srijeda, 27. studenoga 2013.

A Little Orchestra - Clocks (2013)

Klasičarski ja i indie-pop nad-ja.

As indicated by its charming debut album, A Little Orchestra is one of those classical outfits that seems more comfortable playing its tunes in the English countryside than the formal symphony hall. Listening to the group's eleven-track collection (the follow-up to an earlier 2013 EP Josefina) is an absolute pleasure, especially when it mixes things up by juxtaposing instrumentals with a generous number of vocal songs. While Clocks features three new compositions by Monster Bobby (ensemble conductor, pianist, and percussionist Bobby Barry, who formed the outfit in 2010), it also includes collaborations with Haiku Salut, Model Village, and a host of others, a move that makes A Little Orchestra (armed with four violins, and viola, cello, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and piano players) feel more like a friendly club than a standoffish organization.
The chamber orchestra make-up of the group works to its advantage as it allows the individual instruments' voices to come through clearly, something immediately evident in the stately instrumental opener “Clocks, Part 3” where the flute and clarinet playing is clearly audible amidst the strings. A Little Orchestra's music occasionally reveals an influence or two, as there are moments when composers such as Michael Torke, Steve Reich, and Michael Nyman surface in the album. In fact, the lovely “Clocks, Part 2” could pass as a Torke homage, given its emphasis on bright woodwinds and percussion, while “Footprints in Snow” (written by Andy Hudson of Pocketbooks and featuring vocals by Emma Winston) exudes a theatrical stateliness that recalls Nyman's Prospero's Books.
The collaborations are true collaborations, as opposed to the orchestra being used as a mere add-on. A wistful quality comes through during the Múm-like “Train Tracks for Wheezy,” the collaboration with Haiku Salut, especially during those passages where glockenspiels and accordions are prominent. In the respective songs “Josefina” and “Wild Beasts,” vocal contributions by Model Village and Apple Eyes are deftly embroidered into the orchestra's intricate arrangements. The same applies to the vocal symphonic-pop lullabies “The Permanent Way” (featuring Darren Hayman), “Treacle, You Should Probably Go To Sleep” (with Simon Love), and “Pightie 21” (with Lisa Bouvier), as well as the traditional folk-styled “East Coast” (with Gordon McIntyre). In such cases, A Little Orchestra shows it's as comfortable playing breezy pop and folk tunes as formal classical music. It goes without saying that the group's refreshing and unpretentious sound is well-served by this thirty-eight-minute collection. -

A gentle, summer afternoon in the country kind of record, with blissed out flutes, weaving violins and some irresistible melodies. It’s almost an advert for the indiepop scene… and not many adverts sound this good. Treacle You Should Probably Go To Sleep, written and sung by Simon Love of The Loves, is a fascinating little song. What starts with a Disney-ish hue, soon transforms into a sultry 60s number that owes as much to The Beach Boys as The Supremes. Train Tracks for Wheezy, featuring Haiku Salut, is a wurlitzer of a song that picks up pace until it reaches a dizzying climax. - Music OMH

Clocks, is a humble yet ambitious record that stops upon full lives lived and harrowed love stories that span decades. In between it traverses musical landscapes, makes an ode to British cinema from times past, and sings the listener a lullaby. It’s the little things that make Clocks a pleasure, and A Little Orchestra prove that the small things in life are just as important and wonderful as everything else. - Beats Per Minute

Clocks features collaborations with Gordon McIntyre, Darren Hayman, and Simon Love, and shines like a rainbow though a dark grey sky, just like you’d expect it to.  It’s is a voyage through a classically infused pop dream, where classical interludes coloured in gothic fairytales leap out like the rooftops of old town Prague in-between the pop splendour of ‘The Permanent Way’, ‘East Coat’, ‘Josefina’, and ‘Treacle” like Edward Gorey drawing Mordecai’s Diary. - Pop Miwsig

A Little Orchestra’s debut album Clocks manages to both confirm and surprise expectations in one go. Its train of wistful, nostalgic, anglo-indie-phile songs roll through your speakers like carnival floats in a northern town. ‘Treacle, you should probably go to sleep’ (with Simon Love, from The Loves) has a great hook, beautiful swathes of cinematic strings and is the most unlike any of its sibling tracks. The stunning vocals of ‘Josefina’ (with Model Village) and ‘East Coast’, a moribund tale featuring McIntyre’s deadpan delivery are other highlights. - Neonfiller

The whole album is a refreshing and engaging listening from start-to-end.  The collaborations start with the delightful summery Josefina (with Model Village) and Beat Surrender favourite Darren Hayman adds his not inconsiderable talents to another highlight on the album The Permanent Way.
- Beat Surrender

Avec une liste d’invités ressemblant à un who’s who d’une certaine idée de l’indie-pop… le premier album d’A Little Orchestra avait tout pour m’exciter grave. … Cela donne une certaine variété musicale, les guests ayant des univers bien personnels mais qui restent dans les mêmes sphères… et une très grande variété vocale, entre le cocker triste Darren, le mâle mélancolique Gordon, le canaille Simon et des voix féminines très belles mais bien plus sages. - Dans Le Mur… Du Son

The London-based dectet’s first full-length record is a beautiful, ethereal collection of pop songs, ballads and instrumentals, bursting at the seams with tangible warmth – the perfect aural accompaniment to a balmy summer day. Clocks’ is a wholly original and impressive debut, displaying an ambitious streak that belies the modest stature suggested by the group’s moniker.  8/10
- Peter Salter – Album review

A piece of relaxed bliss you can gently soothe your soul with. Model Village providing some lovely vocals on ‘Josafina’ which sweeps along majestically with grace and beauty, an indie pop gem. Darren Hayman of Hefner ‘fame’ appears on ‘The Permanent Way’, great vocals and another triumph of a tune. ’Pigtle 21′ is a stunner too, lovely with strings and vocals to boot, gently glides and drifts past effortlessly cool to the close. - Shadders Online

Fundamentally A Little Orchestra are like a school band who never left school, they just grew up and went on to make amazing pop songs instead… No matter who guests on any of these songs, the arrangements are never anything short of impeccable. - The Sound of Confusion

Josefina EP (2013)

It’s really quite beautiful. The lead track ’Josefina’ is sung by the sweet, slightly aching voice of Rachel from Model Village. This song is summer. Not Beach Boys summer or Ibiza summer, but a chilled glass of white in Whitby summer, as the sun starts to sink and you pull a cardy over your shoulders and think about how you’re going to spend you’re evening as you watch the sun set slowly over the harbour. That kind of summer. The song is effortlessly enchanting. - Brilldream

The Josefina EP is opened by its title track; a rolling, strolling indie-pop gem that is cinematic but in the way of flickering projections of home-made escapades and not wide-screen productions. The syncopation between ebbing strings and sighed female vocals is instantly reminiscent of Camera Obscura but here the atmosphere is more playful than bitter-sweet; there is the same air of longing but it breezes through landscapes that are much more serene. The five-track EP’s closer [Clocks, part 2] is its highlight; an instrumental ditty that in just under two minutes evokes the wizardry of the soundtrack work of Yann Tiersen and Ryuichi Sakamoto at their most light-hearted in a manner not too dissimilar to past partners-in-crime Haiku Salot, but despite this similarity it is here, possibly only here, where they truly stand alone. - Contactmusic

It’s not often you hear a song like A Little Orchestra’s ‘Josefina’, a song that should be given away free on the NHS to those suffering with stress. Together with Cambridge’s Model Village, the lead track from A Little Orchestra’s new ep is simply sublime. -  A Layer of Chips

Pennyblackmusic interview:

MuzikDizcovery interview:

Led by Monster Bobby (pianist and percussionist Bobby Barry), who founded the project in early 2010, A Little Orchestra is a delightful ten-member collective whose music is anything but stuffy (the other members are: bassoonist Alex Billig, flutist Catherine Carr, clarinetist Nicola Burnett Smith, cellist Helen Short, violist Jill Faure, and violinists Claire Hadidjenar, Matthew Walker, Rosie French, and Natalie Hudson). Refreshingly unassuming, the London-based group's songs sound more like the kind of thing one would encounter at a town fair than the concert hall—which isn't to suggest the group's averse to performing classical works. In fact, A Little Orchestra plays contemporary, minimalist classical pieces as well as original compositions, and, as its splendid debut full-length Clocks illustrates, is especially keen on collaborating with others such as Model Village, Simon Love, Haiku Salut, Gordon McIntyre of Ballboy, Apple Eyes, and Darren Hayman (the textura review is here). A few weeks ago, Bobby Barry and violinist Natalie Hudson kindly recounted how the group came into being and clarified what differentiates A Little Orchestra from other outfits.
1. First of all, in terms of historical background, how did A Little Orchestra come into being?
Bobby: It comes out of a number of different things. The name itself is a reference to something in a novel called Serenade by James M. Cain (the author of Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity). But even before reading that, I had this desire to do something with a reasonably large group of people that didn't necessarily involve the standard guitars, bass, and drums of most bands. At first, I just wanted to do something one-off: get as many people together as possible to play In C by Terry Riley—and In C was the first thing we did as A Little Orchestra. But then it becomes: once you've done that, you've got this big group of people who have had this kind of training in playing music together that is scored but still partly improvised (within certain limits, of course), so what else can you do? Because playing In C is like a sort of training in a way. I was also keen to do something that didn't require any sort of amplification—some sort of group that could play anywhere—but to get as far away as possible from the slightly lame thing that a lot of bands do when they have to do a radio session and they just strum through their songs on an acoustic guitar. The other thing was that I had all these ideas knocking around in my head since finishing my Masters degree in contemporary music that I wanted to try out somehow. So, even if a lot of our public performances might involve fairly traditional songs, at rehearsals we're just as likely to be pursuing ideas that stem from Fluxus, or from John Cage, or Stockhausen, or from some of the composers involved in the San Francisco Tape Music Center.
2. Many of the songs on your debut album Clocks feature other artists, but they don't appear to be songs where a singer was simply brought in as a guest to complete the track. Instead, they appear to be full-fledged collaborations. Could you discuss one (or two) of those collaborations as a representative example of how you handled the collaborative process for the album's material?
Natalie: Prior to recording the album, we had been collaborating with other bands such as Pocketbooks, The Loves and The Pipettes—sometimes even appearing on their records. We basically thought that if we were playing with other bands, why not ask some of our friends to come and write songs for us? We were very lucky in that pretty much everyone we asked to write a song for us agreed to do it! We originally had a theme of “soundtracks for imaginary films,” but the songs soon broadened out into something much wider than that. The way it worked was that our collaborators would send us a demo of their song, and then we would write an arrangement. For those singers who lived far away (such as Gordon in Edinburgh) we exchanged recordings and demos until we were happy with how it sounded.
3. Can you put into words the concept behind A Little Orchestra? And relatedly, how did the concept for the group come into being—was it something predetermined or did it crystallize over time as the members played together, etc?
Bobby: The concept, really, is to be a sort of community orchestra—albeit for a fairly diffuse and hard to define community—that hopefully takes some of the still only semi-permeable barriers between different musical tribes and styles and makes them a little bit more blurry. And although the basics of that idea were probably there in some way from the beginning, it's definitely something that has developed and matured with the interaction of the particular players and the particular circumstances under which we play together. The fact that we have always rehearsed in this community centre attached to a housing estate in Kilburn, for instance, has become quite a big part of the way we think of ourselves in a way that I certainly couldn't have predicted. So, we'll do concerts for the housing estate at Christmas for instance, and that's always been really nice and, in some ways, as important a part of what we do as playing at festivals or other sorts of concerts. To be honest, when we first started, it was just about getting lots of people together and seeing what we could do. Then there was this gradual process of refining that, seeing what we could do best, if you like. The next step, I think, will be to start expanding those possibilities again, and moving A Little Orchestra into some new and surpassing directions.
4. Though the ensemble was formed by Barry in 2010, I'm wondering how much of the group's sound is defined by the band members. In other words, how much of a say does the individual performer have on the arrangement of a given song?
Bobby: Increasingly, everyone in the group is involved in writing and arranging the pieces we play. If the whole thing started off as my idea, it's been shaped and refined along the way by all the people involved in it at every stage of the group's development. In terms of what we play, how we play it, and who we play with, these are questions that everyone in the group is involved with and everyone is bringing ideas to the table. It doesn't quite work like a normal band, in as much as we won't just have four chords and some lyrics and then jam it out until we've got something that sounds alright. There are notes on paper in advance. We work to written scores like a traditional orchestral ensemble—even if some of the scores we've worked with leave fairly large degrees of freedom, sometimes even specifying no more than a few lines of text instructions.
5. How for the group members does the experience of playing in A Little Orchestra differ from playing in a regular orchestra?
Bobby: A Little Orchestra is probably more like a band than most other orchestras. It's certainly a lot more relaxed and informal than a regular orchestra. There is no dress code for performances (I once said to everyone: don't wear black at the gig, wear bright colours—but a few people were, like, all my clothes are black! So now everyone just wears what they want). It's also very open. People come along for a while and play with us and then perhaps they get busy with other things so they have to drop out for a while and then maybe they come back later. There's enough people that we can accommodate that quite comfortably. A few people have said that A Little Orchestra is the most fun and friendliest orchestral ensemble they've ever played in.

String Theory: A Little Orchestra Interviewed
by Stuart Huggett

A Little Orchestra is a classical ensemble formed by Pipettes creator 'Monster' Bobby Barry. The repertoire of the 10-piece group includes compositions by Terry Riley, Michael Nyman and Angelo Badalamenti, although they're most active live and as an orchestra for hire within the UK indie-pop scene.
The group's concerts have seen them joined by singers including MJ Hibbett, Shirley Lee of Spearmint and Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin', or swelling the ranks of bands such as Pocketbooks and Haiku Salut. Guests on A Little Orchestra's debut album Clocks, set for release on June 10th, include Darren Hayman, Gordon McIntyre (Ballboy), Simon Love (The Loves) and Lisa Bouvier (The Proctors).
With sometime Quietus contributor Barry currently based in Paris, he's relinquished some of his conducting and percussion duties with the London-based orchestra, whose full line-up is completed by Alex Billig (bassoon), Catherine Carr (flute), Rosie French (violin), Nicola Burnett Smith (clarinet), Matthew Walker (violin), Jill Faure (Viola), Helen Short (cello), Natalie Hudson (violin) and Claire Hadidjenar (violin). The Quietus called Barry at home to discuss the genesis of the project, then caught up with violinist Hudson, who's taken on the day-to-day running of the group.

Why did you decide to put an orchestra together?
Bobby Barry: For quite a long time I'd been nurturing this idea of getting together a really big group of all the people I knew in bands in Brighton to do some kind of performance of 'In C' by Terry Riley. I never quite got round to doing that, but it was in the back of my head that one day I'd like to. Then l was becoming more and more interested in writing music for things that weren't guitars and drums, but I didn't really know how. I started writing these little text scores that were structured improvisations that I wanted to try out. With The Pipettes we'd done stuff where we had strings on record and we often wanted to do more of that live, but it was always very expensive. I thought there might be other bands as well who might like the idea that there was an orchestra that acted a bit like a band, a freelance orchestra that was up for working with people.
Natalie Hudson: I'd been at Indietracks [the Derbyshire indiepop festival Hudson helps to run] in 2009 and one of my friends had heard that Bobby was looking to set up some kind of orchestra, so she passed on my email. I suggested where we could rehearse. I live in an ex-council flat in Kilburn and it's near a nice community hall. You don't need amps or anything like that because we're acoustic.
BB: Because Natalie's involved in Indietracks she's really good at organising things generally. I'm a very disorganised person by nature, so it quickly became apparent that someone needed to help.

Have you had formal musical training?
BB: A little bit, GCSE music stuff. I did a masters degree in contemporary music but that wasn't a composition course, it was listening and writing essays about Schoenberg and Terry Riley. Over the years I bought some books about music theory, books about orchestration and counterpoint and things, and I've just been teaching myself really. All the musicians in A Little Orchestra are people who learnt an instrument and a bit of music theory at school but didn't really pursue it, so it's all about using these skills that people had and perhaps neglected slightly. At the beginning people were saying things like, "I'll play, but if you ask me to improvise I'll get scared, and there's no chance that I'll ever write anything." Now they're saying, "Well, I'm going to write something soon" and they're much more comfortable doing improvisatory things. That's been one of the nice things about the development of the group.
NH: It's a real mixture. Nicola [Burnett Smith] our clarinettist is also a member of the London Gypsy Orchestra, so that's a different flavour; two of our violinists are in the band Apple Eyes; our bassoonist is in a band called Wolventrix who are little more indie rock; then Helen [Short], our cellist, used to be in Betty & The Werewolves. There was a guy called Dominic, who Nicola is friends with through London Gypsy Orchestra, and he wrote an original composition which she sang on. We love working with new writers who are not necessarily writing conventional pop songs but more experimental things.
How did you pick the guests for the album?
BB: To a certain extent it was just practical, who was available of all the people that we'd done stuff with. I wasn't really that closely involved in the initial stages of the record. I think one day Nat said, "Ok, so I think we're going to make an album and I've thought of half these people..." and I thought, "Brilliant, that's amazing! Well done!"
NH: We just had the idea, 'well, if we've started to play for other bands on their records, why don't we try and get other people to write songs for us?' When we first asked them we had an idea of soundtracks for an imaginary film, but it went away from that really. People were just happy to write songs that they thought would work with an orchestra. Darren [Hayman] loved the film theme, he really went for that. I think Gordon [McIntyre] has been working on a new play with David Greig and his song is due to be on that soundtrack as well. They're definitely visually descriptive.
How did the instrumental 'Clocks' themes come about?
BB: I felt there needed to be some stuff on the record that wasn't just A Little Orchestra backing up some other singer but was the group doing its own thing, so it was written specifically with them in mind. The numbering [parts 3, 2 and 5] is a little bit of a joke, because I wanted to suggest that it was part of this much bigger suite. It's semi-fictional, because after we'd chosen which parts were gonna be on the record, we renumbered them. It could expand and one day we could do this hour long gig that was the 26 parts of 'Clocks' or something. 24 would be the most appropriate, perhaps.
NH: I really love the instrumentals that he's written, they work really well between the songs. I'm always interested in what Bobby's doing next because I'm a massive fan of The Pipettes and I'm always trying to pump him for information whenever I see him.

'Treacle, You Should Probably Go To Sleep' video
How does Bobby living abroad affect the orchestra?
BB: I come when I can, but it would be prohibitively expensive for me to come to every single gig. They get on quite well without me, because I'm a dreadful conductor. Often they play more tight and in time when I'm not there than when I am. I find it enormously stressful, holding a pencil and pretending it's a conductor's baton.
NH: We don't have a standing conductor as such. One of us will start us off and keep time, and that can vary. It doesn't happen very often because we either have Bobby or we're playing with a band or we've got a guest coming to sing with us and they naturally take on that kind of lead role. It's lucky really and it's helped us to keep going with Bobby being in France.
What else are you up to?
NH: Bobby's mentioned doing something with The Lovely Wars, that's [ex-Pipette] Ani's new band. I think we need to look into that when our album's out the way, but we've got to take a democratic decision as a group, about whether we keep the same focus or whether we want to do something completely different. It's really open though.
BB: I've been doing gigs on my own, writing and recording stuff, but I can't seem to find anyone to actually put a record out, which is a bit frustrating. I could put it up on the internet and give it away or charge people, but it doesn't really appeal to me. If I'm going to spend a long time making something I want to be able to hold something shiny and plastic in my hand at the end of it and say, "Look Mum, I made this." I've also been doing quite a lot of remixes and bits of music for films as well, things that friends were doing, and that's been really good fun.
Are The Pipettes still active?
BB: Not at the moment, no. The Pipettes are, you might say, on hiatus. I'd still really like to do a third album at some point in time, but there are lots of different permutations in my head of what it would be. Everyone who's involved in the band knows that if we do a third Pipettes album it'll be as different to the second one as the second one was to the first. I'm nurturing in the back of my head this idea of it being three rappers, like a late 80s hip-hop thing, and the whole backing track would be made out of samples of the first album. It's not gonna happen tomorrow anyway. Songs come to me sometimes and I think, that sounds like The Pipettes. Maybe that's just force of habit and it's gonna still be happening to me in my dotage. I'll just come up with these songs and say, "Oh, that sounds like a Pipettes song! Quick, where's Gwenno?" -

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