Thursday, July 08, 2004

Luminescent Orchestrii

I’d never heard of the Luminescent Orchestrii before they emailed me out of the blue from the States with a polite request for an interview. I’ve now heard a live recording and pronounce them to be the most perfectly named band since Cardiacs. They are Aaron Goldsmith (Guitarron [Mexican acoustic bass]), Rima Fand (violin), Sarah Alden (violin), Kaia Wong (violin) and Sxip (guitar, bullhorn harmonica and melodica). This interview should tell you all you need to know about the Orchestrii.

>How did Luminescent Orchestrii come together?

RIMA: We had our beginning when Sxip and I decided, a little over a year ago, to form an all-girl orchestra. And that idea was inspired by the cover of an old 78 record, entitled "The Hour of Charm All-Girl Orchestra and Choir". Sxip and I looked at that gorgeous album cover and said, laughingly, we really should create our own hour of charm with an all-girl orchestra and choir. And then instantly the laughter turned to dead seriousness. I realised that I had always wanted to form an ensemble of gutsy girl string players who could rock out, improvise, compose. And Sxip realised that he had always wanted to create performances where audiences get fed full of charm. The record cover was baby blue in colour, with elegant ladies in gowns swirling across it, and two pianos yin-yanged together. Floating in the corner was a large man's head gazing intently on the scene, charmed and charming. Sxip said, "I want to be that guy." And so we began to gather the girls. Many exciting string players showed up. They tended to be women who were used to being the only female string players in all-male rock bands. I started calling the group the "solitary-rock-band-string-chick-liberation-orchestra". None of the women who showed up, however, came with more regularity, or passion, than Sarah and Kaia. A bond started to form as Sxip, Sarah, Kaia and I began exploring original compositions and improvising together. But after a short while, we started craving a low-end sound to balance out all the high end. Where to turn? The only girl bassists we knew were extremely busy. But right there was the eager Aaron, a wonderful bassist to be sure, and master of the very sexy guitarron, though decidedly not a girl. Aaron resolved the dilemma when he declared that, although he was not a girl, he would be willing to perform as one, and he was welcomed as a member.

The band actually performed its first show as the All-Girl Orchestra at Superfine in Brooklyn, with Aaron in drag. After that show, however, we had to admit that we were not an all-girl orchestra (only 3/5ths girl) and needed to find a new title. We performed under several different names until we finally settled on the Luminescent Orchestrii. Orchestrii means, in our own private dictionary, "a small ensemble with orchestral intent."

Incidentally, I do now have an all-girl choir, which performs occasionally with the band, and Sxip does have an Hour of Charm, a wonderfully diverse and delicious performance series. And so the dream is alive and well.

>What qualities do you each bring to the band?

AARON: I'd like to think I contribute heavily to the dance aspect of the band, being the bassist and all. The guitarron is a unique instrument, from a visual as well as an aural perspective, and I catch a lot of people just sort of staring at it in disbelief while we play, which I enjoy a lot.

RIMA: I write and arrange a lot of the music for the band. I bring in the Stravinsky-esque harmonies, and the funny violin noises (meowing, scratching, etc.)

SARAH: I contribute folkiness.

KAIA: I create harmonies. I close my eyes and make sonic love, sometimes gritty.

SXIP: I compose a lot of the more downbeat tunes. I grew up on Appalachian music and punk and I that comes out in my playing.

>What inspires you musically?

SXIP: Right now I really love all music I heard in Istanbul, Turkey when we were all traveling in that part of the world. There was this crazy Kurdish music mixed with House beats that they were selling from these little carts along the docks of the Bosphorus. They were on cassettes and they were being blasted through little overdriven car stereo speakers.

RIMA: I am inspired by the community of NYC musicians we know that have all-night eastern european music jam parties, where masses of fiddles, accordions, basses, clarinets, saxes, trumpets and drums converge on klezmer tunes, where people dance madly to balkan brass music, where people jump up on chairs to sing songs and everyone shuts up and listens.

AARON: Transcendence - inspiring it in others and achieving it in myself. There are moments in time when music can transport you away from your cares, your frustrations, from this plane of reality even. Other times, it can break down walls and allow you to question your preconceptions. If that can happen to the player and the audience simultaneously, it's the closest thing to heaven I've found.

SARAH: Music that's free. blocks, raw, unedited pure expression. Like a reflex.

KAIA: Moment to moment human connection, both between musicians, and between musicians and the audience. I also get excited about creating bastard musical children on the violin, for example, "scritchy-scratching" an old Erik B rhythm during one of our songs. (Does this make hip hop folk music? Adam Matta did beatbox over one of our klezmer tunes last night at the Knitting Factory..)

>What motivates you to record and gig?

SXIP:We love music as community and as a way to make the ghosts fly around the room.

AARON: I get the sense that we fulfill a very basic need - to reconcile opposites - to combine the sublime and the ridiculous, the cerebral and the visceral, the lush and the raw.

SARAH: It's our job. Music is something to give out, to feel, and to be a part of.

KAIA: We hope to share the spirit of our rehearsals.

>Suggest a publicity stunt to increase the Luminescent Orchestrii profile in the UK.

You all are so cynical over there, I'm not sure what we could do, but you seem to have a love for fried foods and beer...hmmm. You know I lived in Austin, Texas for awhile, which is, in my opinion, the best city in the US. They make beef brisket there, which is this amazing meat. It's beef cooked in a smoker for about 10 to 15 hours. It's amazing tasting. You can't even get in NYC, you gotta go to Texas. I don't think this sounds like a publicity stunt but you must trust me, this is the best fucking meat you've ever eaten, you gotta eat some of this meat. I would fly from Texas with cargo of brisket and the band would have a picnic and we'd drink beer and eat meat.

AARON: We'll parachute into Glastonbury naked, landing on the very point of the Pyramid stage, and slowly slide down the side while playing a sexy waltz, finally landing on Ozric Tentacles, upstaging them completely.

>What are your future plans for gigs and recordings?

SXIP: We are recording as soon as we get back from an east coast tour in July and then off to the west coast in November. After that we really want to get ourselves back over to Europe.

>How are audiences thus far reacting to your mix of gypsy and punk rock?

SXIP: They dance. The music makes them feel good. It's great, I've never had a band get so popular so fast. We don't have a certain type of audience. It is not a folk audience. It's younger people, it's older people. Hell, a lot of people don't realize I am playing surf guitar, punk and Blondie lines in the music. They think it's how the music was originally played. BUT these sort of rock-oriented rhythms allow them to access it on a level that they might not normally. Anyway, culture is theft.

We threw a big party, made it clear that our music is for drinking, fucking and dancing, and people did just that, which is great because New Yorkers are really self-conscious about acting normal in party situations. They often just stand there. But they loved it.

AARON: There are those who dance and those who stare. I like the stare-ers just as much. They'll get it eventually. But first they need to try to figure it out.

>If the musical world was ideal, it would...

SXIP: It would allow more independent labels to function with a profit.

AARON: It would be less genre-fied. Scenes that happen organically are fine, much like tribes, but when they get reinforced by mass marketing and segmented time slots on MTV and ghettoized sections in music stores, it's just another way of keeping people separated. And the music becomes a soundtrack for a lifestyle based on a fashion aesthetic or a half-baked one-dimensional philosophical world view for people who like to be told what to think. Genre-fication turn concerts into pep rallys for the "our group is better than yours" mentality, and ultimately, music as a whole suffers. Musicians get less opportunity for ecclecticism, both by lack of exposure to different kinds of music, and by the fear of audiences not "getting it" if they don't play in the style of ______ . We, of course, have taken matters into our own hands by seeking out new and foreign music, and by fearlessly foisting it upon our unsuspecting audience.

SARAH: Live music would be in every establishment. Music would be legal and expected in every subway, sidewalk, and parking lot. And my downstairs neighbor would never complain again!!!

>On an Orchestrii curated festival bill, who else would play?

The Hungry March Band, Gogol Bordello, Nervous Cabaret, The Strung Out String Band, The Wiyos, Golem, Rosin Coven, Charming Hostess, Rasputina, Magnetic Fields, Besho Drom, The Szaszcsavas Band and The Main Squeeze All Girl Accordion Orchestra.

>What do you consider your best achievements in music?

SXIP: Playing exactly the music we want to play. We are not fucking with our audiences.

AARON: I once played while a deaf friend of mine had her hands on my bass. She couldn't hear it, but she could feel the vibration of the music, enough to dance. That was pretty amazing.

KAIA: Playing music that inspires dancing.

>What more would you like to achieve with your music?

SXIP: Rima and I have been talking about doing full on arrangements of classical pieces, such as a drunken version of The Blue Danube waltz. We want to put a few straight classical pieces in our set, but re-contexualize them to make a club crowd swoon.

RIMA: I also want to get deeper into tango music - learning more traditional tangos and writing original ones. Also we want to create more vocal music in the band. We love to sing gang-style, love to harmonize, and want to push the limits of the sounds our five diverse voices can make together.

AARON: I'd like to play some more Ska, too. And Latin music. There's a whole world out there.

SARAH: To add another element. Maybe the girls do a dance routine, maybe storytelling, maybe puppetry.

KAIA: I want us to explore and invent new string sounds, individually and collectively.

>If you weren't in a band just what would you do with your evenings?

SXIP: Cook.

AARON: Plot the downfall of the current administration.

RIMA: Learn ballroom dancing. The tango, for real.

SARAH: Play more old-time.

KAIA: Make crafts and watch more movies.

>What, with regards the US music scene, upsets you?

SXIP: We don't have the "dole" in U.S. and in NYC there are no longer cheap places to live because our last mayor kicked all the heroin addicts out so the yuppies moved in. You need cheap places to live to have a great art scene. So the art/music scene here in NYC does NOT have the vitality it once had. It's depressing...

AARON: Genre-fication, and Clear Channel, which does a lot to reinforce it. People starting bands to play stadiums. Chasing this very American vision of success which has to do with the pursuit of wealth and fame as its own end, instead of as a reward for artistic achievement.

SARAH: The majority of the people don't crave the real!!

KAIA: NY's cabaret laws that allow dancing only in licensed venues.

>Please name your 6 discs for a Desert Island?

We couldn't narrow it down to 6: Taraf De Haidouks, Dead Kennedys – ‘Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables’, Best of Doc Watson, Stravinsky – ‘Rite of Spring’, Bulgarian Women's Choir, Mingus – ‘The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady’, The Creatures – ‘Boomerang’, X – ‘Under The Big Black Sun’, Legendary Pink Dots – ‘Crushed Velvet Apocalypse’, Besho Drom – ‘Can't Make Me’, Can – ‘Tago Mago’, Miles Davis – ‘Dark Magus’, Bubba George Stringband, Pixies – ‘Come on Pilgrim’, Nina Simone – ‘Live at the Village Gate’, Peter Tosh – ‘Reggae got Soul’ ( it's appropriate since we'll be deserted on an island)

>3 Books for a desert island?

‘Rumi’, ‘The Quotable Buddha’, ‘The Language of Plants’, Foxfire books

>1 Luxury Item for a Desert Island?

RIMA: Kaia's homemade flavored lip-balm.

AARON: I suppose I'd like a nice lounge chair that vibrates and has an umbrella attached.

SARAH: One of those fancy old antique teapots with matching tea cups.

KAIA: An unlimited supply of V-8.

>Any other words of wisdom?

SXIP: Realize that NYC is NOT the center of art in the world anymore. Of course it has great artists but it is too FUCKING expensive to live here. It is not the NYC of the 80's that gave birth to the Ramones, Laurie Anderson and The Talking Heads. America is not democracy. It is a corpocracy and that sucks.

AARON: Art is more than just wallpaper for your lifestyle.


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