly deliberate, and a masterstroke on the part of First Terrace. Because of course, in contrast to the cassette as a declaration of finality, there’s its antiquated utility as refuge for the incomplete in the form of the demo tape: a static snapshot of progress, trapped partway between its tentative conception in the rehearsal room and its realisation in a proper studio. In this sense, these tapes are like the ripe cuttings from a sapling, documenting a state of maturity that Sofheso has likely already outgrown.