Orchestra of Spheres (with support from Badd Energy) are playing at The San Francisco Bath House as part of mawsa Orientation 2012 Saturday, February 25 from 10:30pm – 6am. Massey students can purchase specially discounted tickets for $5.

Fusing the exploratory jazz of Sun Ra with the punk-funk rhythms of no wave-era New York may seem like an unusual undertaking, especially in New Zealand’s often predictable music scene, yet Wellington band Orchestra of Spheres have not only chosen this musical outlet, but also found an adoring audience both locally and internationally. Paul Berrington spoke with the man behind the drums, Jemi Hemi Mandala, about what makes the band tick, and what those going to Massey Orientation can expect ahead of their live performance.

Great music doesn’t happen by accident. Usually there are noticeable factors to its success, and by success I don’t necessarily mean the music that tops the charts. Orchestra of Spheres manages the most difficult task in music-making – successful fusion – and challenge both the mind and body with exotic instrumentation matched to bouncing kick drums familiar to most from house and techno tracks.

Mandala suggests that this was a response to becoming “a little sick of the often predictable plinky plonk approaches to improv”, a scene that in Wellington has produced some notable musicianship and experimentation yet wouldn’t normally have a place for the rhythms of dance music.

What started out as, “really just a jam …although we had played together”, gained momentum at Wellington’s bastion of improvisation, Fredstock, a space where like minds meet on Frederick St in the city.

Mandala speaks passionately when he describes how “the experience and advice shared by proven musicians such as Jeff Henderson and Anthony Donaldson can’t be under-estimated”, describing the whole Frederick St set-up as “vital” in terms of the band’s progression from experiment to highly lauded live outfit playing festivals in Europe.

Soon the live performances captured that sense of amazement and rumor around the city that accompanied the early gigs of the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop and Electric Wire Hustle – the you-have-to-see-this-band-right now effect.

“We listen a lot to each other”, says Mandala, and it seems the challenging environment that was Fredstock has led to the band being a professional and propulsive unit. As Mandala suggests, capable of adapting to energy within the audience, adding that, “we don’t want an audience sitting down when we play, they should be enjoying the groove”, something which is rich within the Spheres’ music.

With an extremely limited EP and critically acclaimed LP recorded in 2009 and 2010 respectively, the band have come to the attention of an international, finding that some highly respected electronic pioneers in Four Tet and Caribou were fans of album Nonagenic Now and their live performance at the Camp Lo Hum festival in 2010.

“Dan (Caribou) and Kieran (Four Tet)”, as Mandala calls them now, have indeed given the band that all important element of respect with similar tastemakers all over the planet, with Caribou completing an edit of their trademark Hypersphere song, under his Daphni alias.

Yet Mandala says that respect was noticeable throughout Europe, where the band have played at such adored festivals as All Tomorrows Parties. “In a funny way it was just so much easier in Europe”, explaining this as “just more respect for what you do as a musician”.  He confides these details as “just the little things”, like “better back stage areas, good travelling between gigs, and a rider that includes more than a few nasty beers”.

On a more serious note, Mandala also suggests that “stage equipment and sound systems” were far better, allowing the band to deliver the performance they know they can.

As a band, Orchestra of Spheres perform under unusual aliases, wearing costumes that match their exotic instruments, which are often homemade, adding another unique touch. Mandala explains that there is no obvious philosophy behind this, and that it is “music themed”, and formed out of the belief that it makes their often-abstract music, “easier to digest”.
Finally, when asked what Orientation audiences can expect, he pauses before smiling and saying: “A mind-bending ecstatic brain and body dance”.

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