The sea whitened by the sun - photo Ada.M. Patterson

A World Inside You: an elegy for SOPHIE

Issue no2
April - May 2021
#WATGEVENWEDOOR

‘What you gave me, what you’re still giving me, is a kind of support, a kind of reassurance that this little body, this little life, this little world can be reimagined and remade.’ – Ada M. Patterson writes a tribute to hyperpop artist SOPHIE.

You wanted to see the moon.

I recorded it that night and I want you to share its place in my memory. She was full and dropped her weight in waves.

At night, the Atlantic wears moonlight like PVC. She oozes into the coast with an understated hunger, always arriving from so many elsewheres. Blacker than oil, that slick sheen looks and feels so sticky, so slippery — I get so hard.

It is cold in the water. At night, on the barely-there shoreline, you’ll see hauntings of ghost crabs emerging from the homes of their holes. They are always there, even if we can’t see them in the daylight. They live there, buried beneath our feet—and the night is their hour to play. In the shallows, barracuda might glide past you, cruising for a feeding. You might even see a shark!

Bodies of cold water—that’s where other kinds of life live, turbulently and in the dark, under the weight of oceans, sea salt and moonlight. There are worlds of difference soaking in that deepest darkness. And the moon knows how to shine some light there. Just enough light to imagine those worlds. Not enough to put them at risk. Who are you deep down? I wanna know.

The full moon on 29 January 2021, as seen from Barbados - photo Ada.M. Patterson

If I wanted to be a little bit unfaithful to your memory, I would compare your sound to whale-songs. Romantic and haunting sighs, pulsing across great distances from the throats of the deepest singers. You dosometimes sound like whale-songs, albeit just a little differently. When form, beats, rhythm and genre dissolve. When they lose all sense of flesh. I can hear it in Pretending. And I can hear it in Pretend World.

In those moments, yours is a sound sung from an ocean floored with whale bones. It is a song that tube worms feast on.

But, to be faithful to the voice you’re known for, I’d say you sound more like blooming plastic islands and an extravagance of oil spills.

I want to be so plastic every time I listen to you, SOPHIE.

When trash washes up on the beach here, there’s no telling where it came from. All you can know is that it is artificial and undying. Not even the sea can kill it. Its sickly colours persist in the neon blues of fishing line, the glassy greens of Sprite bottles and the black wet rubber of a shoe’s wedged sole. I want to show you all this treasure because it’s the same kind of plastic I feel in your music.

I found so much of my gender washed up on the beach. I found so much of my gender dripping in your music.

A shoe sole washed up from the Atlantic, photo Ada.M. Patterson

There was something so familiar about what you were doing. Like you were playing with the beached fragments of whatever the 90s left us with. I can feel your pitch rising in the endless sea of Nightcore tracks scattered across Soundcloud. And I can hear you breathing in the depths of Pop. But where you were going feels further than any of it. You always demanded more of the waveform. You refused to synthesise anything less than the future.

Trying to speak to how much your 2018 album, “Oil of Every Pearls Un-Insides” means to me [1], Morgan M. Page found the words before I could: Many of the younger girls among us had been gifted the perfect soundtrack to their own transitions.

SOPHIE, I am grieving what feels like a fragment of a future you were pointing to. What were you trying to surface by splitting and cracking those waveforms? What dormant worlds lay waiting to be synthesised?

there’s a world inside you
I wanna know what it feels like
[2]

Unpicking myself from gender, Immaterial helped me find my way to something I always wanted: total indeterminacy. I remember when it came on in the club and my corporeal form just sweated itself away.[3] This bounciest of anthems feels like a deepening and refining of some of your older unreleased tracks like Physical and B WHO I WANT 2 B. Immaterial reminded me of the sweetest joy possible. It’s such a bop, SOPHIE. It’s still now, always and forever, SUCH A MOOD. If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. But honestly, Immaterial pointed to something of an unfixed-ness, a mutability, a trans*ness I couldn’t turn away from.

Without my legs or my hair
Without my genes or my blood
With no name and with no type of story
Where do I live?
Tell me, where do I exist?
[4]

I have longed to live the joy of being dislodged from the stories people tell of us. I have longed to live unnamed in a world that keeps us explaining ourselves away. I have longed to live a life disembodied, dislocated, and stunning.

It would be a reach to say I owe my trans*ness to you. I don’t. But what you gave me, what you’re still giving me, is a kind of support, a kind of reassurance that this little body, this little life, this little world can be reimagined and remade. We don’t have to concede to the forms we’ve inherited. We can twist, twirl, pop and sizzle in so many unexpected and unknowable ways.

If you need that something but don’t know what it is, shake it up and make it fizz.

It’s morning. The sun has barely risen. I’m staring out to the sea, where the moon once hung. I’m looking at the water which is whitened out of view. The light is low and heavy. It’s that young kind of light which shines a smile on the world. Overeager and showing teeth. Where it hits the water, it sparkles so much it’s like that piece of world is unfinished. It is empty and difficult to look at. It hurts your eyes.

The message had come through: you were no longer with us.

And we are left with this light, this difficult emptiness, this glittering nothing of a life unfinished. We are left with a moment that hurts to look at.

SOPHIE, I need to talk about It’s Okay to Cry.

The first sound you hear is a synthesiser taking a deep breath. And then there you are, rising with the sun. Carried by the softest kind of ballad, you pass through a whole day. The light runs along the deep purple of dawn, a rainbowed morning, happy afternoon blues and a sunset rich in embers. When the night comes, you are held in a hug from the cosmos.

When the message came through, after staring into the void for a hot second, I just needed to see and hear you. So, I found you on my phone in your music video. And it felt like hearing you for the first and last time.

Most of what’s written about this song retells your lyrics as a story of someone consoling a loved one. And maybe it is just that. But who is that someone? And who needs consoling? What if it’s just you? What if it’s just us? Maybe we just need to tell ourselves that it’s okay to cry. Like our big cosmic selves taking care of our little bodied selves.

The amount of introspection trans* people do—the amount of work we do to feel and love the deepest, unnamed and most complicated parts of ourselves—it’s cute to be affirmed by other people, sure, but nothing compares to those moments of us seeing ourselves and feeling seen. (Because, as you probably know, that feeling isn’t always there.) But when your big cosmic self can take a moment to see your little bodied self, when we can meet ourselves where we are,[5] it can be the sweetest kind of affirmation.

I think you sometimes forget
I would know you best
I hope you don't take this the wrong way
But I think your inside is your best side

SOPHIE, I wasn’t ready to cry that day. It took me a few days to process your passing. There is a reason the rain doesn’t burst until the end of the song. You gave us permission, before you even knew it, but I just couldn’t cry yet.

The waves kept coming in white, shining back with nothing to be seen. They could only be heard in an illegible roar. Although it was daytime, the moon was still felt, pulling and pulling up and up the shoreline. And with the waves came the grief. Young trans* people everywhere unable to find the words. There were no words shoring with the grief. A loss as illegible as the roaring of the ocean. Loud and meaningless. Loud and turbulent. And with the waves came the love. Young trans* people everywhere remembering what you gave us. The club nights. The soundtracks to our transitions. Whole new worlds to dream in. A loss as heavy as the pulling moon. A loss written in rising waves and gravity. Weeping and turbulent.

I’m crying now, SOPHIE. I’m crying at unwritten songs and unfinished futures. I’m crying at redacted shorelines and waves that make no sound. At waves that make no sense. I’m crying at the waning moon. And I’m crying for you.

Thank you for everything you’ve given us, SOPHIE.

Waves might rise and bend to the moon’s gravity.
But the waveform belongs to you.

 

[1] Thank you for releasing it on my birthday, SOPHIE. 

[2] SOPHIE, “It’s Okay To Cry,” Track 1 on Oil of Every Pearls Un-Insides, MSMSMSM, 2018, studio album.

[3] In the words of YouTube user pomoapple, “Idk who I was before this song, but I’ll never be that girl again!”

[4] SOPHIE, “Immaterial,” Track 8 on Oil of Every Pearls Un-Insides, MSMSMSM, 2018, studio album. 

[5] Thank you, Shahd, for finding these words for me.

Ada M. Patterson
is a visual artist and writer

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 2 — 2021