Octant Notes

Octant is a musical ensemble for which I have designed and orchestrated robotic and experimental musical instruments to accompany performances of song-based compositions. The project was initiated in 1997 as a response to the prevailing computer music culture in the Northwest region of the US, where I resided from 1992 to 2000. Watching people stare at their laptops as a performance was boring and no one was doing anything interesting at shows or on recordings with new instrumentation. Drawing inspiration from artists like Einstürzende Neubauten and the Italian Futurists, I aspired to create kinetic percussion 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. Octant was part of the vibrant post-punk 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 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 robotics and experimental instruments’ role 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 seemed to enjoy it.

1999 Album, “Shock-No-Par”

The Octant album “Shock-No-Par,” released in 1999, is one of the early notable examples of an album that heavily features robotic musical instruments. The project utilized a combination of traditional and nontraditional instruments with robotic mechanisms to cultivate its individuated sound. “Shock-No-Par” is known for its innovative and creative use of robotic instruments in the context of a modern musical album, blending indie rock with experimental sounds. It contributed to the broader recognition and interest in using robotics in music production.

More reviews are below.


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 was 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
Maker Faire, 2013