Recorded in Bulgaria in August of 2022, 'In Sofia' continues a conversation between the world of composition and improvised music within the context of solo piano. Taking cues from sources such as the Eastern European mysticism of G.I. Gurdjieff and the long form, improvised solo concerts by Keith Jarrett, Christoff weaves a tapestry of notes allowing the listener a space to look inward. Both suites unfurl slowly, painting rich vistas for the listener to take in. There is a sense of searching and discovery in the music, understandable given the fact that Christoff was in a land unfamiliar yet so connected to his personal history (see artist statement below). Based on musical sketches that the artist had been developing for years, 'In Sofia' conjures evocative images of place while reckoning with where one stands in the river of time.
"What is so striking about these two side long pieces is that there is this overwhelming feeling of this music just pouring out of Christoff, like it's this other worldly thing happening where he's channeling something that is kinda mystical and buried deep within him and once he tapes into it, he can't stop. This music, it just flows and flows and it weaves these beautiful landscapes from sorta pointillistic sonic rivers, it's a bit magical if I am being totally honest here and it has this wonderful effect of being both expansive and reflective. So you are transported somewhere into this different world, this other place with all of these things that he is playing and the way that it is moving, it's very vivid and for me it evokes a lot of different imagery in my head, there's that aspect, but then you are also thinking about so many things within yourself." – Foxy Digitalis (podcast transcription)
"Recorded in Bulgaria in 2022 (where the artist has familial connections), the two extended suites build slowly before cascading strikes rain down. It's a beautiful offering." –– Deepest Currents
released August 4, 2023
Recorded by Yoncho Pavlov in August 2022 at AD 57 in Sofia
Mixed by Yoncho Pavlov
Mastered by Jason Powers in Portland
Cover drawing by Sahar Kubba
Stefan Christoff is a Canadian musician, community organizer, and journalist and based in Montreal, Quebec. He has collaborated with artists such as Lori Goldston, Sam Shalabi, and Adriana Camacho, performs with his brother Jordan as a duo in Anarchist Mountains, and has released music on labels such as Moon Villain, Shimmering Moods, and Aural Canyon. A lifelong community activist, he helps to coordinate the Musicians For Palestine project (IG: @musicians4palestine) and has engaged in street-level solidarity work in Lebanon and The Philippines as well as closer to home in Montreal.
This album is the result of a long journey back to the Balkans. Sofia was always a city that my Bulgarian family members spoke warmly of. I also grew up seeing photos and interacting with the tapestry and ceramics of Bulgaria, as well as Macedonia, thanks to my family. Despite this, Bulgaria (and the Balkans more broadly) was always a place that was far away in real terms and not accessible on either a logistical or emotional level. After I moved to Montreal at 18 years old and got involved intensely in community organizing for social justice, at home and abroad, I began to think more about the possibilities of travel as rooted in cultural meaning and exchange, not travel as simply a commodity experience.
When the second Intifada took place in Palestine there were major protests in Montreal, which I joined. In parallel I was involved in post-9/11 migrant justice organizing, as many activists involved in the global justice movement were making serious efforts to translate the real critiques of systemic injustice to local levels and organize tangible support for individuals and communities struggling with the direct impacts of the global systems of capitalism and colonialism that we were opposing. This article by David Graeber (newleftreview.org/issues/ii13/articles/david-graeber-the-new-anarchists
), who I was organizing with at the time in Montreal and New York, outlines some of the key ideas of this movement. At the time I was organizing with the Anti Capitalist Convergence in Montreal, or La convergence des luttes anticapitalistes (CLAC). Within CLAC we launched a migrant justice committee which eventually became No One Is Illegal, a collective committed to migrant justice work. Through this process I became deeply involved in supporting a network of Palestinian refugees in Montreal who were facing deportation. Through the assemblies and frontline campaign, as well as immigration case work, I became more deeply educated on the layers of the Palestinian struggle for justice, particularly within the refugee camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. This organizing work took place under the banner of The Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees. The campaign to fight the deportation of Palestinian refugees from Montreal eventually led to dozens of young Palestinians in Montreal winning their status against the odds from the Canadian government.
In 2003 I made arrangements with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to volunteer with them in Palestine. However, upon arrival at the Israeli border I was deported to Jordan due to my links with global activist networks. I was 22 years old at the time. This is when I first went to Lebanon, as the families of the Palestinian refugees who I had been working with in Montreal around migrant justice work encouraged me to go to Beirut to connect with their families within the refugee camps there. I traveled then from Amman to Beirut and connected with many Palestinian families and activists. This started a long connection with Beirut that really was first rooted in the Palestinian refugee camps, particularly Bourj el-Barajneh camp near the Beirut airport.
Over the following years I traveled back to Lebanon on a number of occasions, working with both Free Speech Radio News and the Electronic Intifada, to find ways to boost and speak about local activist work taking place there. In 2006 I was in Beirut working on some media and activist projects when Israel invaded. I was closely connected with many local activists and musicians who were deeply impacted by the invasion and this experience stays with me until now. After helping to organize a grassroots relief support project in Lebanon with local activists, I went to Syria and then to Turkey. While in Istanbul I felt the pull of nearby Bulgaria so strongly. I had seen many textiles, food and also music during my time in Lebanon and then in Turkey that were familiar in ways to me from the Bulgarian and Balkan culture that I had grown up with. All the experiences I had east of Bulgaria allowed me to see the country from another perspective – it was a place that I wanted to connect with and it was beginning to feel more familiar. In this way I encountered Bulgaria first from the east, not from the west. I didn’t make it to Sofia during this time but in 2020, many years later, I finally made arrangements to travel there as a musician, having released a cassette on Bulgarian collective label AMEK, inspired by my activist orientations as expressed through ambient music, under the name of Anarchist Mountains Trio.
In both 2021 and 2022 I played piano concerts in Sofia that were hosted by the Bulgarian National Radio show Alarma Punk Jazz. It was during my visit last year that I recorded this improvised piece after meeting Yoncho Pavlov, a local audio engineer. It is a reflection on my connection to Sofia that I very much hope you enjoy.