Since launching in 2014, Sheffield based Talking Gigs have featured an incredible line-up of performers including Bassekou Kouyate, Robyn Hitchcock, Tinariwen, Sam Lee, Emmanuel Jal and many others.  Supported by Songlines magazine, and half interview / talk show and half concert and it’s an innovative format that gives audiences a real close-up insight into an artist’s work, life and culture. More than just an interview, artists perform particular songs in the first half, discussing them with the interviewer, before performing a full concert in the second half.

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While in India, for our performance of Orchestra of Samples in Pondicherry, we were introduced to the wonderful composer and mandolin master Uppalapu Rajesh, known as U Rajesh. Renowned for his innovative take on Carnatic Indian classical music, Rajesh feels musical techniques come after savouring the music, saying audiences should use their heart to enjoy music first.

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Having recorded a number of times in India for Orchestra of Samples and with the project being a UK-French venture, in early April 2022 we were invited to performed the show in India at the French Rendez-Vous Festival in the coastal city of Puducherry, organised by the French Institute of India and international cultural organisation Les Francophonies.

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This month we were invited for a residency at More Music, the forward-thinking community space and education charity in the UK’s northwest Lancashire coastal town of Morecame.  As well as being a performance venue, they have a recording studio, education activities and youth centre with outreach programmes working with local schools via Lancashire Music Hub.

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The current issue of Future Music Magazine features a three page article about us and our 2017 Orchestra of Samples album in their ‘Classic Albums’ section.  Each issue of the magazine focuses on an album they see as breaking the mould, doing something innovative, making its mark and so on; it was a real honour to have been asked.  As well as interviewing us, they asked us to write about each track on the album, and how that track came about.

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As part of our collaboration with Indonesian artist Kuntari for the British Council’s Connections Through Culture programme, we’ve now released two new Orchestra of Samples tracks, both sampling field recordings made in Indonesia and elsewhere.  Our two new tracks, Somewhere Else and 4 Times, are part of the release called Pararatronic, together with two tracks from Kuntari and released by Dutch label Audiomaze.

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As pandemic restrictions ease in the UK and more live events begin to happen again, it felt fantastic to be back on the road for our first gig of 2022, having already had a gig cancelled in early January in France!  We headed to Ipswich, in the east of the UK, to perform at The New Wolsey Theatre, who – as part of their opening season – hosted a few nights of music performances, including a jazz night from the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars and from ourselves with Orchestra of Samples.

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Originally from Sri Lanka and blind from birth, percussionist Ghow Ratnarajah is an expert with mridangam and kanjira drums – the primary rhythmic accompaniment in Carnatic music ensembles – he also sings in both Tamil and occasionally Hindi.  We’ve both performed and worked with Ghow a number of times, including on shows in the UK and in India, and last year on our documentary project Our Journeys for the London Borough of Culture 2020, so it was great to finally recorded him for Orchestra of Samples.

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With Covid restrictions in the UK easing more and more, we headed north to the city of Manchester for our first trip outside London since the pandemic began! Just east of the city, in the foothills of the Pennines is the small town of Ashton-Under-Lyne, where we were recording Sufi singer/songwriter, musician and peace activist Sarah Yaseen.

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Originally from Italy and now living in the UK, Alex Akal is an experimental musician who connects traditional instruments with contemporary music. A multi-instrumentalist with a taste for progressive and psychedelic rock, he blends instruments and sounds from around the world, creating his own unique style of music. As well as singing, he plays didgeridoo, drums, electric guitar, bass guitar, fujara (a Slovak flute), dan moi (a Vietnamese mouth harp) and both Native American flute and dvojnice (a flute played in many parts of the Balkans); as it happens, we previously recorded dvojnice in Croatia and then very recently a fujara too, with its beautiful deep bassy sound.

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With east London’s Big Creative Academy supporting Orchestra of Samples with the use of their recording studios, we organised a filming and recording session with Saul Eisenberg aka The Junk Orchestra.  From performing, teaching and workshopping to appearing on numerous television shows, The Junk Orchestra rock ‘n’ recycle a huge collection of re-invented objects all salvaged from “the industries of the sprawling metropolis” as he puts it!

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Having set-up recording sessions with both multi-instrumentalist Andrew Cronshaw and duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan, both introduced us to their fellow musician friend Ian Blake.  A talented composer and producer himself, Ian plays woodwinds, keyboards and bass, and we recorded him improvising on bass clarinet and soprano sax.

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We were incredibly pleased to be introduced to British multi-instrumentalist Andrew Cronshaw, who plays a wonderful range of non-mainstream instruments, and we recorded him playing three: a 74-stringed electrified chord zither; then a fujara (a nearly 2 metre long 3-hole overtone vertical whistle from central Slovakia); and a marovantele (a double sided 44-stringed hybrid of Finnish kantele and Madagascan marovany which Andrew designed himself).

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Continuing with our 2021 UK recordings, particularly looking for lesser known instruments, we read about Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan, so decided to get in touch.  He’s one of few people in the UK who’s a master of the ancient Armenian instrument, which is a double reeded oboe-like woodwind hollowed out of apricot wood; it has a beautifully melancholic sound. We also recorded him playing pku, the single-reeded horn.

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As pandemic lockdowns around the world began to ease and outdoor events began to slowly happen, one area of London decided to have a whole weekend of online only events, celebrating the London Borough of Newham and its incredible cultural diversity for audiences to watch worldwide. From 14 – 16 August 2020, Newham Unlocked streamed a live programme of arts and music, including circus, cabaret and theatre performances.

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Slotting in between India and a project next month in Indonesia, we headed to France at the end of January 2020. Sadly just a few days before the official Brexit deadline of January 31st, when the UK bids farewell to the EU, as we’d been asked by prestigious French arts venue The Pompidou Centre to perform Orchestra of Samples on January 24th as the last British artists to perform there before the official departure; particularly as our project is a musical journey without borders, about connecting cultures.

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