Octant

1997-Present

“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 band for which I have built and orchestrated robotic and experimental musical instruments as accompaniment for performances of songs that I have written over the past twenty years.

When I started the project in 1997, I was bored with the current digitally-bound tech culture growing in Seattle. I looked to previous artists like Einstürzende Neubauten and the Italian Futurists. They had a novel vision for music and technology, developing homemade acoustic noise machines to score the soundtracks to their narratives. I took a similar tactile approach to perform songs and incorporated other styles like psychedelia, krautrock, new wave, lo-fi, post-punk, etc. I felt like it would be too obvious to make instrumental abstract sonic textures with my instruments. My musical tastes at the time were extremely eclectic and I wanted to continue to write poetry-driven music. I used avantgarde elements like drones, noise, dissonance, lo-fidelity, and atonality as devices within compositions. Like alchemy, ingredients were added to a mixture in order to augment or divert the meaning within the songs.

Octant was as a hybrid machine-human multimedia performance involving kinetic/robotic art, lighting, music, and sound introduced into the everyday bars and all-ages music venues. I knew that having strange instrumentation and a robotic percussionist was a gimmick but I didn’t care because the sound was great and the instruments were fascinating to watch. Foreshadowing the Maker movement, the project was a decade ahead of its time, part of the 90s Northwest DIY artist youth culture which included bands from labels like K, Kill Rockstars, and Up Records and the pre-internet, mail-order art from Catch of the Day catalog, Miranda July’s Joanie 4 Jackie (aka Big Miss Moviola), and the postcards of Stella Marrs. The Octant vision was accessible and immediate, maintaining a punk ethos, staying out in the field, and playing shows with other bands instead of retreating to a more forgiving (academic) context.

Initially, my idea of having a robotic percussionist was egged on as a dare from a bandmate from another project because drummers were scarce and over-committed in the Seattle/Olympia area. The challenge of developing and performing with an acoustic drum machine was a solution to a technical problem and a worthwhile aesthetic experiment. I wanted to see if we could tour, record, and do all the same things that normal bands do. In the process, I became proficient at programming music, developing digital circuits, and designing 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 love it.

octantmusic.com
Shock-No-Par
Wikipedia
CMJ

A documentary that was shot in 1999 in conjunction with the release of the first record, Shock-No-Par.

Octant Live at Machine Project LA 2011
Machine Project, LA 2011

First Octant Show 1997
My first Octant show in 1997 in a Seattle basement in a show entitled “Hijinks”. Notice the box of modified electronics, the first version of the robotic percussion set, the Juno 60, and the very old mac desktop that I used as my piano roll sequencer.

Octant 1997
Some festival that Miranda July and Calvin Johnson organized in Portland, 1998

Octant 2011
The BTHR Hear and There shoot at Sycamore Flower shop/bar, Brooklyn, 2011

octant-live-mf-2014-1
Maker Faire, 2013