“This willingness to reject conventional ideas about electronics, music, and electronic music defines Octant’s unpretentious yet inventive stance.”
– Heather Phares (AllMusic)
Octant is a musical ensemble for which I have designed and orchestrated robotic and experimental musical instruments to accompany performances of song-based compositions over the course of the past two decades. The project was initiated in 1997 as a response to the prevailing digital culture in the Northwest region of the US, where I resided from 1992 to 2000. Drawing inspiration from artists like Einstürzende Neubauten and the Italian Futurists, I sought to create kinetic noise machines that would serve as the centerpiece of my musical compositions and performances. While incorporating elements of psychedelia, electronica, krautrock, new wave, lo-fi, and post-punk, I wanted to push against the expectations of what a song composition and performance could be. To this end, I utilized avant-garde techniques such as drones, noise, dissonance, lo-fidelity, and atonality as devices within the music to augment or negate the meaning within the melodies and lyrics of the songs.
Octant was a hybrid machine-human multimedia performance involving kinetic/robotic art, lighting, music, and sound introduced into everyday bars and all-ages music venues. While I recognized that the use of unconventional instrumentation and a robotic percussionist could be perceived as a gimmick, I was more concerned with the quality of the sounds and the visual appeal of the instruments themselves. In retrospect, the project was ahead of its time, anticipating the current reintegration of homemade instruments into electronic music and the Maker movement that would emerge a decade later. It was part of the vibrant DIY artist culture that characterized the Northwest music scene in the 1990s, which included bands from labels such as K, Kill Rockstars, and Up Records, as well as mail-order art from Catch of the Day catalog, Miranda July’s Joanie 4 Jackie (aka Big Miss Moviola), and the like.
Initially, my idea of having a robotic percussionist was egged on as a teasing dare from a bandmate from another project, while all the drummers we knew were scarce and over-committed. The challenge of developing and performing with an acoustic drum machine was a solution to a technical problem and a worthwhile aesthetic experiment. Embracing all of its creative potential and limitations, I wanted to see if we could tour, record, and do all the same things that conventional bands do. In the process, I became proficient at programming music, designing electronic circuits, and developing musical objects. I am still exploring the role that robotics and experimental instruments play in art.
I am indebted to Chris Takino (RIP) from Up Records for putting out the first two records and Doug Martsch for letting me open for Built To Spill literally weeks after I started the project. Octant must have been a risky choice for him even though his fans really seemed to enjoy it.
A documentary that was shot in 1999 in conjunction with the release of the first record, Shock-No-Par.
Machine Project, LA 2011