“People have said that they were moved to tears, crying and laughing at the same time from watching our live show, but they couldn’t explain why… That’s why I do it. That’s exactly what I want to achieve with our work. The main reason I make instrumental music is because words are often so inadequate at explaining the raw complexities of how we feel.” – Tom Hill of Origamibiro
Origamibiro appeared on 2020k’s radar in August of 2011 when a slew of readers sent E-mails asking us to allot a couple of minutes in our day to listen to and view the visual accompaniment to the song “Quad Time“. The authentic emotion and amalgamation of organic instrumentation and electronic sounds made for an announcement of a new subsidiary within our blog called Infrasound and ensured our focus on this band brought the attention of an album review for their sophomore album Shakkei and scoring them a spot on our Top 20 songs of 2011 list with “Brother of Dusk & Umber” clocking its way into the respectable 12th spot.
With the sophisticated combination of visual and audio aspects that Andy Tytherleigh, Tom Hill, and Jim Boxall (aka The Joy of Box) impose upon their collective career, it’s difficult to ignore the impressive amount of thought and creativity that goes on behind the scenes to create the spectacular studio and live packages. The text based interview with Tom and Jim is an exceptionally articulate endeavor into the inner workings of the band and how everything is put together from the ideas behind the live shows, how specific aural interpretations are sculpted, and what it’s like managing three different ideas into a whole.
How has the response been so far to the release of Shakkei? It’s been on repeat since I got it!
TOM: Glad you like it! Response has been pretty good. We’re starting to gain a bit of momentum now. The next step is to get out there gigging as much as we can. One of the things we’ve been told over and over is that the live experience of what we do is the thing that really gels it together, both in terms of how people engage with the album and in understanding what we’re trying to achieve visually and sonically. The album itself is only one aspect of who and what Origamibiro are.
What is the inspiration behind using the environment and field recordings as an ambience to your tracks?
TOM: In a way, the field recordings and ambient soundscapes are the film. The music could be seen as their soundtrack. All the environmental samples easily give rise to their visual and or experiential counterpart so, whether they’re aware of it or not, the listener has a visual reference from memory and provide their own narrative. That’s probably the most basic and simple use of them. Others are more psychoacoustic.
There’s a wealth of texture, depth, space and auditory panorama in simple outdoor noise that is seldom noticed by most people day to day. It’s interesting how, by putting those sounds centre stage in a piece, they’re only then really noticed and appreciated. And, on perhaps a far deeper level, it’s only natural to have background noise; like Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum”, I definitely feel there’s something missing if a recording is too ‘clean’. As John Cage demonstrated with his piece, 4’33”, there rarely exists such a thing as silence. Even when Cage sat in an anechoic chamber he reported he could still hear his nervous system and heart beat.
Soundproofed studios are a vacuous environment; they literally suck the atmosphere out. so on some level with Shakkei, one of the aims was to inject that ‘life-stuff’ back in. They’re also great short-hand for that illusive description of a feeling – like stepping in fresh snow (on Impressions of Footfall); A satisfaction that can’t quite be explained, but most people have felt at one time or another. Tapping in to those illusive descriptions of feelings are often a focus for us.
So the outdoor samples and soundscapes in Shakkei are about all those things and more, in ways we could never conceive or prescribe. That’s what intrigued me – and was so fitting – about the art of Shakkei itself: The most awesome and beautiful intricacies found in nature can’t be beat. So use them.
Being a band with the addition of visual aspects provided by The Joy of Box, I’m interested in how the creative process works for each of you. How do you each approach a song (either in the studio or live on stage) knowing that there has to be an overall relation between what the three of you are separately striving for and accomplishing?
TOM: Good question. It’s never the same really. We don’t have a formula as such. At least not yet. But I think that if it did become formulaic, we’d hate it. Painting by numbers is the last thing any of us want to do. Fundamentally, it always starts with an idea. It could be a bit of film jim has shot, a melody, a musical structure, a book one of us is reading, a photograph… but generally, we always know when we feel it in our gut. Once that feeling takes hold, the rest usually falls into place – whether it be instantly or over the course of a year. What we’ve found is that nothing is ever really finished. Every piece we have created is constantly evolving and shifting each time we perform it. I think that’s one of the reasons why performance is so important.
JIM: The first album Cracked Mirrors and Stopped Clocks was very singular and intimate in feel- almost like Tom was playing by himself in a small room. Similarly I think our early live av efforts had that kind of home made feel- small, exploratory- and we were working out how we wanted to operate together and what would make sense in the common ground between us. In my opinion, Shakkei is a big move on from the first album- it is more expansive. If Cracked Mirrors was in a dusty old room then Shakkei is definitely out in the open fields.
I think we’ve made a similar leap with our live show. A lot of that transformation has been about finding our limitations and working through the elements that feel most applicable. We seem to have a continually rolling selection of ideas- some old and reworked, some as byproducts from other half baked experiments and some that come direct which we can bring into whatever we are currently doing to see if they can add something.
Sometimes they don’t. I am always very conscious of the difference between our mediums and how they can often want to pull in different directions. Sometimes that can be useful but it can also make things frustrating as there may be times when we can’t go in a particular direction because it just doesn’t make sense overall. Music can exist for its own sake but I feel that video needs a good reason to anchor it down and make it stick. I use live feeds to magnify what we are doing onstage and I’m also trying generate as much of my material live as possible which means that the process of generating the visuals becomes as important as the visuals themselves. All of this useful information approaches require editing and we always consider how this all makes sense as a complete performance. For me everything comes together most effectively when it all rests on a set of feelings or emotions.
Quite a few of the tracks have certain instruments that have gorgeous reverbs on them, the piano in “Brother of Dusk and Umber” specifically comes to mind and was pointed out in our review. How did you go about tracking and mixing the instrument for that track?
TOM: Playing an instrument with reverb is such a different experience to playing one without. The space afforded by a drifting tail means you can really languish in those minimal chord structures – like on “Brother of Dusk and Umber”. I actually recorded some of my own impulse responses to be used as convolved reverbs for some tracks. One of the samples used in “Dismantle Piece” was of me kicking a metal gas boiler chassis, which sounded almost like a gong. I loaded that up as an impulse response. Needed some EQ but it made for a great reverb.
But in terms of how I deal with reverbs, it’s nothing special. I often think of them as another instrument, gliding over the notes that create them – so I treat them as such in the mix. That means they were each EQ’d and mixed just like an instrument. But, to be perfectly honest, apart from that, it’s just mixing and EQ and a bit of tweaking with the Space Designer plugin in Logic.
How did the recording and visual processes flow when recording Shakkei? Were all three of you working in the same room or was it a more spread out project?
TOM: Some parts of the album were produced in traditional studio environment (where we overdubbed and tweaked; experimenting with different instrumentation to get the tracks to where we wanted them to be) but we soon realised this process wasn’t conducive to keeping hold of the original essence of a track. Sitting with a piece for too long and polishing it can bleed it dry of it’s initial raw emotive drive. Sometimes I’d lose that feeling or forget why we started writing it in the first place… So we started to record some parts live, then just chopped it up a little bit to make it more concise. I think the next release will have far more of that live emotional rawness in it.
JIM: The snow texture footsteps on Shakkei were actually taken from a video I shot in Bulgaria. Tom recorded his own footsteps in Nottingham and then edited the audio together. I really love that as an idea of moving between mediums and spaces whilst staying within audio. To be honest Shakkei is still very much a traditional studio album that took a lot of building, crafting and refining from Tom and Andy’s point of view.
In the meantime we have been translating that material and developing new stuff into what is currently our live set. We still have a number of ideas and collaborative directions on the to do list that we haven’t even got to yet which will hopefully be folded into our set list as we go. We are now working on flexible ways to record both live audio and video in the studio so that we can capture and release new stuff that is truer to our live material in terms of how we develop and perform it. There are a lot of interesting directions to take all these possibilities in…
TOM: Musically, apart from all our instruments, we have a couple of Boss RC50 looper pedals, Kaoss Pads, FX processor pedals and our own individual mixing desks. We then run all that into Logic for mixing and adding the odd reverb.
JIM: Isadora is a great piece of software for me. I can build and modify my own visuals patches very quickly and easily and get things behaving or reacting the way I want as we develop new material in the studio. I’m also a big fan of cheap infra red cctv cameras from ebay and I recently discovered the Dino-Lite microscopic video camera which is amazingly useful and effective. I also had Leaf PDX in the states make me a bespoke lasercut wooden mutascope which is just beautiful and so much better than my own cumbersome attempt. It even smells good…
There is quite a difference in sound between “Quad Time and the Genius of the Crowd” and the video released for “Quad Time” – how much room do you normally leave for improvisation and remixing when performing a song live as opposed to playing a track straight forward from the way it was originally structured?
TOM: Recorded material and live material will never be the same. This is both because of the evolution of a track each time we perform it and simply because, as mentioned earlier, we don’t want to paint by numbers. I think the audience really appreciate that too. They know they’ll get something a little different every time.
JIM: There is also a big difference between music that exists for its own sake and music made to be performed with visuals. It took quite a while to work through what we were going to do with it live- We had an idea that we wanted to use a typewriter but we then had to decide what to do with that. We thrashed around for a while before we found our way forward and then I asked my sister to write a poem which we adapted for the sequence. All of this affects how the shape of the tune comes out, as well whatever new ideas Tom and Andy want to throw into the mix along the way.
What do you hope the listeners take away from the music and visuals you present to them?
TOM: I touched upon this earlier but for me, I don’t like to prescribe too much. People have said that they were moved to tears, crying and laughing at the same time from watching our live show, but they couldn’t explain why… That’s why I do it. That’s exactly what I want to achieve with our work. The main reason I make instrumental music is because words are often so inadequate at explaining the raw complexities of how we feel. This quote (although maybe a little on the negative side) says it all for me: “As soon as we start putting our thoughts into words and sentences everything gets distorted, language is just no damn good—I use it because I have to, but I don’t put any trust in it. We never understand each other.” – Marcel Duchamp.
JIM: Emotion is top for me. I have to feel it in my gut first and foremost. I am also very keen on encouraging the audience to understand what is happening in front of them- both in terms of our generative processes during the live performance (we are at times very busy) and also what it means to create the illusion of moving image. Either way, all these facets or elements are meant to come together inside the minds and bellies of our audiences. If they feel like they can make it their own then I feel like it has worked.
There is currently a Shakkei remix album in the works and you released a free Remix package of “Quad Time” earlier in the year. What is your opinion on the art of remixing and having other artists have a go at re-working your material to present it a light specific to the artist remixing one of your tracks? Is there any plan to incorporate visuals into any of these remixes?
TOM: I love hearing other people’s interpretation of a track. When I was starting out as a musician, I’d believe that somewhere within a track I was working on the perfect incarnation that I must find or I would ruin its potential greatness. It would drive me mad because I’d think, “What if I don’t do it justice?” But, now I don’t believe that’s true. I think all incarnations of an idea are equally valid. So remixes are a great way to hear the other potentials of a track. We did toy with the idea of video remixes….
JIM: Man, I’d love to get into other people remixing the video side of things too. I think the release after the music remix album may give us more of an idea of how that could come about. Mmmm…..
What influences and inspires each of you to make the art you make?
JIM: It might sound cheesy but Tom and Andy are my main sources of influence because what they do directly affects what I do. I sometimes have to stop and remind myself that they are making beautiful noises that get me right in the gut and that it’s an absolute pleasure to listen to what they do- that helps. Lately, I haven’t really had the time to check out much of whats been going on. Supporting DVD (Japanese live drumkits/games console av trio) and Sculpture (London based live phonotrope/tape loop duo) made us get off our arses and get our shit together.
David O’Reilly is just brilliant and Ed Atkins has been writing some interesting things about HD. Ive always been a big fan of Andrey Tarkovsky for pure cinematic beauty. There’s always Frank Zappa too…
What Origamibiro is doing as a whole is quite different than what a lot of musicians, Electronic or not, have been doing. How do you perceive the Electronic music scene in 2011, mainstream or otherwise? Are you fans?
TOM: I think the only problem with the scene now to maybe what it was 10 years ago is that you have to know how to cut the wheat from the chaff due to the amount of music bombarding you from every angle. The amount of music out there is exhausting. The other issue with that is some of the truly great artists that should be much bigger, are drowned out. It just means you have to know where to look; to scratch below the mainstream surface, but there are diamonds in the ruff, to be sure!
JIM: I’m interested in how electronica is filtering into other genres such as the collaboration between Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon- theres definitely evidence of electronica influencing contemporary classical being channeled through traditional US folk…that’s quite an unexpectedly beautiful combination.
I’ve noticed the Twitter/Facebook interaction as well as a consistently updated website that spans beyond Origamibiro and into installation workshops, blogs, etc.) Is it important to have some sort of connection outside of the music/visuals between Origamibiro and their audience?
TOM: Our audiovisual performances are probably my favourite vehicle, if you like, for expressing myself and attempting to dissect and interpret the complexities of the human condition, but it’s still only one vehicle. Music won’t always be the best medium for exploring, expanding or understanding relationships, ideas, people, technology, global issues etc… But Origamibiro, as an umbrella title, is broad enough to allow all those things to happen; installations, workshops, lectures, film making, soundtracks, collaborations – whatever we’re interested in. So we decided not to let it box us in, but to be whatever it needed to be.
JIM: Absolutely- why put all your eggs in one basket?
Beyond the remix project and gigs, are there any upcoming projects from Origamibrio or individually that we should be on the lookout for?
JIM: Our collective project is always a work in progress whichever way we look at it: I think the third album is going to be very interesting indeed…
Do you have any announcements, closing comments or statements in general that you’d like to throw out into the world to the readers of 2020k?
Check out one of our new live performance pieces, “Specimens” here:
The remix album – which includes remixes by Plaid, Isan, Remote Viewer, Leafcutter John, Melodium, Set In Sand, Offthesky and many more – will be released in April 2012, followed by a live UK tour starting the same month. More info on that to follow soon.