The Hidden Orchestra: the strange mobile laboratory of Dr. Acheson

Melodic loops from a future steam-punk folklore, avant-garde sound compressions, foggy curtains of wicked and wondrous nights lurking at the windows, the music of Hidden Orchestra beats the rhythm of another time. A music able to stop the footsteps of Hildesheim and Bobby Moos in front of the bar of the Enchanting Site[1], who, in silent movements stab the customers, lost night revellers, on the deserted wharfs on this end of the north of Scotland. Because this music is capable of hypnotizing in the same circle, the opulence of its prey, and the despair of its predator. Finally because this music is capable of capturing the course of time through the repetition of a theme that has emerged from the origins of its history (incorrectly labeled as ‘folklore’) and to suspend its flight. One can then listen to it, like a sorcerer’s apprentice looking at the magical matter he is creating circling over his palm. The melody would then spread softly as to draw out its DNA and march a golem’s orchestra at the beat of its  refrain.

It is ‘Seven hunters’ from the Archipelago album that opens the ball

The music of Hidden Orchestra is a n extravagant music of legends to come. The earth is always moving and the sea from which it has emerged, is the base on which everything seems to rest. An extremely organic music, it acts on its listener as a primordial nucleosynthesis, in which the elements aggregate with each other to form the elementary body that comes to replace ours, if we wish to abandon ourselves a little.

January 26, 2013 is a date that I will never forget. At the Chat Noir, in Geneva, I came that evening, straddling between the two worlds, to listen to the Archipelago tour. I was not expecting anything, even dreading the disappointment of studio/machines bands once on stage. After all what was Hidden Orchestra? Joe Acheson, composer, producer, multi instrumentalists, founder and conductor of the orchestra. His partner, Poppy Ackroyd[2], and two drummers, Tim Lane and Jamie Graham[3]. I was wondering what two drummers would be able to bring to a music that I expected to be not as rich live than on a studio album.

The small venue, its atmosphere, and the group shattered my reservations. A perfectly weightless concert, in which reality, no matter how hard it may be, finds a gateway to the other world, that of the infinitely grand.[4]

Two albums, Night Flight and Archipelago[5], mix tapes among the best of the kind (in my view,  ‘flight mixtape’ is a masterpiece):

At 17’45 one can find a superb tribute to the flagship piece of the legendary Hip Hop band, Pharcyde: Runnin’, then the voice of Jeru Da Damaja interludes before a flamboyant use of FF. Coppola’s Dracula soundtrack, then, at 27′ 35, an ominous piece, for me Joe Acheson has established himself as one of the most inspired and creative musicians of the current music scene. His simple mixtapes could be studied just like the texts of our best writers.

Just imagine the excitement with which I saw the new production of the group coming.

Wingbeats, flapping wings, is a concept album. Released on 11 November 2016, this EP offers a central track of 12 minutes and 6 other musical moments that led to the creation. Fascinating journey through the arcane of a prominent melodist, who did not produce any album since Archipelago in 2012.


Joe Acheson very graciously took the time to answer the questions I sent him, for an exclusive journey in a work little known to us.


Vasken Koutoudjian : Could describe how did you learn music?

Joe Acheson : I started with the recorder, then the violin, then singing in choirs and playing in orchestras, studying the piano, bassoon, organ and singing. I started composing music properly around the age of 10. I picked up the guitar and bass guitar, played in lots of bands, learnt to DJ, and then taught myself how to produce music on computers using a process of trial and error. At university, I studied classical composition as part of a music degree.
Most of what I know, I learnt singing as a choirboy, and that sacred music still informs my work today. I am still learning a lot about how to record, mix and produce music, and I learn to play a new instrument (badly) most years.

VK : How would you define your music?

JA:The music I make as Hidden Orchestra could be described as dark orchestral textures, with lots of drums, bass and field recordings – electronic music made by acoustic means.

VK : In this album you resort to sound of nature, bird especially. Mozart said he wants to find singing of birds in his music, while some will especially distinguish man’s music and nature’s sound. What about you?

JA : There’s nothing new about using the sounds of nature in music, people have been doing it almost as long as they have been able to record sound outdoors – in 1924 the BBC began a long series of extremely popular live broadcasts of duets between the cellist Beatrice Harrison and a nightingale, from her garden.
I think nearly all sounds can be musical – I have used 3 different recordings of extractor fans on my upcoming album, for example, which is neither man’s music nor nature’s sound. Alongside birds, trees, wind, rain and water, I use recordings of machinery, drills, tuning radios, distorting microphones, broken equipment.. As with genres, I try not to be too restrictive, or worry about classification – anything with a pitch, rhythm, texture or timbre which appeals to me, can be music.

VK : In your mixes there is a lot of hip hop, my question will be what is the relation between hip hop and your music?

JA : I was a big fan of instrumental hip hop music in my teenage years, and still like a lot of it. However, at first I knew nothing of the background and culture, so I was surprised to discover how much of the music which I had assumed people had written was actually samples, with just a beat and a bassline added. I don’t mean to suggest that sampling is somehow less worthy – I very quickly became really interested in sampling techniques, and I love the kinds of music you can create by using looping and repetition, as well as combining small fragments of different and varied sounds to create something new.

Eventually, this led to my current writing process, which I’ve illustrated on the Wingbeats release – I write lots of short original pieces for soloists or small ensembles, entirely for the purpose of creating source material for sampling – this way I can achieve some of the aesthetic of music made using sampling techniques, but using my own original samples..

VK : What are you trying to achieve through music?

JA : I believe that attempting to contribute in some small way to the development of artistic culture and the creative consciousness of the human race is a noble and worthwhile use of a life. If I am bringing entertainment and any kind of enrichment to anyone else’s life then I am extremely happy.

VK : Wingbeats is the new album of Hidden Orchestra….how could you qualify it regarding the other albums?

JA  : Technically, it’s a one-track EP with six B-sides – an attempt to release something that explains a bit more about my working process, and an opportunity to share some of the short and simple source pieces in their own right. The main Wingbeats track will also feature on the next full Hidden Orchestra album, which will be the third (in succession of 2012’s Archipelago and 2010’s Night Walks).

VK : How did the band work for it and how long does it take to make it?

JA : The live band aren’t directly involved in the creative process – I write all the music myself in my studio, compiling an imaginary orchestra[6] using snippets from dozens of recordings of myself and other musicians playing short pieces, sketches and ideas. Wingbeats was created over a period of about 14 years.

VK : What is an artist for you?

JA : That’s too big a question, philosophically. An artist is anyone who thinks they are creating art, and many others who might not realise that they are. Craft is at least as important as concept.

VK : And what is the question that no one ever ask you on interview and you really dream to answer?

JA : I have recipes I would love to share. Cooking can be a lot like making music.

We imagine Joe Acheson, at the bottom of a tavern at the gates of the steps towards the oceans of the North ……

The recipes of Acheson are tasted by ear here: Http://www.hiddenorchestra.com/

[1] From the french fantastic novelist Jean Ray. http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/111191.Jean_Ray

[2] https://www.culturopoing.com/musique/poppy-ackroyd-delicate-et-atmospherique/20170118

[3] The band can be joined during the flight by different musicians !

[4] I do not say that to make a figure of style, like an image, but literally, I have made the experience of it … .

[5] http://www.hiddenorchestra.com/releases/

[6] Like a Hidden Orchestra !

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