Interview by Ian Morales.
Just when we thought Austin based experimental indie group, The Octopus Project, could not get any more creative, they outdid themselves once again. Hexadecagon, the name of their new album and their new live show. The Hexadecagon live show debuted here in Austin at South By Southwest in March. Everyone from Paste Magazine to The Austin American Statesman were not only raving about the group’s musical performance but more so about the visual aspect of the live show. For once, something other than Yvonne Lambert’s theremin was written about.
To achieve their Hexadecagon live show experience, members Josh and Yvonne Lambert, Toto Miranda, and Ryan Figg decided they needed more than your run of the mill stereo audio and a single projection. Using custom electronics and arranging eight speakers in a circle around the audience, eight synchronized video projections designed by Austin digital artist Wiley Wiggins, they created their most original live experience yet. Wherever you stand in the big circle of speakers, you will get a different experience.
The Ocotpus Project will be performing their third Hexadecagon show in Austin this Friday night, December 3, at The East Side Drive-In. We caught up with guitarist/bassist /drummer Toto Miranda to talk about the live show, Austin bands to check out, theremin reactions, and of course the new record. First, watch the official trailer for their Hexadecagon concert to help you better understand Toto’s answers.
One of the things you guys are most known for, other than your band’s name, is the fact that you’ve introduced the theremin to so many people for the first time. Even after all the major music festivals and countless tours you’ve been on, are you still getting looks of bewilderment when Yvonne (Lambert) plays the theremin?
Toto: Absolutely. It still happens at every show. I take that as a good sign that we are always playing front of new people. That’s definitely one way to know we are reaching a new audience when somebody is like “What the hell is that”? It is still pretty amazing to see even if you know what it is. When we are clearly starting from square one, it’s exciting because that is someone who hasn’t heard our band before that we have now gotten to play in front of.
What’s different about Hexadecagon that we haven’t heard from your previous work?
Toto: We went into this with kind of a plan which we usually don’t do, rather a plan for the show itself. It was going to be in an eight channel, surround sound format surrounding the audience. We would then play in the center of the audience and really work with the sounds in the space. We could throw them around in circle and jump around, allowing us to kind of choreograph them in the physical space. It is a really exciting tool to get to work with. That was the first part that came together, that concept. Once we figured out how to make that work technically, we then sat down and began writing songs that would really benefit from that format. It wasn’t until we had actually done the show that we decided to make those songs into an album.
Tell me what you guys are doing with the vinyl release of Hexadecagon and the zoetrope.
Toto: The vinyl comes with a zoetrope that you can cut and assemble. It is an early animation device that is cylinder shaped with slots in it. You put it on the turntable and inside is an animation that works by persistence of vision when you stare through the slots. The slots break up the animation so it looks like it is moving. It’s animated. We did eight different animation strips that go inside it for each song. Obviously it is not the same as a surround video thing but it does keep the visual element even in the LP release. (Watch the instructional video here).
Given that your previous albums were so well received by bloggers and music critiques everywhere, was there any kind of pressure or expectation you felt you had to live up to when making Hexadecagon?
Toto: Not really because this is a really different undertaking. We didn’t actually know we were going to make a record until we had written all the songs for it. Everything with this album was done totally backwards from the way we usually do it. I think at any point we are only trying to please ourselves. I do think we are really fortunate that people like what we are doing. That gives us the confidence to keep doing what we are doing knowing that we are happy first and people will be into it as well.
Well whether you know it or not, at least locally, you guys have set the bar high in terms of quality albums. Your fans and local critics expect more of you now than before.
Toto: While I am glad that may be true, my personal favorite bands are the ones where I just kind of believe in their approach and do their best work when they are following their own instincts. I would hope we have earned that.
I think you are fortunate to have the followers or fans that you do have. They get what it is you are trying to do creatively and appreciate it. These kinds of fans are open to more experimental genres. It is difficult to explain to everyday people who don’t follow a lot of creative and independent music what you guys sound like. Explaining the theremin itself is a whole other task in itself. That being said, what would you give a first time listener from your catalogue to introduce you guys to them?
Toto: I would probably always give them whatever is the latest because that is where our heads will be at the time. At any given point in time we are busy pursuing ideas we find most exciting. That definitely applies for this new record.
Which track from Hexadecagon do you think is the most approachable to first time listeners?
Toto: I would say “Hallucinists” because it is one of the shorter ones. I guess some of the tracks on this new record turned out a little on the long side. “Hallucinists” kind of gets to the point.
|Photo by Lupe Ceballos.|
How did you guys come up with this whole Hexadecagon, eight channel surround sound live show concept?
Toto: The idea mostly came from being on tour a lot previous to that and listening to a lot of differently structured music. We were listening to stuff that was really drawn out and intricately orchestrated. The two easiest examples to identify are Steve Reich and Terry Riley. They are minimalist composers who will do things that really kind of work with time. It will be kind of a short, repetitive figure that goes on and on in an hour long piece. We wanted to work with those kinds of ideas without making the songs an hour long so we figured that working with space would be a good way to go after those ideas and those feelings.
What is the plan for playing in front of new audiences to support Hexadecagon? You have toured all over the country rigorously for a few years now and have already played many of the mid-major and major music festivals.
Toto: We want to keep on doing it. We had a big(ish) tour this fall and we are going back out on the road for sure in 2011. We will continue to work on new projects as they develop while continuing to do Hexadecagon shows as well. We are really excited to play those shows. Because it is such a big technical endeavor, we don’t get to do it very often. We are trying to figure out how to do that more and take it to other cities.
Before we wrap up, given that this is for the Red River Noise Austin section, who are some of your favorite local bands that you would recommend people listen to or see live?
Toto: I love Ume a whole lot. Yellow Fever is one of my favorites. I also love Tia Carrera. There is just a lot of crazy shit happening here all the time. It makes Austin a pretty comfortable place to live.