Orchestra of Samples is the brainchild of audiovisual duo Addictive TV, made up of DJs and musicians Graham Daniels and Mark Vidler.
The project samples and combines a stunning variety of audio and video recordings to create virtual collaborations between musicians from across the globe. Gathering the material over a number of years, the pair are now on the road, bringing Orchestra of Samples to the appreciative ears of audiences across the UK to celebrate the release of their new album.
What was the initial inspiration behind the Orchestra of Samples project? It seems perfect for BBC Music Day, which is all about unity through music.
[GRAHAM:] Yes, it was a privilege to be asked to play as part of the BBC Music Day and we’re really looking forward to it! And it just so happens that the third track on our new album is called ‘Unity Through Music’.
The idea for Orchestra of Samples came partly from travelling so much while gigging, but also through wanting to create something more than just a show or an album, a truly global project that brought people together regardless of background. Whether musical or cultural, something that illustrated how we’re all connected by music. Now it seems such an obvious idea that I’m not sure why we hadn’t thought of it before, but it took years to create such a large pool to sample from.
Give us some of examples of the instrumentation and the geography of the musicians involved.
[GRAHAM:] Off the top of my head, three interesting instrument examples include a bagpipe made from a whole goat that looks like someone carrying a small animal on their shoulder, a cristol baschet, which is made from glass rods and played with wet fingers, creating a high-pitched sound like running a finger round a wine glass, and – a personal favourite – the incredible sound of the hang, a metal drum that’s a fairly recent invention and has an other-worldly quality. In fact, we based a whole track around our recording of that instrument.
[MARK:] On this point we also have to thank Françoise, our manager. She’s the queen of arranging all the musicians. The whole process has been very organic. It’s via a mixture of friends in different countries introducing us to musicians, who in turn suggest their musician friends, from Colombia to Morocco. Many of the festivals we played at suggested artists they knew. Some sessions were in recording studios, but most were very guerrilla: outdoors in parks, on rooftops, on the streets, in town squares, and with all manner of interruptions.
[GRAHAM:] Recording and filming in public spaces isn’t easy. It draws attention and quite often we’d soon get crowds gathering. But that can also be useful. Once in Dakar in Senegal, we were recording Samba Diop, tama drummer for Senegalese star Baaba Maal, and loads of curious kids gathered and kept giggling and making noise, so we got them to all clap in time and recorded it, and that’s now on the album in a track.
Did you find that it was also an education on a personal level – in different styles of music, different instruments, and so on?
[MARK:] I’ve found working on this fascinating, especially as I’m also a guitarist and, having played with bands in the past, working outside of normal musical conventions has definitely opened my eyes, especially in finding really unexpected combinations of instruments I didn’t know about.
Given that most of the musicians never met, was it a challenge to get some of the recordings to work together?
[MARK:] Finding samples that match is relatively easy. The challenging part is creating cohesive song structures from them. The very obvious route for this type of project that I’ve seen others use is to decide a key and tempo and get different musicians to play in that key and that tempo, so tracks easily slot together, but that’s not been our approach at all. In essence, we’re composing music after the instruments have been recorded without knowing how or if they’ll be used. And all the while we’re doing this process, we’re also editing the video to see how things look. For us, audio and video is all a tandem process.
[GRAHAM:] Once all the samples were listed in key and tempo, it was simply a matter of trying ideas, having a good memory of all the samples, and seeing what settled well on the canvas, so to speak. It’s a bit like having an enormous jigsaw puzzle with no box-lid to see what the puzzle looks like.
How will the live show work?
[GRAHAM:] Well, it’s a super-group of international musicians who’ve never met but play together on screen, alongside live musicians who perform the show with us. The visual element of the live show allows audiences to see the samples and live musicians interacting with and playing alongside the sampled musicians on screen, and in some cases – and I’m sure this isn’t a phrase you often publish – you have musicians playing with themselves, so to speak.
[MARK:] Because we always envisaged live musicians performing on the show, including myself on guitar, we created the tracks in such ways that could incorporate their involvement. That’s been everything from beatboxers, rappers, keyboard players and violinists to guitarists, trumpet players and a multitude of percussionists.
The Sheffield gig at Yellow Arch will be really unique as we’ll be performing with percussionist Paul Gunter from Stomp – he’s one of the original members – and our long-time collaborator, Alejandro de Valera, who’ll be coming over from France. He’s a virtuoso with fretless guitar and plays a specially built seven-string. He’s incredible!
Words: Sam Walby
Orchestra of Samples comes to Yellow Arch on Friday 9 June. Tickets are £5 + booking fee via Party For The People.
The full Sheffield Makes Music programme is available here.