- by Rob Taylor Release Date: Label:
Baba Rosa from Orchestra of Spheres prefers to think of artists like Sun Ra and others as general mapping points rather than direct influences -
SB: You've counted amongst your influences Fela Kuti, CAN, Faust and Amon Duul, and less conventionally, Polynesian No Wave prog, Mbalax, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Shangaan Electro. Such a range of influences is confounding, maybe even alienating for the first time listener. Does it help explain the multitude of things going on in your music?
Baba Rossa: Anything and everything influences us in some way. Not just music either; for us in the band, we are interested in lots of different things: astrology, hunting, cooking pizzas, drawing,
We have no way of telling how these influences might come out in our music.
Similarly any music that we listen to or see performed is an influence. We very rarely list any particular artist or band as a direct influence. The list you just gave names several groups that we do indeed like. But these are in no way more or less influential than a myriad of other music. Of the things you mentioned, I think only Polynesian No Wave was ever cited by us directly as an influence. That's because we made it up. We often make up names of bands and styles to confuse music journalists.
It is not at all important for a listener of our music to know anything more than the sound that's coming into their ears. Our music is very simple. There is nothing difficult or alienating about it. Simply listen to it, or better, come to a gig, because we are a live band and the performance aspect is very important. If you listen to our music with an open-mind then I think anyone can get it.
Lastly, and very importantly, the music we make is our music. We're not trying to imitate anything else. What comes out is what it is.
[SB: Fair Answer, but I must say, it seems a little churlish to make up genres to confuse people like me. I’m capable of confusing myself and anyway, Polynesian No-Wave was such an excellent concept.
I went on to ask about the, at times, rather aloof coolness and histrionics of the vocals, particularly in ‘Walking Through Walls’ to which I drew parallels like Stereolab or even Nico, and which admittedly I find especially droll, and incapable of carrying any emotion except ambivalence, indifference or boredom. But I guess that’s my issue and the band sets me straight] -
Baba Rossa: Interesting interpretation. "Aloof, emotionless histrionics" is your perspective and I don't really agree with it. But you can take from our music what you will, so for you if it is emotionless and aloof then that's a fair call.
We're not singer-songwriters. As such we're not very interested in singing songs. We use voices more for their timbre, than as a way to carry some sort of emotional weight of a lyric. Often we use our voices for chanting, and as a kind of sonic texture.
In some of our songs we might be going for a particular character with our voices, and maybe this is what you interpret as histrionic. For example the song we call "In the Face of Love". I find the lyrics of that one really dark but we recorded our voices through a little voice changer thing that sounds comic. To me the juxtaposition of the lyric and vocal delivery makes it really unhinged. It wasn't intended, it just happened.
Also, aloofness is a valid emotion. If you look at it another way, perhaps the vocals in our music are very emotional, but dealing with emotions which are not so easy to pin down. I guess the world can be a cold, aloof, emotionless place at times, so perhaps this music will speak to those detached souls who are adrift on the earth.
SB: You use homemade instruments like a biscuit tin guitar, a sexomouse marimba and electric bass carillon. Who conceived and built these instruments, and were they influenced by the music of different cultures ?
Baba Rossa: These instruments were generally built by me, Baba Rossa. The bass carillon has gone through various models and was first conceived by a wonderful fellow from Wellington called Warwick Donald, who has an amazing one-man band called Warwick and the Wankers.
The instruments are simply built from what's around, found objects. In the case of the bass carillon that was an old home organ that was sitting around and we ripped the pedals off it and got our mate to play it with his hands.
The biscuit tin guitar is made from found objects that cost nothing, except for strings, a contact mic and an output plug. It's made from a tin, a wooden slat from a futon bed, a piece of deer antler, some whittled drum sticks for tuning pegs, a few screws... that's it. You don't entirely know how it's going to turn out, so it's fun to build these things and then start playing them and see what they can do. The biscuit tin is awesome for feedback.
[SB: When I was reading up on Orchestra of Spheres, I came across a promotions page for a children’s art event in Wellington featuring the band, and describing their show as “A truly interactive musical version of the Mexican wave” with inflatable installations and beautiful projections, which apparently is a real feature of their live experience. I asked them about the Mexican wave thing though because, as appealing as it sounds, it’s a bit cryptic] -
Baba Rosa: I have no idea what this means. We never said this, it was probably the crew who were organising the festival where we played this show for kids. It sounds like they didn't know what we were going to do, so tried to make it sound interesting for the straight parents who were bringing their kids along.
SB: Despite your avant garde trappings, you seem to have a mission to play music that promotes a good time atmosphere. You've described it as 'ecstatic dance music'. Some tracks like 'Anklung Song' definitely promote that feeling. Do you see yourself as a modern trance/dance band like Goat, or do you resist such a mandate?
We try not to get trapped in any one particular mode of playing, we simply make the music that comes through us. I don't think we described our music as "ecstatic dance", but yes, in some ways that's a fairly good description of what's going on, on the surface.
Music is enormously powerful. It has the power to take the musician (and listener if there are any) on a very deep psychological trip. When you are really playing you feel very totally awake, yet you are operating almost completely on feeling and intuition. There is no time to be making conscious decisions. In this zone, there is no such thing as a mistake, everything you do is the right thing to do because the band will make it so. You have to let go of your ego and go where the music leads you.