seven | article | interviews | .

interview with rich oddie of orphx
posted on 5-May-2000 by anton
richard oddie of orphx kindly answered our questions; he speaks about the band's history, tells more about the ideas behind the music, mentions upcoming releases on hands and auf abwegen as well as future european tour.
Q: When and how was the band formed?
richard oddie and christina sealey
Orphx began in late 1993 with three members - Richard Oddie, Christina Sealey and Aron West. We were all students at the local university with shared interests in experimental art and culture.
Q: How did you come up with the band name?
The original name was "Oriphix", an amalgamation of the words "Orpheus" and "orifice". The basic idea was a merger of the divine or mythical with the grossly physical. After a few months, we abbreviated the name to "Orphx" in order to create something more ambiguous.
Q: How long have you been writing music for?
Christina and I are the current members of the group, and we have been working together for almost nine years. We first began playing together in a noise rock group and then moved into more abstract, electronic music.
Q: Are you self-taught or classically trained?
While Christina was classically trained on the piano and the guitar, I only had a few formal lessons as a child. Today, we both still play the guitar and piano. Much of our work involves sound processing and programming, but I think that one must have an ear for composition as well as knowledge of the equipment being used.
Q: How different was earlier material from your current output?
Our early material was primarily improvised, using an assortment of scavenged equipment: an old sampler, a couple of synthesizers, reel-to-reel tape machines, and various effects pedals, microphones and amplifiers. While this earlier work was very raw and spontaneous, our more recent work has a more complex rhythmic foundation and a greater range of sound sources and influences. I still like to improvise and I'm particularly fond of interesting accidents, but we now put much more work into creating and arranging sounds.
Q: What were your early influences?
Primarily early industrial groups like SPK, Throbbing Gristle, Zoviet France, Coil, Laibach, and Einsturzende Neubauten. Another major influence was Skinny Puppy and other groups in that rhythmic industiral style, like the Klinik and Clock DVA. Aron was also very fond of groups like Napalm Death and Carcass and I think you can hear some of this influence on our first two tapes. Techno and house, along with early electronic pioneers like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, have always been a major influence for us.
Q: What are you trying to express through your music? Is there an underlying motive? What inspires you and motivates you to write?
The need to survive in this world with sanity intact is my main motivation for making music. I am very interested in the psychological, social, and environmental problems of modern culture and I have been studying these issues for many years. Music is a way of expressing these concerns and, for me, it is also part of the search for answers and solutions; a way of critically questioning accepted social customs and myths. I don't think that art should be reduced to a mere "profession" or "lifestyle" within consumer culture. It can be a means of actively resisting and subverting that culture by revealing the bankruptcy of its values, envisioning new possibilities for the future, and forcing us to remember and rethink the past.
Q: What musicians have you collaborated with and which ones would you like to work with?
In the past, I've collaborated on recordings with Adam Fritz (En Nihil) and Mark Spybey (Dead Voices On Air). The first was released as a limited edition cassette in 1997, while the Spybey recording is still hanging in label limbo. I really enjoy collaborations and remixing because they expose one to new ideas and encourage further experimentation. Right now, I am working on a collaboration with Benny Nilsen (Hazard) and there are plans for similar projects with my friends Jim deJong (the Infant Cycle) and Norman Shaw (Solonism).
Q: Are there any side projects?
In 1995, Christina and I started another project called Antiform to explore more subdued, drone-based sounds. We released one cassette on our Xcreteria label, along with a number of compilation tracks, and we've performed quite a few times as Antiform. Right now, the project is on hiatus due to other commitments, but it will be revived in some form in the future. We hope to re-release all of the Antiform recordings to date sometime next year.
Q: What does the title of your last album symbolize?
"Vita Mediativa" translates from Latin to English as something like "media life" or "the life of the media". The main concept for this album was a commentary on modern life as a mediated existence. We are surrounded by technological devices that are increasingly isolating us from our surroundings and from each other, encouraging an exaggerated individualism and discouraging any sense of community or public solidarity. At the same time, this technology also provides so many new possibilities for creativity and communication. I frequently use television and radio as a source for sounds and images, and I'm always trying to find new and better ways of expressing these ideas. I think it is really a matter of learning to use technology as a means of enhancing life, rather than letting technology dictate the way we live. However, it seems that human beings are very slow learners.
Q: Who worked on the design of the cd cover?
The cover was designed by Nicola Bork of Hands.
Q: How is Hands treating you?
Excellent - I'm very pleased to be able to work with Nicola and Udo. It is a very good partnership because we share similar opinions on many issues. Each release has become a proper collaboration, in terms of how our recordings are packaged and presented.
Q: Noisier music seems to gain more recognition these days, what are your thoughts about it; why is it happening, will it ever hit mainstream, or will it remain the media for those pushing the boundaries?
Well, I think it is quite obvious that the volume and aggression of music has been accelerating over the last few decades. The sounds of artists like Merzbow and MSBR seem to me like the terminal end point of an intensification of music that began with the first overdriven guitars of American blues artists like Muddy Waters. Rock musicians later copied this sound and rhythmic structure, and raised the volume and intensity of the sound even higher. Now, noise music, following in the wake of heavy metal, punk, and grindcore, has stripped away the familiar rock structure to focus on the pure intensity of high-speed, high energy sound. I think that this increased tolerance to noisy, dissonant music is a reaction to the rapidly increasing volume and stress levels of the urban environment. It is a search for more energy, more raw power, in the face of accelerating change and uncertainty. Of course, every underground art form eventually filters down into the mainstream in some way but it must be gradually modified and "watered-down" in order to be transformed into a safe and easily marketable product. So punk becomes "pop punk", alternative music becomes "modern rock", techno becomes "dance music", industrial becomes "synth pop" or "industrial rock". Any challenging aesthetic and/or political force is reduced to a mere style to be marketed along with the appropriate fashion accessories. The "mainstream" is more like a stagnant pond, choked with decaying algae. I think that artistic innovation occurs on the periphery of this commercial cesspool and eventually filters downstream, but I also believe that there is more to experimental music than just intense volume and dissonance. Although the Japanese artists have pushed music to the limits of intensity and formlessness, I think there are still many more interesting places to go.
Q: What are your thoughts about the trends in experimental/noise genre - influences from outside genres (techno, drum'n'bass, dub, ebm), tendency to become more abstract. Are there any boundaries that still are to be reached, or the music has pushed the extreme?
Well, I don't think that experimental music is a genre. How could it be truly experimental if it is easily labelled and categorised? "Noise" or "power electronics" has gradually become a genre and now we all know what to expect from a typical "noise" or "power electronics" album. I find this really boring and predictable - the very opposite of experimentation. I'm much more interested in music that draws from numerous different sources to create something new. Eventually, these innovations become solidified into a genre like "rock", "industrial" or "techno" but my favourite artists are those who dissolve these stylistic barriers. Certainly, there are many who have taken music to formal extremes, like extreme volume, complexity, or silence, but I don't think that this exhausts the spirit of experimentation at all. There are always new avenues to explore, new combinations to try.
Q: How important is innovation and exploration for your music?
I think it is very important to keep trying new approaches and thinking in new ways. With each new recording, I want to take things in directions that are unexpected, both for myself and for others. I enjoy art that strikes a balance between experimentation and the traditional forms in which it is rooted. I feel most comfortable experimenting with the various elements of electronic music, as well as blues and jazz, and these basic elements provide a meaningful vocabulary for me to work with.
Q: How can other media compliment and enrich the experience of music? (e.g.: visuals, stage presence, fashion, etc.)
I think that it is difficult to present music like ours, which is largely the product of experiments in the studio, in a way that is visually entertaining to an audience. It is generally more interesting to watch a live drummer or guitarist than it is to see two people turning knobs and pressing buttons. In our recent shows, Christina has been using a lot of homemade instruments and this adds more of an element of performance in the traditional sense. In all of our concerts, we use film and video that we have created to compliment the sounds and help illustrate some of the ideas that have inspired the music. I think that music should be able to stand on its own but, in a live setting, visual stimuli can deepen the experience.
Q: How's the scene like in your area?
There really isn't one, at least not for this sort of music. We have many friends in Canada who are working in similar areas, such as the Infant Cycle and Vromb, and there are many small labels that help promote this music, but the support is very fragmented within Canada. There is a scene in Toronto for techno, house, and drum and bass, but we are rarely involved in these events. I think that there are many interesting artists here in Canada, but many of them seem to work in relative isolation and often try to find a more receptive audience outside of the country.
Q: How important are the live shows to you, how do they influence your music and creativity?
I enjoy performing, although it takes a lot of time for us to prepare a new concert. New music has to be written, and new visuals created as well. It takes a great deal of time and energy but it can also be very rewarding because it gives one the opportunity to meet other artists and interact with the people who listen to the music. This is really the most important part for us. It is also a challenge to create images that properly compliment the music.
Q: How do you explain the fact that the noisier side of music is not nearly as popular in Canada and states as it is in Europe?
It seems that Europeans are, in general, more tolerant of unusual forms of cultural expression. I think that this is due, in part, to the fact that European culture is more diverse, with customs varying from one country to another over relatively short geographical distances. But in North America, and especially the United States, popular opinion seems to be shaped more by the mass media than local customs, creating a large monoculture where genuine difference is often cause for suspicion. In North America, the vast majority of people seem content to be passively "entertained" by easily digestible mass media pabulum, not challenged by new forms of art that might cause them to think critically.
Q: What do you think about mp3s and their influences on music scene (both underground and mainstream)?
I don't know much about mp3s, except that I don't like the sound of them. Maybe I have only heard them played through very cheap soundcards, but the few that I have listened to sounded quite poor. It seems that mp3s are posing a serious threat to major record labels and I think it will be interesting to see how they attempt to deal with this threat. I really don't know enough about the situation to make an intelligent comment. However, I have to say that I don't care for the idea of purchasing and downloading entire albums from the internet. Personally, I'd rather hold a physical object in my hand.
Q: What do you think about the audience for this particular type of music (as opposed to more mainstream industrial, electro, synthpop genres)?
I suspect that they are more tolerant of different types of music; less concerned with styles and fashions. But this is just a generalisation…
Q: What are you currently listening to and what recent releases have you especially enjoyed?
I listen to all sorts of music, but recently I have been listening to a lot of old jazz, blues and dub. Some more contemporary sounds: Rhythm and Sound, Autechre, the Infant Cycle, Vromb, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, Mouse On Mars, Solvent, Microstoria, Ryoji Ikeda, Carsten Nicolai, John Duncan…
Q: What are you trying to accomplish with your live show?
Basically, we are interested in presenting the music in a new light. We don't try to recreate the sound of previous recordings. Instead, we try to expand the material into new versions and transform what is essentially the product of studio experimentation into a more spontaneous, genuinely "live", creation. This is very difficult for us to do, because we are obviously limited by the amount of equipment that we can bring with us, especially when we are playing outside of Canada. For each concert series, we have created films and videos that compliment the music and point toward some of the ideas behind our work. For the next tour in Europe, we have put together a new video, using original footage and 16mm film cut-ups, that I think works very well with the sounds.
Q: What equipment do you use and how many people are involved?
The equipment that we use for live performances really depends on the situation and the type of structures that we want to create. Our current set-up includes a four-track, mixer, tape players, radio, effects pedals and processor, along with numerous home-made instruments and gadgets. We are trying to combine two different approaches, integrating electronic sounds and rhythms with electro-acoustic instruments and processed location recordings.
Q: How different is your live act from your studio material?
Again, this depends upon the situation. We are now trying to use the studio material as the starting point, stripping the tracks down to their basic structure and then heading off in new directions by using only the instruments that we have selected for the live performance.
Q: What are the tour plans for this year?
The dates in Europe and Britain are as follows:
 
  • Friday, May 19th: Zaal Eland - Gent, Belgium. with Winterkalte.
  • Saturday, May 20th: Stellwerk - Berlin, Germany. with Winterkalte.
  • Sunday, May 21st: MS Stubnitz - Rostock, Germany. with guests t.b.a.
  • Friday, May 26th: C.U.B.A. - Muenster, Germany. with guests t.b.a.
  • Saturday, May 27th: E-Werk - Erlangen, Germany.
    with Klangkrieg, Militia, Inade, and Thorofon.
  • Friday, June 2nd: Rock Café - Prague, Czech Republic.
  • Sunday, June 11th: WGT 2000 festival - Leipzig, Germany.
    with Scorn, Xingu Hill, Morgenstern, Silk Saw, Architect, Templegarden's and many others.
     
    We will also be performing one or two concerts in Scotland between June 17th and July 1st.
  • Q: What does the future hold for Orphx, what new material is coming, what will the music direction be; any compilation appearances?
    A new 12" on Hands will be released in May and there will be a 10" from Auf Abwegen in the next few months. Recent compilation tracks are on State Art, Plate Lunch, and Hands. The next CD will be released via Hands before the end of the year. For this recording, I will be using recordings from my local environment as the primary sound source. There will also be a companion video of processed images.
    Q: Top releases in 1999?
    The Infant Cycle "Old Plus Four" / Pan Sonic "A" / Godspeed You Black Emperor "Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada" / Mogwai "Come On Die Young" / Stereolab "Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night" / Vromb "Perimetre 3+10" / the "Teknoir" comp on Hymen.
    Q: Top disappointments of 1999?
    I haven't bought many terrible records lately. Plastikman's "Consumed" was a bit of a disappointment, though.
    Q: Favourite book/movie
    Of course, it is not possible to choose one. There are so many important books, but I really enjoy writers like Henry Miller, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Hermann Hesse, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Colin Wilson. My favourite directors include Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, George Romero, John Salles.
    Q: Any final comments?
    Let me thank you for the interview, Anton. And our thanks also to those who have supported us and our music.

    related links
    orphx "fragmentation" review
    orphx "vita mediativa" review
    orphx "surface" review

     
    seven | article | interviews | .