Join the Orchestra: No Experience Necessary
Kid Koala (aka Eric San) made his recording debut with the playful electronic record Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in 2000. His techniques and styles were groundbreaking. Many saw him as the first DJ to effectively show the world that the turntable could be manipulated like an instrument, not just used to compliment rap MCs. A.V. Club called the record “a living, breathing work of art.” Pitchfork describes San as someone who is “at the forefront of instrumental DJ brilliance.”
As the years progressed, San shifted, and his ideas grew. He performed with Deltron 3030, collaborated with Gorillaz and Handsome Boy Modelling School, wrote graphic novels, composed music for films and even made a breakdancing videogame called Floor Kids. His latest records Music To Draw To: Satellite (2017) and Music To Draw To: Io (released in January 2019) are what San describes as “transportive ambient-vocal collaborations.”
For the live performances supporting these records, San knew he had to change up the approach for these much mellower sounds.
“How do we perform or present some of this and not have it uptempo or put beats on everything? How do we keep the tempo of this music intact without putting everyone to sleep?” asked San from his home in Montreal.
The result? Three vastly different live projects that range in size and scope. The Music To Draw To Sessions combine live ambient music with a place for the audience to literally draw along to: whether it’s a doodle, sketch, or if someone wanted to finish a project that needed to get done. He also presented his graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall, live as a silent film with live editing, soundtrack and sound effects. And of course, the Satellite Turntable Orchestra which premiered at Toronto’s Luminato Festival in 2015.
“We created a bunch of harmonized tone records that have different notes or atmospheres and they’re all colour coded. How we conduct the audience is by using the lighting at their station, where they try to find that colour record and play it on their turntable,” explained San.
“It’s setup so that everybody can hear their station and hear how it blends with their neighbour’s station and the stations from the other side of the room. You get a bit more spatialization and also have fun with the doppler effect.”
When it comes to projects that San has worked on, or is working on, it’s clear he has no shortage of ambition. But what about a project that is just too big to pull off?
“There’s always [projects] that I might not have the infrastructure to build yet, or the team members to make it happen. But I do come from a very DIY aesthetic. If there’s a way we can even test the concept it would be a little on the rougher side at first, you know, maybe a little more duct tape at first and just test to see if it works,” said San.
“There’s an idea for a show that would require us to build scaffolding and a three-story high set. There’s a reason why that one hasn’t moved forward. It would involve a lot of the engineers, and maybe even some people with more circus experience. But also, a lot of venues that we know don’t even have the clearance in the rooms,” explained San.
“It’s sort of percolating… In terms of how do we get it to work and how do we test the concept without just going straight to it then realize ‘hey what we’ve built here actually doesn’t fit in any venue.’ Then you’re just stuck with a giant model, and we’re like what do we do? Then we’re stuck playing at outdoor venues.”
Kid Koala’s Satellite Turntable Orchestra, touches down in just three cities so far this year, College Park, Maryland; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and St. Catharines. San will premiere his brand new project The Storyville Mosquito in Montreal at the end of November. This project has been described as a live animated graphic novel that’s performed, filmed and scored in real time. Performers, musicians, foley artists and technicians cinematically bring the characters to life using miniature sets, puppets, multiple cameras and screens.
“Overall, I still wanted the Satellite show to feel connected and I wanted everyone in the audience to understand what’s contributing to the bigger audioscape and the room, and feel connected that way. And I like that. That’s why we’ve had to limit the number of stations available, because if we went to 200 turntable stations, for instance, and maybe played a bigger place then you’d lose a bit of the intimacy of the experience. That’s why we’re doing multiple shows. I prefer to have fewer people have a more connected experience than just playing to a lot of people,” said San.
“It’s interesting because we’ve had afternoon [Satellite Turntable Orchestra] shows where I’d say up to a third of the audience was under 10 years old. We went out and were wondering how it was going to sound and that people might expect that it’s going to be crazy or it’s going to be insane and chaotic. We actually found it was the opposite. It was almost like they were able to tune in and pay attention and play and fade the sounds with the nuance as it was being conducted. They were able to synchronize much better than say a Saturday night drunk crowd full of adults.”
Kid Koala brings his Satellite Turntable Orchestra to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre for seven shows from April 18-20. More information can be found at firstontariopac.ca