Preview: Hidden Orchestra
A band at the forefront of electronic composition visits again
Posted: January 23, 2013
Hailing from Scotland, the group's classically trained multi-instrumentalists experiment with beats and textures.
Classical crossover has become quite the recognized subgenre in recent times, with artists such as Paul McCartney, Sting and Tori Amos trying their hand at it to varying degrees of success. Not many approach classical crossover with the depth and vision of Hidden Orchestra, however.
Basking in the multiplicity of musical forms, Hidden Orchestra hail from Edinburgh and are one of Scotland's best-kept secrets. The group was conceived by Joe Acheson, a classically trained multi-instrumentalist who started the project in 2005 and is part of the emerging trend of classically trained musicians who enjoy experimenting with beats and manipulating symphonic textures on computers. Acheson has expanded his setup to include the keyboardist/violinist Poppy Ackroyd and the drummers/percussionists Tim Lane and Jamie Graham. Hidden Orchestra's hybrid of nu-jazz, classical, drum 'n' bass and trip-hop is breaking new ground.
Although laced with easily identifiable jazz beats and lush string arrangements, HO's two discs to date, 2010's Night Walks and last year's Archipelago, remain open to interpretation. Moreover, the ambient, cinematic soundscapes of tracks such as "Antiphon," "Strange" and "The Windfall" from the first album or "Vorka" and "Spoken" from the second at times even bring to mind the likes of DJ Shadow, Cinematic Orchestra and Stravinsky.
Meticulous to a fault, both Night Walks and Archipelago were eight years in the making, but released only two years apart.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7:30
Where: Palác Akropolis
Tickets: 270 Kč in advance, 360 Kč at the door
"The albums are closely related," Acheson says. "There was at least four years when I was working on both albums at the same time. Consequently, they share a common sound world and many of the composition and production techniques that I use to create the Hidden Orchestra style."
The use of two drummers might seem a touch over the top to the uninitiated, but Acheson says he believes their input is integral to playing all the layers of beats from his studio production. The drummers, he says, become the "frontman."
"We started out just with me and one other drummer because I didn't think it would be interesting to watch me pushing buttons on my own," Acheson says. "I wanted to be able to play bass, which I wouldn't have done without drums. Poppy joined the live band to fill out the orchestral textures, but, due to the many layers of drums in my production, we found it was too much for one player and left too much coming from my sampler. At first, the extra drummer was mostly playing digital drum pads, but eventually evolved to the point where we have two kits."
Fans of the albums should not expect a mere recital of them live. "It's a completely different experience," Acheson says. "The albums are created by me on my own in the studio, with session musicians occasionally dropping by to record, but mostly it is just me working away at trying to make things sound as good as I can. Then onstage there is also the core live band - Poppy and the two drummers - and a variety of different guests. The overall feeling is much more dynamic and enveloping: It's a big sound when played loud in a venue with two drum kits, deep bass and thick orchestral textures."
This will be Hidden Orchestra's third visit to Palác Akropolis. It will feature some extra blasts of trumpet from guest Phil Cardwell, as well as the like-minded local hero Floex, who collaborated on "Hushed" from the Archipelago album. "He will be performing the track live with us on clarinet, and I will also play bass for him on one of his tunes," Acheson says. "And even before Hidden Orchestra and Floex, our very own Poppy Ackroyd will be opening the night with a solo set of beautiful piano-based material from her debut album, Escapement, which has just been released."
Hidden Orchestra has always had a good experience coming to town: "People seem knowledgeable and discerning, as well as enthusiastic and friendly in Prague. I remember the first time we went there, it was one of the first times we had people shouting and whooping over the intros of tracks they recognized. I won't forget that warm glow of pride and happiness."
James Scanlon can be reached at