Shifra Rifka Wants to Create Telepathic Dialogues with Her Music

Get to know the Toronto experimental artist with this mix featuring Aphex Twin, 2000s R&B, gospel choirs, and more.
March 13, 2017, 3:05pm
Photo courtesy of artist

When she was 16 years old, Sophia Katz travelled to Israel on a trip by herself. Upon arriving, the years she'd spent at a private Jewish school in Winnipeg, Manitoba, quickly left her sensing that her education had been rife with misconception in regards to politics in the Middle East. Katz says she realized that the Western world chooses to view the situation in Israel and Palestine from an extremely Zionist perspective, which silences the non-Jewish Palestinians, rather than exposing students to the aspects of their culture that had helped shape the land.

"They were omitting things that they felt were irrelevant," the Toronto-based sound artist, who makes music under her Hebrew name Shifra Rifka, tells THUMP. "As a result, I had to experience the place with not just fresh eyes, but totally having to remove any assumptions I had about what that place was."

The sobering shock that came from these experiences shaped how her debut EP, Land of Milk and Honey—which was self-released last month—came together, as Katz began to probe what it means to miscommunicate and understand. With track titles including "Look Real Close At The Lie" and "Alternative Facts," her abstract takes on traditional house serves as much as a social commentary, as they do an inventive approach to the classic genre. Quirky samples of household items like pitched down dishwashers are no strangers to Katz's experimental soundscapes.

"I enjoy creating things that compositionally might be messy or unappealing to listen to. I like to acknowledge the convention, and deliberately diverge to see what will happen," the self-described perfectionist notes. "I love the idea of how music can challenge you to wait around for the beautiful parts, and in some ways, suffer through the more painful parts."

This collage sensibility is also evident in the exclusive mix she's shared with THUMP, which plays with jarring contrasts as Katz intertwines EP selections with Ableton experiments, Baby Bash's 2003 R&B hit "Suga Suga," and even a Bulgarian women's choir. Listen to it below while you read our recent conversation with the artist, who talks about the role intuition and experimentation played in the making of a project she could be proud of.

THUMP: Can you tell me about how this project got started?

Shifra Rifka: To some degree I feel like I've been working on my first full release for my whole life, or at the very least, since childhood. What I mean by that is I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and unfortunately because I'm a bit of a perfectionist, I cannot release something unless I feel that it truly represents who I am. So in order to do that, I had to essentially start making it, before I had any idea of what it was that I was making. I had to get ahead of myself a little bit and just experiment heavily, until I sort of halfway through understood what the record was actually about.

Is that why you weave in the eclectic samples? You have the track where you have the Eminem sample come in ["Look Real Close At The Lie"], and that's not at all what I was expecting.
That's exactly right, I want to know what happens in my brain and in the listener's brain when they hear something that confuses them. Whether that's that sample from "Shake That," or if it's really pitching down the sound of footsteps, or if it's recording my dishwasher but then quantizing it, any of those things. It's not just for absurdities' sake—it's to find out how I feel when I hear it that way, and then sort of to put myself in the listener's shoes as someone who isn't making the music and doesn't have a personal relationship to it.

How do you tackle musical conventions in your work?
I sort of slice things together entirely intuitively. Music is a way of tricking myself into improving my math skills. I want to challenge the conventions of composition not to show them disrespect, but to understand why they are the way they are. So you could call it breaking the rules of convention, but I would prefer to call it playing devil's advocate, if that makes sense.

Can you tell me a little about the mix you sent us?
Experimentation is first and foremost when I'm making music. With this mix, essentially I got together bits and pieces of the EP, and sounds that I've been playing with in Ableton. I recorded it on my couch for my cats. I would do this thing where the cats would at certain points follow certain sounds. I started playing with that, and it got to the point where I would sort of move in and out of sounds that were quite harsh and quite difficult to listen to. Then slowly I would revert to something that is more soft and beautiful, and they would come back and relax. It seemed like a good physical representation of how we feel when we listen to music.

It's interesting to think if you turn up the volume too loud or the texture is too abrasive, music can spark anxiety in people, and in other cases, very delicate sounds can be a source of consolation.
Absolutely. Music, if it's loud enough, can kill you. Which is insane. To me music feels… This is a little lofty, but almost like a telepathic dialogue between the listener, and not even the creator, but the music itself. The creator is inserting some sort of idea into it, but in fact, it's more like the music presents you with an idea. You receive that idea, and then you have an idea while you're listening to it, but it changes. It changes every time you listen to it based on where you are, and when you are, and who you're with.

Shifra Rifka Mix

Is it catcalling if she does it to him and is he a dog or no
Shifra Rifka - Container
??? - ???
Kirk Franklin - Revolution (FEAR Edit)
Shifra Rifka - Look Real Close At The Lie
Aphex Twin - Polynomial C
Baby Bash feat. Frankie J - Suga Suga
FEAR - Midnight In Tokyo As Far As I Know
Shifra Rifka - Alternative Facts
Shifra Rifka - Heart Wants
Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir - Kalimankou Denkou (The Evening Gathering)
Mika Vainio - Öisin Pidän Magneetteja Vatsallani (At Night I Keep Magnets On My Stomach)
Shifra Rifka - Dølha
Brandy, Roz Ryan & Jennifer Lewis - In These Streets (S Edit)
Mahalia Jackson - Trouble Of The World - Philips
A door closing after being open for a very long time

Corinne Przybyslawski is on Twitter.