Portrait

Down the rabbit hole with performer and Supersense curator Sophia Brous.

By Emily Bitto.

Sophia’s choices

Back outside, we head to Sophia Brous’s car, a gorgeous ’80s BMW convertible in navy blue, illegally parked in an alleyway. “I’m not a materialistic person at all,” she says. “I might buy one bra in three years. I don’t own a fork set. But I do like having a car like this.”

She removes her long wool coat and throws it into the back seat, revealing a black, raw silk jacket of the same vintage as the car, replete with shoulder pads and a tear in one arm. She drives fast, but well. We are heading to one of the myriad appointments she has scheduled for the day.

“In some ways driving around from place to place is a good summary of the way my life works,” she says. “I just think from segment to segment each day and divide it up between the different projects I’m working on. It’s how I like it, but it means I have no one fixed point.”

Her main focus of late has been Supersense, the Arts Centre Melbourne program she describes as a festival of ecstatic experience.

“What I believe the ecstatic to be, the role it plays,” she explains, “is about submission.”

Submission is a word that comes up again and again in her conversation. She talks about her forthcoming album and how it is all about this idea of submission in a creative sense, becoming drunk on a vision.

“I think a lot of people can relate to that,” she says, “because, as a person of relative privilege, your capacities aren’t regulated by a need for survival. It’s all about choice, which is such a gift, but is also… terrifying.”

 

The two mornings I spend with Sophia are a trip down a rabbit hole. Her life is peregrinatory, hectic. Submission is almost a necessity to cope with its pace and variety.

We visit the studio where she is finalising her album, which she describes to me as “pop-orchestral fantasy land”.

We drop in on one of the performers featured in Supersense, Matthias Schack-Arnott, a super-skinny wunderkind dressed entirely in black, tiny microphones attached to his wrists with Elastoplast, whose bedroom studio we squeeze into to watch as he creates a mesmerising sound work using a laptop and Indonesian gamelan gongs.

We sit with the filmmaker Richard Lowenstein, who is editing the video for Sophia’s first single.

We attend a “music industry speed dating” event organised by Freeza, a government initiative designed to assist young people who want a career in the music industry.

We take a tour through the subterranean purple and gold corridors of the Arts Centre, where installation artworks will be situated for the duration of Supersense.

Across these back-to-back appointments Sophia vibrates with an intense energy and focus. She greets everyone with a warmth that makes me think they must be old friends. She slips occasionally into a comic German accent. “She has composition like ox,” she says of the Arts Centre’s production manager. “She takes everything I throw at her.”

Sophia has just asked about a small lounge she has not seen previously in the bowels of the Arts Centre, and which has now become, in her mind, another potential art space, a “curiosity room”. (“But no burlesque!” she mock-shouts. “There will be no burlesque in Supersense!”)

 

Back at her car again, Sophia decides it is warm enough to put the top down.

“I’ve made the decision recently to step towards joyous things,” she says.

It is a sunny winter day, and we speed past the Botanic Gardens and along the Yarra. I’m not quite sure where we’re heading next, but I’m happy to go with it.

 As she drives, Sophia talks about how, as a teenager, she became obsessed with improvisation because of the appeal of relinquishing control. “I became addicted to placing myself in a position of being disarmed,” she says, “and sitting with that discomfort.”

It makes sense of a lot of the choices she has made, I think, but must have required a lot of courage. I get the sense that a lot of her life has been about how to deal with her own energy, what she refers to as “unregulated potential”.

“You have to let go of control mechanisms,” she says. “Submission.”

Again, that word.

“Submission,” she repeats. “It all comes back to that.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 8, 2015 as "Sophia’s choices". Subscribe here.

Emily Bitto
is an author. Her debut novel, The Strays, won the 2015 Stella Prize.