All I hear is the symphony: interview with Hidden Orchestra

Joe Acheson Hidden Orchestra

IndieBerlin talks to Brighton-based multi-instrumentalist composer/producer Joe Acheson about his eclectic, multidimensional and multigenre project called Hidden Orchestra.

indieBerlin: Tell us a little bit about your musical background.

Hidden Orchestra: I started out singing in choirs and playing in orchestras, studying instruments and composition classically, at the same time playing in bands, DJing, producing, going to gigs/concerts/clubs… I still like learning new instruments and discovering different music from all over the world both new and old. My music is basically the sum of all these influences…

It refers to hidden orchestras in theatre/opera/old movie halls

indieBerlin: How did you come up with the name?

Hidden Orchestra: It refers to hidden orchestras in theatre/opera/old movie halls – and to creating soundtracks for films that haven’t been made yet – and to the fact that it’s an imaginary orchestra compiled out of many individual recordings of different musicians. It’s also a quote from ‘The Book of Disquiet’ by Fernando Pessoa (“my soul is a hidden orchestra, I know not what strings and harps, cymbals and drums I sound and clash inside myself – all I hear is the symphony”).

indieBerlin: How did you get together as a band?

Hidden Orchestra: I was playing in a live drum and bass band which also featured Tim (drums) and Poppy (violin and piano) when I started writing my own studio-produced music as Hidden Orchestra. So when I was asked to perform this music live, I recruited them, and then second drummer Jamie. VJ Tom Newell became a full-time live band member in 2014, and we also often feature guest musicians who were on the album recordings.

hunting through all of this source material to find little bursts of rhythm, melodic hooks, short phrases, single notes and chords

indieBerlin: How does the songwriting process work for you / in your band?

Hidden Orchestra: I write the music alone in my studio, using my field recordings and recordings of musicians made in my studio as source material for sampling.

When I first heard instrumental hip-hop I didn’t know about sampling, and at first, I was disappointed when I discovered that the artists weren’t writing or performing all of these amazing arrangements. I assumed they would be getting an orchestra in to the studio to play a repeated two-bar loop, hiring amazing session bass players and drummers – and I was blown away by the diversity of sounds, instruments, styles, and references contained in a single track or across an album…

But then I learned a lot more about it and how to do it and found a huge respect for the various techniques involved, as well as really enjoying using them to write music.

So I decided to start writing my own original samples, recording short pieces for solo instruments or small ensembles, recording hours of drums with vintage techniques, and hours of field recordings in natural and urban environments, and then hunting through all of this source material to find little bursts of rhythm, melodic hooks, short phrases, single notes and chords. Basically taking all the best bits of these acoustic recordings and combining them together using studio-based sampling techniques from electronic music production. It’s a slow, multi-layered process which often means an album takes several years.

textures built from orchestral instruments and sound recordings of the world around us, with lots of bass and many layers of drums and percussion

indieBerlin: If you had to describe your music to a deaf person, what would you say?

Hidden Orchestra: The same as I say to anyone who hasn’t heard it – textures built from orchestral instruments and sound recordings of the world around us, with lots of bass and many layers of drums and percussion.

indieBerlin: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Hidden Orchestra: I guess my starting points are usually a single sound – any recording that contains something I want to experiment with, and then I just follow my instincts, guided by my influences and experience.

For example, the track I’m working on at the moment started with a cardboard box full of smashed mirrors – I recorded myself tipping the box and the glass tinkling and smashing, then I listened back to the recording and picked some little loops with interesting rhythms, and picked a few sounds that could work as kick drums and snares, and started building beats at a tempo dictated by the natural loops I heard…

Then I started layering up bits of live drum recordings and added a bass line I made by bowing a glockenspiel and pitching it down. Then I unscrewed all the metal bars from the glockenspiel and made sets of wind chimes with different chords. Then I met a clarinet player whose playing I liked, and I invited him to record lots of bass clarinet and clarinet in my studio which I could sample… and suddenly I’m halfway towards something…

Photo by Maxim Abrossimow.

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