Secret Thirteen Interview - Orphx

Richie Oddie Orphx

© Courtesy of Orphx

Orphx, the Canadian duo of Richard Oddie and Christina Sealey, dare to go into many extremes of electronic music merging the mechanical/ futuristic pulse of techno, mathematic complexity of glitch/IDM, rawness and anger of industrial, subtle cold elegance of EBM. However, their sonic labyrinths are constructed in a very wise way, guiding listener along the path of their unpredictable rhythmics. We might compare them to a brutalist or futuristic architectural structures, that are inspiring, monumental, but at the same time frightening and intimidating. Concrete, glass, plastic collides like various different waveforms.

Their music suits for both body and mind. Listener can move to or just be immersed by the techno soundscapes of Orphx. In this interview Orphx discloses their methods of building their constructions, inspirations, musical contexts and other things related to their cold, monolithic, but very intensive world of sounds.

Orphx sound seems to merge industrial and techno influences. What do you think are the most essential connection points between first wave industrial and later techno music?

Rich: I think early techno was only indirectly inspired by industrial music but there have been a number of points over the last thirty years when those industrial influences have become more prominent. We began combining elements of industrial music and techno around 1995. We were inspired by early industrial artists like SPK and Throbbing Gristle, as well as second wave groups like Skinny Puppy and The Klinik. But we were also involved in the rave scene around Toronto in the early 1990s and we took a lot of influence from what we were hearing at those parties and from labels like Plus 8 / Probe, Underground Resistance and Basic Channel. One of the things that always drew me to techno was its mixture of utopian and apocalyptic themes and atmospheres. That dark side of techno, and its industrial roots, seems to come in and out of prominence and popularity in response to what is happening in the wider culture that surrounds it.

What do you think is the role of new technology in composing music? How is it important to you? Do you rely more on digital or analog sound?

Christie: We began using only a few pieces of equipment that we'd managed to collect: one synthesizer, an 8-bit sampler, an old drum machine, a reel to reel tape machine, and some microphones and effects pedals. We learned how to use basic sequencing with MIDI and learned how to build contact microphones, create feedback circuits, and build other simple machines for making sounds. We relied heavily on analog synths and hardware until around 2000, when we began to discover and incorporate more computer software for creating, processing and recording sounds. Around 2005, we started using Ableton Live to create a more dynamic approach to live performance, allowing us to improvise our sets in response to the crowd. More recently, I've been investing a lot of time and energy in modular synthesis and I've put together a system that is becoming more and more prominent in our studio work and live performances.

Are there any records that you think sound particularly different when performed live? Has the computer ever crashed during a performance?

Christie: Our performances have always been different from the recordings, since we always have some degree of improvisation and try tried to add new and different elements each time. Now our shows are always improvised, using elements from the studio recordings but reworking them. We have had minor accidents during performances but we both have enough going individually that we can cover for the other person. Though I remember one performance at an art gallery in Edinburgh in 2000 that had to end early when a faulty power converter began melting the mixer that we were using!

Rich: And the show in Prague where I blew up a power bar...

Orphx performing live

Photo by GAndy

You seem very cosmopolitan, as your band has visited many countries across Atlantic. What would be the best show in your career? Where and why? Maybe they are related to your personalities or events of some period happening at the same time (e.g. John Cage first performance of 4'33'' caused scandal and probably was one of the most memorable for him)?

Rich: We have been fortunate to play at a lot of great venues and events but I think my favourite gig was aboard the MS Stubnitz in 1998. This is a WWII era boat that has been converted into a mobile arts center and venue. It was docked in Stockholm that summer for a festival. It was one of our first performances in Europe and we opened up for Pan Sonic. I remember the hull of the ship vibrating from the bass frequencies. Beautiful.

Christie: Our recent show at Berghain was a great experience - an amazing club, crowd and sound system. Maschinenfest in 2001 was memorable in a different way because it was in an underground WWII bunker that was so hot and packed with people that sweat was dripping from the ceiling on to our equipment. And the US had just started bombing Afghanistan so we were really nervous about flying back home on a US airline.

In every band everyone has different responsibilities. Could you tell about your responsibilities in the band? Do you sometimes argue after your live shows, when one of you do something wrong or not according to the plan? What time did you need until you sorted things out and started working effectively together?

Christie: Our early recordings and concerts were totally improvised. I played a sampler and reel-to-reel tape loops, and Rich used a synth, drum machine and metal percussion. Our friend Aron West used an old Mac computer for sequencing and generating sounds. From about 1998 to 2008, most of the studio recordings were made by Rich. I would add sounds here and there and we collaborated on the live shows. For the last few years, starting with our first release on Sonic Groove, we have been collaborating on the studio recordings, sometimes working separately on tracks but often trading them back and forth. Rich excels at the arrangements and I enjoy creating sounds so this is often how the work gets divided. Currently, we have the best set-up for working together on live shows. None of it is pre-recorded so we do not have to worry so much about sticking to a set plan or accidentally deviating from it. We will have ideas about where we want the show to go but things are open to change depending on the crowd and we each have control over rhythms, samples and melodies to work on the fly. It is a lot more exciting and ideas that come out during live performances often find their way into new recordings.

Orphx sound is quite intense, powerful, cold, even angry. What kind of emotions do you try to channel and what reaction do you expect from listener?

Rich: I think our music is a reflection of what we see around us. It's a way of taking negative energy and emotions from daily life and working with them, transforming them. I think that those who enjoy our music also find this cathartic quality. I have always been attracted to music and art that takes a hard look at problems and challenges rather than trying to provide a distraction from them. It's not about celebrating anger, fear or hate but about acknowledging that kind of energy and trying to work through it.

In Orphx sound, often referred to as techno, we might hear traces of industrial, abstract, glitch, reminiscent of architectural structures. Are you inspired by architecture in this case? Maybe you explore Russian architecture of cold war period or maybe you are fans of gigantic constructions middle Asia? Tell us about the objects you are interested in, the philosophy behind them, the way you feel it.

Rich: Our music is not directly inspired by architecture but I definitely took a lot of inspiration from the many industrial sites in this area, especially some abandoned sites near my house when I was a teenager. It's obviously a cliche for someone who makes "industrial music" but those places really had a big impact on me. There is something mysterious, sad, and beautiful about large abandoned factory sites, when the structure and machines have decayed and vegetation and animal life has started to reclaim it. I have a real fascination for abandoned buildings like this.

Photo by Chris Christian

Photo by Chris Christian

Could you present the current situation in the Canadian electronic music scene? Maybe there are some interesting underrated artists? How everything developed during previous years? Maybe you missed something or, on the contrary, better conditions to spread music in various spheres emerged? What are the tendencies among listeners? Maybe the scene lacks something, some areas need improvement?

Rich: It's hard to generalize about electronic music in Canada, or anywhere else, as there are lots of different scenes. In terms of "underground" electronic music, there are small but vibrant techno / house scenes in Montreal, Toronto and a few other cities. And Montreal hosts some very good electronic music festivals such as Mutek and Elektra. There are many artists who are operating outside of the mainstream / commercial trends that many people in North America now associate with "electronic dance music". Vromb, Huren, Thoughts On Air and The Infant Cycle are some of the Canadian artists that I think deserve more attention.

In what things in music do you believe and don't believe? What about its evolution progress or regress in terms of ideology and technology (performing)? How do you imagine listener and music evolution after 13 years? Maybe you could share your vision? How do you see yourself in it?

Rich: This is a pretty vast topic. Even if we are talking just about electronic music, I don't think I can predicate what will happen over the next few years. I think there has been a general movement in live electronic music away from laptop playback and towards genuine live performance and improvisation, using controllers and/or hardware, and I hope that continues with new technologies for physically manipulating sound.

Christie: Hopefully, we will also see new ways for independent artists to make enough money to survive.

Ideally, where would you like to see your music used?

Christie: We make our music for clubs and home listening, but we are also quite keen to work on soundtracks and have our music used in more films.

When Thomas Stafford and Alexei Leonov met each other, they made their first symbolic handshake in space and it was wonderful gesture, that inspired moderate people of two powerful nations in times, when there was huge tension between those countries. What kind of personality would you like to meet? From whom would you like to receive some more knowledge, inward strength or courage? Why do you think that this personality would enrich you as a person or inspire you?

Rich: I'm not sure if there is a particular person that I would like to meet but it's always a learning experience and often an inspiration to work with other people, and we've been lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with some great artists.

Can you tell us about the most memorable projects, names and record labels that helped you in your career? Could you also tell us about your future plans? With whom would you like to collaborate?

Christie: In the beginning, we connected with a lot of people that influenced our music and helped us out. Jim DeJong (aka The Infant Cycle) ran a cassette label called Doomsday Transmissions that introduced us to the tape trading culture that was active in the 1990s. That inspired Rich and Aron to start up Xcreteria, a cassette label and mail order distributor that Rich operated until about 1998. Our friend Praveer Baijal ran another label, Body and Blood, that released our first track on CD and he introduced us to a lot of new music, including labels like Sahko and Basic Channel which later had a big influence on our music. Body and Blood helped us connect with Malignant Records, who released our first CD, Fragmentation, in 1996. This release led to our long friendship with the Hands label, who have released much of our work since 1998.

Rich: Our movement into techno was facilitated by Adam X, who approached us after a concert in 2008. We instantly connected with him around the idea of bringing together industrial music and techno, and he invited us to start releasing on his revived Sonic Groove label. That has been a great relationship and Adam has become a good friend of ours. We've collaborated with a lot of artists over the years, including Mark Spybey (Dead Voices On Air), Jim DeJong (The Infant Cycle) and Adam Fritz (En Nihil). Aron and I have started working together again under the name Oureboros, and we've also started up a new project with our friend Dave Foster called O/H. Dave was another big influence for us. He's released consistently excellent music under the names Teste and Huren, among others.

Christie: At the moment, we're working on a new release for Sonic Groove and the first release on a new label that we're launching next year. Plus more remixes and a collaboration with Ancient Methods that should come out next year as well. We're also putting together another small European tour for the spring and will hopefully be playing in the US later in the year.

You are both teachers as well as musicians. What do you teach and does this influence your music?

Rich: I teach human geography and politics. Politics and philosophy have influenced my music for a long time and references to different topics are often in the song titles and samples that I use.

Christie: I teach visual art and I have recently started teaching electronic music recording and synthesis. I divide my working hours between music and painting, and find that they both influence each other.

What measures do you use to improve your productivity, creative process? Maybe you have some strange habits here like Albert Enstein, who used to find his stimulus, ideas and quietness for his calculations while playing violin. Or maybe inward concentration or inborn productivity, developed in your country over long period, is enough for your art? Could you elaborate on it?

Christie: Walking, mostly at night, and listening to the sounds around me. I will often hear a sound that inspires an idea for a sound or pattern in the studio.

Rich: Walking and listening, for sure. Reading – mostly horror, science fiction, philosophy. And lots of caffeine.

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