Meeting and recording musicians is always a joy, and two wonderful artists – both local to us in east London – that we’d met through separate projects but only now got to record for Orchestra of Samples are multi-instrumentalist Layil Barr and clarinettist František Holčík.
We’ve been commissioned by Manchester based cultural arts organisation ArtReach to create an installation for their Journeys Festival International with Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, sampling a number of musician sanctuary seekers and refugees from across Europe.
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.
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.
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.
London based ‘Fordey’ Forde, who’s actually now performed with us a number of times, especially as part of our Dhol Addiction project with east London’s Dhol Academy, is an incredibly talented percussionist we’d met through our old friend Paul Gunter from Stomp.
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!
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.
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).
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.
In early 2021, with the pandemic and resulting lockdowns continuing, we were fortunate to receive funding from Arts Council England to further develop Orchestra of Samples, so began organising recording sessions with musicians in the UK, starting in London while lockdown limited our travel.
For over a year, working with East London community music project Stow-lab, we’ve been co-organising a series of music events and workshops called Plugged, with the ethos of connecting people through music. We were also successful in receiving funding from Arts Council England to organise a whole programme of events.
Having become the first musician to ever achieve world respected solo-percussionist status, awarded an OBE in 1993 and then made a Dame in 2007, we’re not sure where to start with Dame Evelyn, apart from saying it’s an absolute honour to have her as part of Orchestra of Samples!
From collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bjork and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler to performing with Underworld at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, world class virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie isn’t an artist to be easily pigeonholed.
Inspired by the thirty year old concept of the European Capital of Culture and the more recent UK City of Culture programmes, London Mayor Sadiq Khan in early 2017 announced the brand new initiative of London Borough of Culture. And with London being the size it is, what a great idea! 22 out of London’s 32 boroughs entered their bids and in February 2018 it was announced that Waltham Forest was the winner to become London’s first ever Borough of Culture. And this just happens to be where we’re based!
Last week, during our current tour, we played a wonderful date in the small UK town of Borden at their Phoenix Arts Centre, where rapper Matt Malone and long-time collaborator and percussionist Paul Gunter joined us for the performance. After rehearsals we took the opportunity to record a session with Paul, who’s played so many times with us but still hadn’t been recorded for sampling!
It’s the summer of the long heatwave! The last 2018 UK tour gigs before the summer break saw us perform Orchestra of Samples in the UK towns of Milton Keynes at the IF: Milton Keynes International Festival with Dame Evelyn Glennie, in Horsham where 2018 BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist Toril Azzalini-Machecler joined us and in Harwich at the Harwich Festival of the Arts, performing in one of the oldest cinemas in the world, the beautiful Electric Palace built in 1911 (we also happen to be the last artists to perform there, as it’s now undergoing a huge restoration).
One of the occasions in Orchestra of Samples where lyrics have been especially written for a track created from improvised samples, Joe Publik – who’s travelled almost as much as we have – instantly understood and… connected with the project and it was great working with him.
Time to record some more vocals! Last year in East London we supported afrobeat group Yaaba Funk and their friends, including the incredible trumpet player Byron Wallen and singer Helen McDonald.
We first saw South African artist Anna Alcock’s beautiful artwork in 2014 in an art exhibition at her Inky Cuttlefish Studios in East London. We immediately thought her style of artwork would be great for an Orchestra of Samples album cover.
It’s not often you get asked to perform in a cathedral!
This year, events at Coventry’s Festival of Imagineers took place in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral, heavily bombed during Word War 2. We were scheduled to perform Orchestra of Samples outdoors in the ruins but due to rain the festival had to move many of the days events inside the new cathedral right next door. Alejandro de Valera, our long time French guitarist, came over from Paris to join us on this one, playing his self-built fretless guitar.
Summer 2016 and we performed Orchestra of Samples in the UK city of Leicester for the Journeys Festival, who’d introduced us to Iranian percussionist, composer and producer Arian Sadr, who performed the show with us. So given a…
Awesome awesome night! Always great to play on home turf, not just the UK but the good old East End of London! Guesting with us were members of afrobeat/world/jazz/funk band Yaaba Funk – both percussionists Clive Wales and Paul Brett and the superb trumpet player Byron Wallen, often cited as one of the best trumpeters in the World.
Well, what a fantastc review from Cultured Vultures! Click here to go to the article… but a few choice extracts below…
“I’ve been to a lot of live events and seen and heard some fairly unique things… Nothing could prepare me for Orchestra of Samples though.”
An inspirational and innovative musical force to so many, including ourselves, Stereolab’s front woman Laetitia Sadier was a natural choice to approach to be part of Orchestra of Samples and working with her was a joy.