Sofia Kourtesis - Fresia Magdalena (Technicolour, 2021)
On her third EP, Kourtesis once again wraps us around her little finger as we drift freely between differing physical dimensions and jump so profoundly between emotional states on an audial experience like no other.
Taking inspiration from the world around us is a well trodden path within all forms of music, but its how individuals channel the sights and sounds around them into their releases that makes for intriguing listening indeed. Dance music in particular - often without a narrative to draw from and relying heavily on keys and drums to convey mood and tone - has an ability to paint a portrait of a landscape or urbanscape that is drenched in interpretation and emotion, crafting scenarios that suggest either the most interactive of environments or the most sombre and soothing, and of course everything else between those two extremes. Music that is produced by those engaged with the world around them often contains a hefty dosage of texture, in that we begin to vividly picture what is being drawn in front of us in a myriad of ways, our thoughts fleeting between what kind of place this is and what are the people like there, with the layering of keys and drums the ways in which we understand and interpret this place we have never been to before. Genres like field recordings, ambient and downtempo look to set a scene of a city or environment largely at one with itself, a place of harmony and quiet that evolves in its own way to accommodate busyness, which is where genres like Techno, House and old school Dubstep become the guiding lights in reflecting the city in hyperactive mode. Producers who engage with this kind of musical reflectionism to place conjure up a wide range of representations that remain very much their own, with the added angle of personal feeling helping to guide the music to a point where it remains very much their own take on their respective genre of interest. The environments and influences which are profoundly important to these producers suddenly touch upon our world and our world experiences, showcasing commonalities that resonate within us and bring these shared perceptions closer together. The music feels very emotionally charged as a result, with its boundaries filled to the brim with layers upon layers of keys (and occasionally vocals) that craft a mood so powerful as to provide a window through into the streets, sights and smells that are unique to that place and that place alone. Its dance music with a twist, its message not rooted in rhythmical tropes or emotionally static loops, but instead inspired by the worldy features that float and glide around us, with each feature placed with absolute meaning in order to convey the most enriching message imaginable, one that provides us with both an audial and physical identity. For some music makers, they might touch on this approach once once or maybe twice in their careers, but there are a few who make it the fundamental core aspect of their sound, with the worlds they perceive and long for a continual source of inspiration and a feature that binds every single note and beat that they record. The resulting discographies are filled to the brim with references and pointers, like a set of postcards that come from differing directions yet still tell you how much they wish you were here, with each time they arrive to us there's a new angle that has only just been explored. The environment is broken up into strands, threaded through releases to provide a wider view each time that keeps us intrigued as to what might be revealed next, and that in itself is simply fascinating from a musical perspective. We remain entranced by the bliss, willing and ready to accept whatever feeling and experience comes our way as the tones do their utmost to wash over us and guide us to a place filled to the brim with things to see.
If there is one producer out there who embodies these ideals to a superb degree, then it has to be Sofia Kourtesis, who since making her solo debut back in 2018 has been wowing the world over with her environmentally reflective take on house music. Originally from Peru but now based in Berlin, Kourtesis crafts music that points to many places and contexts, with her self described 'travelling bedroom producer' tag serving as a means to soak up the environments that she knows and loves but also explores and yearns to understand, with the MPC serving as an important tool in capturing the surrounding vibe of wherever she finds herself. Her sound is firmly rooted in the house spectrum but contains a never ending series of beautifully considered melodic sequences that do much to keep her sound evolving and morphing, the music's persistent quest reflective of her travels and the places she calls home. Its the kind of music that really welcomes you in, providing information on all the sights and sounds, and then transforms into a guided tour of that audial representation, with a significant amount of time taken to help us explore all facets of the worlds in which we inhabit. Kourtesis references many places in her works, with sounds recorded in places like Japan, her home country of Peru and the Amazon Jungle, with these field recordings becoming a significant aspect of the soundscape being laid out in front of us, crafting a narrative of place that provides a layer of intrigue that keeps you firmly locked into the flows. Kourtesis finds this impeccable balance between the home and the club, with her music incredibly powerful during the peak times of sets but also an accompaniment to the down times we have at home, looking out the window and wondering how the music can compliment all we see before us. Its a fine tuning exercise that Kourtesis has perfected, with the samples utilised highly inspired and the organically flowing dance music that makes up the rest of tracks engaging and consistently shifting in tone and energy, and its an approach that we are firmly onboard with. All of her previous releases are worthy of a mention here, starting off with her 2018 debut feature on the Studio Barnhus Volym 1 compilation with the track 'WinWin San', that was certainly one of the highlights of the record, with its charming melodic loops and evocative vocal samples creating a beautiful audial narrative to get lost deep within; then came her impressive self-titled 2019 debut, that showcased her style to the world within a melting pot of bright colours and simmering intensities; then came the highly anticipated 2020 follow up, 'Sarita Colonia', that was everything the debut was and then some, with filtered key lines merging impeccably with the loose yet rhythmically invigorating drumming patterns. In all, there's a certain magic about Kourtesis' music, a magic that transposes itself in the places she travels to and the moments in time which are captured by her MPC, with this approach of seeing and listening to the audial senses of contexts reaping massive rewards in the music making department. Her music is beautifully intuitive - perhaps in response to her approach to recording the layers of her tracks - with a warm homely glow resonating from the core of each cut, suggesting a high level of passion that was injected into each track as the colourful tones and textures ebb and flow from place to place, from context to context. We start to believe in every single aspect of the worlds in which Kourtesis builds up, from the chattering of the vocal samples through to the looping presence of the keys and chords, it all constructs a compelling universe for us to look around in, a window into the moments where she recorded that vocal snippet, that certain sound in a particular place in time. Its something to get lost in at the club, its music to loose yourself within at home, put simply its music that applies itself to almost any situation, and thats testament to Kourtesis and her brilliant approach to making tunes, where quality, character and intricacy reign supreme, always. Be sure to check out her previous works, trust us you won't be disappointed!
And now we arrive at her latest offering, 'Fresia Magdalena', that arrives via the Technicolour imprint. On perhaps her most personal and contextually informed record to date, Kourtesis ties in multiple field recordings taken Lima and places into the tracks that acted as not just a vocal snippet but the basis for the compositions, giving an enormous amount of weight to the words and a fundimental meaning to the ongoing narrative. Not only is the music deeply entrenched in the sights and sounds of the city, but reflects her personal relationships with both her late father and her mother, which provides yet another angle in which we can experience and get to know these tracks. Its a highly refined blend of experience, relationships and context, something which Kourtesis has perfected over her series of releases, with the music that is bourne out of this hybridised approach incredibly moving, characterful and soothing. House music merely serves as a conduit for all the other intricate details to move in and out of its foundations, our hearts and minds pulsating along to the groove as we get to know this impeccably crafted world, filled with so much wonderment, emotion and meaning. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this treasure trove....
Up first comes 'La Perla', and this one begins with the kicks and swirling muted melodics to get us going. The light and playful keys resonate from within the drumming pattern, calling out to further elements to get involved with the progression, with the first switch up occurring as the vocal line - Kourtesis' own - sweeps across the pan, delicately caressing the instruments with its airy ethereal application. The voice continues to call out to us from across the sunlit street, the early morning mood descending into a breakdown that then builds up the track to include additional percussive features that provide us with a sense of urgency, to open the door and leave the house to face the day. The vocals then expand to include a series of spoken pieces that help to guide the track into a differing kind of atmosphere, where jumpy features and elements come in and out of view in providing a rhythmic progression that one might associate with looking out at the sea. The beautiful chordal lines swell and filter between differing applications, switching over from one line to the next with an irresistible urgency, eager and willing to maximise every inch of potential from the emotion laid bare in the track. The segment around the 4 minute mark onwards is simply glorious, as the ever present undercurrent lifts us up higher and higher, the ripples on the ocean surface looking as soothing as ever, as we gently land back on land, the sun set clasping a orange semi-circle in its hand as the warmth washes over our feet. A fitting tribute, a stunning song. Up next comes 'By Your Side', and this one begins once again with the light drumming and misty melodics getting us going. The filtered fuzz permeates through the middle of the track, creating a sense of separation between the front end drums and the far away melodics, with the space between primed for something intriguing to join in, and that space is filled with all manner of excellence. The mid section becomes very dense indeed with the introduction of playful key swirls and flourishes of vibraphone notes, along with cut up vocal samples that add further to the framework of short but sweet elements making up a very big whole indeed. The track meanders onwards with a hazy effectiveness, epitomised when the filter takes it all down underneath to reveal a energised climax, with the horns adding an addition sense of depth and presence into proceedings as the vocals abound on top with enthusiasm and boundless feels, as we go through one final stage of this beautiful cut. Glorious stuff. Up next comes 'Nicolas', and this one begins with the vocal sample calling out on top of the lightly moving drums and bass line. The sample runs through two sequences, before introducing another vocal line to create a sense of conversation, with the track building up steam ever so slightly as a result of this additional activity, and before long we are joined by the stabs giving the underneath of the track a hefty amount of feels indeed. The samples move away to reveal the stabs in all their glory, cutting through the top ends of the track as they act in contrast to the light energy of the drums, operating within the spaces to provide two dimensions to the groove. The lightly flickering notes simmer on top of it all, with an additional solid chordal line furthering the atmosphere and keeping the momentum firmly forwards, as snappy vocal lines get us in the mood to keep moving, with the track arriving back at the spoken word segment, their presence providing a beginning and end of sorts to a track that contains so much presence. Wonderful!
Up next comes 'Juntos', and this one begins with the tone and mood stepping up a notch. The drums are effortlessly breezy, moving along at a rampant pace as the melodic features begin to filter in from the back left, the volume allowing us to see their form in a brighter light, and of course it is a series of beautifully maintained and constructed key sequences. The initial lines of inquiry quickly expand into multiple treads of expressionism, as we move through the gears through a sea of wondrous melody to arrive at a truly epic breakdown. This passage sees vocal lines call out across the plains, as delicate keys spin a tale underneath that could last a lifetime, and before long we jump right back into the main progression that sees us move within an ocean of swirling moods and tones, the passage of time slowing down for us to take in all this gorgeous tonal application. The track simply wraps around our head with a piercing intensity, calling out to us to reach in and touch the textures that present themselves on a constant basis, with the track teasing all manner of feelings out of us as it begins to wind down and see itself out the door and into the realms of the city. Beautiful stuff. To wrap things up, we have 'Dakotas', and this one begins with the dynamic drumming pattern getting us going. The drums are richly layered with effects to give over the impression of something much greater than the boundaries in which its placed, their presence akin to a vibration, a pulse, a ravenous groove, with this pattern providing a basis for all the elements that are to flow next. The drums are joined by solid cascading key lines, driving melodic undercurrents and a singular vocal line, with all these features lying over the drums in a sequence of such power and grace, you're taken back a little bit by all it has to offer. The track takes a dip into the foundation for a moment, with this saunter providing us with time to take in all that is being presented to us before we arise once again into a dubby segment where the bass and drums reign supreme. The melodics soon return for one final salvo, as we see the voice and keys do the business for a passage that could last into the stars and beyond, drawing its power from the rhythms of life to give over to us something very special indeed. This is a record of such beauty, such grace and intuitiveness, yet there is still time to stand around and take it all in - a world where time stands for us, as we stare out over the most compelling scene imaginable.
There's a lot that can be imagined up from the contexts that exist around us, and how music makers take in those contexts and the elements and people that reside within them often leads to moments of pure magic. This record is no different, with Kourtesis building up her own world based on places that inspire her, with the results truly extordinary, as each cut displays to us a differing kind of progressive environment that contains a plethora of characters, colourful scenery and emotionally driven stories. The record is a blend of multiple viewpoints, of relationships with our family and the memories we have of people and place, and of the sensory elements we connect with in new environments or places we call home, and Kourtesis distills all of these features into a sublime piece of music. Its emotional, its intricate, its intelligently made and flawlessly executed, there's so much here to fascinate and intrigue, so why not try it out for yourself and see how far you end up wondering into your own personal experiences and reflections. A stunner, in every sense of the word.
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