For those in the UK, we are lucky enough to be treated to Rafael Anton Irisarri and Benoit Pioulard live solo shows on May 26th at Cafe OTO. Even luckier still, the two will also be playing as Orcas for their first ever London show as part of the Centrifuge event. Rafael Anton Irisarri has been pleasing the ears of Fluid Radio with a variety of releases on Room 40, Miasmah, Ghostly International and Immune and has worked with the likes of Goldmund, Pantha Du Prince, Simon Scott, Echospace and, most recently, Benoit as 'Orcas'. Fluid Radio's Andy Gillham recently caught up with Rafael to find out a bit more about the up and coming gig, studio kit , Seattle festivals and good books amongst other things...
We are looking forward to seeing you and Benoit play live at Cafe Oto in London. Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect at the gig?
We will be playing solo sets first – Benoit will be playing an electroacoustic version of his live set, and I’ll be performing some new pieces made for electric guitar, laptop and amplifiers.
My new RAI set is all about live signal routing and processing, while still incorporating elements from field recordings captured in the Pacific Northwest and pseudo-classical multi-sectional arrangements created as part of the improvisational process.
For our Orcas set – we will be playing songs off our Morr Music debut album, along with a few improv sections and etudes in signal routing. It’s nice to be able to play with somebody else, grab their signal, loop it, process and re-process it live, as new layers and textures appear. It is a very similar way we started to work on the music that became part of our first album.
Your music draws on numerous influences and, to my ears, is invariably steeped in a fair degree of emotional introspection. I appreciate that music provides different feelings for different people – and it’s remiss to describe anybody’s work with just two words – but what is that draws you to making the kind of music you do?
You know, that’s a very tough question. I don’t think I consciously made the decision to sound like “X” or “Y.” I think as I’ve built my vocabulary, I’ve drawn from many elements, not just musically speaking, but in general and ultimately have form a complex ecosystem of ideas – they all converge into forming an artistic identify. Emotion is still present, as I find music the way to express my thoughts and feelings and it forms the basis for many of my compositions. I view the music I make as an extension of my own personality – sometimes if sad, sometimes, angry, others pleasantly surprised.
I also like spontaneity, I feel that letting go of constrains and preconceptions is rather liberating, hence trying to improvise as much as I can while in the studio or while performing live. In the studio, great accidents happen while doing so, thus my “job” becomes that of managing those ‘accidents’ and shaping them into a cohesive form, much in a way a painter will accidentally damage a canvas with paint, only to realize on second look that there is a very interesting shaped formed when viewed from a specific angle – I would say that putting things in the correct angle to view such perspective is the managing part. In a live scenario, it’s a huge risk to undertake, not really having a plan of action, but that’s the beauty of the risk – it’ll turn out to be terrible or absolutely brilliant, but without taking that risk, well, great (or terrible) things are not possible. Risk keeps life interesting and evolving.
What pieces of kit are the mainstays in your studio or as part of your composing process?
I pretty much use anything at my disposal, so gear-wise I don’t know if this is something I’m even aware of. I tend to gravitate towards my guitars and amps, but I don’t necessarily view them as essential. I could perhaps just use a sample and a turntable and make something with it. It’s not really about the tools at hand, but the aesthetic and feel. Lately, I’ve been more concerned with finding the right feel – something that flows naturally, is organic and relates to my surroundings. The everyday tends to affect you more than anything else, so it’s important how everyday things affect your process. Most importantly, I try to use any limitations (technical or otherwise) as part of my compositional process. A very good example of this: with digital technology you now have unlimited number of tracks (as much as you have ram avail). I try to do the opposite and create perhaps a patch with just X number of tracks and then find ways to make things work how I want based on that limitation. If you can’t make an interesting piece with just a few tracks, you won’t be able to make it with a million.
Your ‘Demo Vault’ project gave insight into some of the creative processes behind your work – did this change in any way for the Orcas project and, in particular, working with Benoit and more song based compositions?
It has changed quite drastically I think – just the fact that there are lyrics and vocals change your approach significantly, not to mention having a second opinion in the room to bounce ideas off each other. I find this process very inspiring at the moment, particularly the way that one will fill each other lacking areas. I cannot sing to save my own life, and on the other hand, Tom’s blessed with a terrific voice, so it was only natural for me to try and write some pop songs and fill some of that void.
Can you tell us a bit about your work as a media artist? What else do you have planned in this sphere?
Well, at the moment I’ve gotten a bit tired of creating audiovisual projects for an assortment of reasons. I feel lately that with the visual components, everybody is trying to make things as impactful as possible, so there’s the potential for saturation, specially when working with more artists in a live setting. That said, Orcas has some visual elements I curated (based on the video works of our friend Sean Patrick, who also directed the video for “Arrow Drawn”). To be honest, I’m more interested at the moment in curating content than creating my own, so I feel that this relationship works for me, specially since I feel there are so many great artists out there creating amazing works, I feel that bringing those to the forefront is a good thing and it helps filter and help sort thru all the clutter, a consequence of media overproduction.
What other artists are you enjoying listening to at the moment?
I haven’t been listening to much new music lately, so I’ve been mostly listening to works by friends – I find that with all the music out there, we tend to miss out on what is the closest to us, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to focus my attention (at least for the time being) into friends and colleagues’ works. That said of course, I still listen to the same music I’ve been listening on a regular basis for the past 15 years – anything from Augustus Pablo and The Abyssinians to Mika Vainio and friends like Mirrorring, Windy & Carl, Marcus Fischer, Loscil, Simon Scott, and many others.
I’m always on the hunt for good book recommendations and I’d be willing to bet you can recommend me something – read anything good recently?
You know the last book I read was ‘The Toaster Project” – a book about an Englishman trying to build a toaster from scratch – not so much about the actual toaster but a very good indictment on our consumerist cultures. Atm, I’m kind of geeking out on “A Song of Ice and Fire,” mostly cause this girl I know got me hooked on the Games of Thrones HBO series last year, so I started to read the books it is based on, and it is quite nice. I know, it’s pretty geeky fantasy stuff, but it is quite enjoyable and intriguing at the same time.
Many thanks – I shall track down the toaster book. Finally – what can we expect from you next project wise?
I’m working on new material for both The Sight Below and RAI, whilst working on new Orcas songs remotely with Tom. I’m also completely immerse curating my own festival, called Substrata, which happens in Seattle this Aug 3 – 5. That’s keeping me quite busy, but I’m looking forward to writing some more and keep working on my live performances – I love playing live, so I try to take as many opportunities as I can.