The duo threw together some of their favorite tracks as part of an exclusive mix for Spinner/RPM (which you can stream after the jump), featuring everyone from Talk Talk and Talking Heads to Spacemen 3, Arthur Russell and Tim Hecker, and gave us a brief explanation of the songs they chose, their various inspirations, and shared musical tastes.
Why did you guys decide to work together?
Benoit Pioulard: Raf was the co-curator for Seattle's annual Decibel Festival [an electronic and digital arts festival] when we first met. He booked me as Benoît Pioulard in 2009. It was a somewhat intimidating thing for me, since I'd so far only done one short tour, but following the show he and I kept in touch and began experimenting with guitar setups at his studio a few months later, which eventually led to adding vocals and aiming for more "proper" compositions -- even though there is still a major improvisatory influence on the outcome.
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Working with Tom was very harmonious, as we have very similar thoughts in regards to aesthetics. Tom is an amazing singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and genuinely fun to hang out with. At the time we started working, Tom was living in Portland, Oregon. He would drive up to Seattle for a couple days at a time and we would spend time in my home studio, just working on different sound collages and ideas. Sometimes, by the time he was headed back home that week, we would have a few sketches finished. Tom wrote all the lyrics, sometimes on the fly, as we were going to track some vocal ideas. We split the instrument duties fairly equally. I think our collaborative efforts complemented each other's areas -- for instance, Tom would be playing on a glockenspiel with a bow, and I would sample that playing and manipulate the sound until it is completely unrecognizable as the original instrument. The same could be said about the voice, as I sampled lots of snippets of Tom's vocals and constructed percussive kits with it. We also had some contributions from a few other friends, which is always nice. For instance, [electronic/ambient artist] Loscil sent me a very nice drone he made and I sampled it on one of the songs.
What are the songs about? I know one is about Tom being aboard a train in France that hit someone. Why did that inspire you to write a song, and which song did it inspire?
BP: That's correct, and the song you're talking about is "Arrow Drawn." I was affected pretty profoundly by the experience of being on that train, especially by the outraged & impatient reactions of the other passengers as we had to wait on the tracks for four hours and they missed various meetings etc., with seemingly no regard for the person who'd just killed himself. But I also realized that I'd never know who it was, why he chose to do it, what was going through his head at that moment, and so on, so it felt natural to do something with that open end. As for the other songs, some are loosely based on conversations or dream imagery ("Subtle Escape"), one is about crows ("Carrion") and the rest, I suppose, can be left to interpretation. Actually I don't even remember what I was singing on "Certain Abstractions!"
Watch Orcas' "Arrow Drawn" Video
Tell us a bit about your musical tastes, are they very similar?
RAI: We share quite the same taste, but perhaps even more when it comes to aesthetics. This became fairly apparent when we would just kick it after a long day of recording, having some scotch and watching "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- we are both big Larry David fans, for example.
BP: Well put. There were also some good times raising a glass of good imported beer and listening to various types of dirge-like doom jazz. So deep.
How does the mix reflect your individual tastes?
RAI: You know, it's an interesting thing you ask. Anybody can make a slow piece of music and call it ambient (or at worst, that 800%slower trend from a few years ago). Anybody can do that! Having said that, very few people can do "ambient" that transcends a time period, which engages your attention, while at the same time could become background music if you unfocused your attention, but yet, expressed many emotions and interpretations while deep listening to the same piece of music. Almost like a Rorschach image -- a piece of music that with every listen, you discover a new layer, a different angle. So perhaps, while anybody can make something "ambient" fairly easily, learning how to do what I just said above is quite challenging, and something that requires some degree of musical growth/maturity and knowledge. Minimalism is perhaps one of the most highly skilled disciplines in modern music.
Who's the bigger Mark Hollis fan? Who chose Arthur Russell etc?
RAI: I'll let our respective listeners judge for themselves. Can you tell?