First of all, what does Origamibiro mean?
Jim Boxall: Hopefully it means different things for different people. We think it’s best left up to others to decide...
At the beginning it was only Tom's identity, wasn't it?
J.B.: That's right - it started out as a solo project for Tom and has since evolved and grown - hopefully into something greater than the sum of its parts...
How did this project develop during the years of its activity? Where do you met him and how did you decide to start doing things together? What changed after Andy's joining?
J.B.: Well Andy joined pretty early on - before our first ever live gig actually. He’d heard the first album and asked to be a part of Origamibiro at a party we were at. At the time myself and Tom were talking about how to take the album in to a live setting and it felt right to bring him into the mix. The first album very much has an intimate solo feel to it from Tom so bringing Andy in immediately added another dimension in terms of what instruments he plays (particularly the double bass) and how he likes to layer and manipulate sounds. From our first live gig onwards, we spent a lot of time playing live and working on how to integrate sound and image and our individual approaches together. That process has never really stopped - now its completely embedded into how we refine our set - we’re always tweaking, reworking, reordering to improve what we are trying to do and keep it fresh for us. It feels like we’re just getting started.
What is the path that brought to "Odham's Standard"?
J.B.: For a while I have been filming treated books live in the set and I came across a book on spirit photography which really struck a chord with me. There’s an inherent atmosphere and longing within these kind of photos, combined with the flawed nature of the images in terms of the amateur photographic style and the crudeness of the representation of the apparent "spirits". They seemed emotionally very tangible and yet kind of transparent in their manipulation and construction. Originally they werent created for their aesthetic value but rather as a way for the sitter to believe in and reconnect with people they had lost through the willingness of the image maker to facilitate or exploit that need. For me there is something fundamentally and perhaps inversely cinematic about that and it fits directly into where I thought we were aiming at for our live performances. Little did I know that Tom was also looking into Electronic Voice Phenomenon recordings and audio recordings from his own childhood during the inception of "Odham's Standard" so when we talked about possible directions for the new album it all locked together very nicely.
In particular, I noted from "Shakkei" you started to introduce some new elements: in Cracked Mirorr it was pure electroacoustic buildings, but then you got fascinated by strings... In "Odham's Standard" you use them a lot, it looks much more like a modern classical variation than like an electroacoustic experiment... Do you agree? How can you explian this perpetual change?
Tom Hill: It’s just good to try new things - unfamiliar territory is always a fun place to be. Especially when there are challenges or limitations. 90% of all the string parts in "Shakkei" are actually bowed electric guitar. As a substitute for cello or violin, it was exciting to see how far that could be taken. Sometimes it doesn’t sound like a traditional string, but that’s fine. It becomes something all its own. In "Odham’s Standard" there’s still a lot of bowed guitar but more of Andy’s bowed double bass too. It’s no secret that we don’t have a huge studio or unlimited access to a massive stock of instruments, so we push the boundaries of the instruments we do have; make them go as far as they can. Again, that’s part of the joy. Personally, I prefer it that way. Creative challenges are part of the passion.
But in this new album there are also piano and guitars, there's a more “symphonic” attitude – in the sense of a dialogue between instruments – do you think so?
T.H.: Perhaps. It wasn’t designed to be like that though. Often it’s a process of letting the music inform us. We’ll notepad / lay down some sketches, then sit with it for a bit till it tells us what it requires. It’s really like listening for what it needs to make it work; balancing the light and dark.
Is electronic still an important part of your music?
T.H.: We try not to let the technology take over. It’s always just a matter of whether a particular tool is needed. It’s there to serve a purpose rather than dictate the process. It depends on the circumstances. Ideas come first, then what tools are needed to realise it. I’d miss those aspects of electronic music if they weren’t there, but I’d miss just sitting and playing raw classical guitar if I couldn’t do that either.
What does nature represent for you? It seems you got inspired a lot by it, particular for your use of field recordings!
T.H.: When "Shakkei" was in it’s early stages, I was reading books like The Soundscape by R. Murray Schafer, Haunted Weather by David Toop, The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krausse... It was also around that time I got myself some portable recording equipment and took the sampling outdoors. I’ve never been interested in sound-proofed studios. I love recordings with a bit of atmosphere. so it was nice to bring the outdoors in. That was really the theme of "Shakkei".
I really think that one of the interesting aspects of your approach is the fact that you usually remain in contact with reality... It's say: you use a lot of samples and build electroacoustic architechtures, but never too abstract, too far from real images... Is it just an impression or do you really try to have this kind of approach?
J.B.: I guess right from the very start of the whole Origamibiro project there has been a leaning towards tangible or physical things, whether that’s instruments, spaces, breath, phenomenon, contraptions, dust etc. I dont think it has been an entirely conscious approach- its more like an amalgamation or common place that we all have a shared interest in. Who knows what we might do next though or what direction things might take.
I often see your tracks as perfect photos: some of them are older and black-and-white, some others are really fresh and detailed, and subjects are also quite different one from each other... When you make music, do you usually pay attention to what image a track could represent?
J.B.: from my point of view its great that the music lends itself so well to images- it makes my job a lot easier! But really it depends on where the ideas are coming from. Its interesting that you are referencing photos - Tom did have various images pinned to the wall in the studio whilst working on "Odham’s Standard" including some of Ada Deane’s spirit thoughtographs but that was for reference or starting points rather than overarching themes. However, the beauty of instrumental music is its potential ambiguity and therefore its ability to reflect whatever the listener wants to project onto it. I think its dangerous for music to be dictated to directly by images as this can potentially narrow or limit the music’s scope. Its a tricky balance.
I know there's an important audio-visual component in Origamibiro's art... How can you describe its interation with music?
J.B.: As we’ve said, originally our working together on Origamibiro was a way to get from the studio to a live environment and over time the interaction has become multi faceted. On "Shakkei" Tom used soundtrack audio from video I had shot walking in the snow in Bulgaria which he then edited together with a recording he had made of himself walking in the UK. The result was a kind of rhythmic and spatial parallel as we walked together in different places on the same piece of music. On "Odham's Standard" Tom gave me sections of music he was working on which I then transferred to VHS tape and copied repeatedly until the recording began to break apart. He’d then take it back into the audio edit to give what he was working on a different feel or texture. Feathered is a favourite of mine that had a lot of that process involved. "Butterfly Jar" is built around samples I recorded of a toy that we have used in our live set. In terms of live performances iteration is a good word as we are always trying to refine and reconfigure what we do- ideas can swap around, change or even reappear from something that we talked about quite a time before but that was never really relevant before. Sometimes they can dissappear too.
Your first output came out for Benge's Expanding, how did you get there? How close did you feel to his “analog” passion?
T.H.: Expanding have a great bunch of artists on their label. I already knew Leigh (aka Flotel). He used to live round the corner from me. That was how I discovered the label. But I felt a close relationship with other artists like Orla Wren, who’s music and artwork also draws a lot of inspiration from its organic / nature. It was only when I went to Expanding’s studio basement that the true extent of Benge’s analogue obsession became clear. I’ve never seen so many Moogs and modular synths. It’s like a museum in there. And he’s a wizard with them. It’s good to know they have a loving owner.
The arrival at Denovali represents a very important moment of you career, I suppose. How did you get in touch with the label? What do you think of the things they were/are doing?
J.B.: Fortuitously Denovali got in touch with us actually. We were ready to move on from our previous label as we wanted to go further than they could offer at the time. I went and met with the Denovali guys during their first Swingfest in London and they were great- very focused and professional but at the same time very flexible and easy going. They know what they’re doing and where they want to go and they’re very good at playing the long game. It feels a little like coming home really.
T.H.: We already knew Piano Interrupted before we’d signed to Denovali. We’d actually played with them in London a couple of years back so it was interesting to follow them and join the label. Denovali are fantastic. I’ve never known a label who focus so much energy and time on each act to ensure they have the right creative platform and level of exposure for their work. They really do look after you. We’ve only really just begun our journey with them, but we’re all looking forward to it being a long one.
In particular, I'm sure you were satisfacted by the attention they pay for artworks, weren't you?
T.H.: Again, it just feels like we’re on the same wavelength. And where artwork is concerned, we have an important connection with it as it flows through everything we do from the live show, to the inspiration behind the studio music and through the album covers. So again, we’re just very happy to be entrusted with the freedom to realise those aspects too.
J.B.: Yes its been great to revisit and update our back catalogue’s artwork- personally I’m particularly pleased with how the "Collection" vinyl boxset came out which was images made from found 35mm slides composited together. We have plans for more ununsual objects and artworks in the pipeline.
Do you think that live is a dimension where music and visuals can have a good interaction? Or do you prefer other forms, such as videos?
J.B.: Well if we didn't I wouldn't be here. If everything goes well then live can be great fun and very satisfying. You can do things in live performance that you cant do in an edit. I used to like everything to synch up pretty closely together so the shape of the visuals matched the shape of the music. What Ive found is that things become more satisfying when they’re loosened up a little more so that the various elements can start to work more in tandem or concurrently rather than necessarily becoming one thing. Its hard to know how its all actually coming across for someone who hasnt seen it before though. I do want to shoot more videos too as I can have a lot more control and also work at much higher resolutions. We are currently working on a new studio video- hopefully shooting in August. Time, as always, is of the essence...
Have you ever played in Italy? It's not something fantastic, audience's too noisey, but I hope you'll come soon the same!
J.B.: Yes please! (laughs) I played in Milan a few years ago as part of a VJ festival but never with Origamibiro. As long as people are enjoying what we’re doing then its all fine by us- we’d jump at the chance.