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Photo courtesy of the NAC.

Join Kid Koala’s turntable orchestra at the NAC

By John McDonald on January 2, 2017

We can thank Montreal winters and a gifted album for Kid Koala’s forthcoming record (music to draw to: satellite) and tour, which includes performances at the NAC in February.

“I think the seeds for this record might have been planted back in 2001.”

While on tour with Radiohead that year, the band’s bassist, Colin Greenwood presented Kid Koala (aka Eric San) with Isan’s Lucky Cat while in a New York record shop, and told him “You need to listen to this”.

The recording became “my downtime soundtrack for the rest of the tour. When I was on a plane or in transit trying to get to the next gig, this was always on my headphones.”

Kid searched for more of the same ilk – ambient recordings, contemporary minimalist classical, scores and soundtracks.

“Over the years I’ve accumulated several crates of ‘quiet time’ records. These are records you reach for to slow down time and keep you in the zone. The music doesn’t necessarily demand your attention, but if you choose to, you can hear the subtle layers.

“These were records that I could play while drawing my graphic novels (Nufonia Must Fall and Space Cadet). I could put them on repeat and let them play for hours. I wouldn’t realize time passing.”

While his interest in this music grew, one aspect of it frustrated him.

“I could never share this type of music. My day job is scratching records over phrenetic beats. This music is painfully slow to play in a live show situation.”

So one Montreal winter in 2009, he addressed this frustration with Music to Draw To events.

“This was an experiment. I would do long five-hour sets of more ambient music. It was an environment for people to bring their projects – writing, drawing, coding, knitting – and work on them. Slowly, I brought in musical gadgets and gizmos, and I went a bit rogue. I began to improvise ambient music in the set. This became the template for what became this album.”

While these evenings allowed Kid to share music, it also allowed all those present to chase away the winter blues. As Ottawa residents, we have an appreciation for what Eric faces each year. That said, being a sound collagist, Kid Koala hears the season differently.

Photo courtesy of Kid Koala, from Music to Draw To.

Photo courtesy of Kid Koala, from Music to Draw To.

“There’s something in the overall tempo of a Montreal winter. Environmentally, you can hear it. There’s a dampened sound. Traffic is muted. There’s much less reverberation. I love it, and find it both inspiring and focusing. I tried to channel this in the studio. That’s why this record was made mainly over the past three winters. I knew each March, when the snow melted, that I had to move on to party music and leave this. I can’t credit winter enough for the creation of this record.”

While releasing a “slow, contemplative” non-sample-based record is a departure, so too is having a featured vocalist.

He had worked with Icelandic artist Emiliana Torrini when one of his songs was being used in a movie. Following that experience, he realized that some of his new tracks would benefit from her “whisper-quiet” voice.

“I reached out to her and she agreed to come to Montreal for three weeks. We spent a few days talking and visiting the city. When we started talking about the planned mission to Mars, we knew that was the basis of the record’s story – a couple separated and unable to reunite because one of them has headed to another world. I wrote lyrics, something that I haven’t done before, and timidly presented them to her. To my surprise, she said that they were beautiful, and wanted to record them. It gave me chills. It was a wonderful experience.”

The dreamy, atmospheric tracks of the new record form the basis of his forthcoming performances at the NAC.

And carrying on from his experimental wintery Montreal evening performances, the audience will be active while the music plays.

“I thought what it would be like if the audience helped us create these musical spaces. Every performance will be different thanks to the participation of the audience.”

Photo courtesy of Kid Koala.

Photo courtesy of Kid Koala.

The audience will be seated at stations equipped with a turntable, effects box and a small crate of colour coded vinyl records. Through subtle coloured lighting changes in the room, the audience will be cued to play along. The idea is to have 50 harmonized turntables create a unique, dynamic evening of light and music.

“At one point the front section of the room may be playing the blue record, while the back may be playing green. Then another section may play a different colour. We’re creating an ambient vinyl orchestra. We’ll be adding our musical layers from the stage. How the audience blends in with this is what results in a special blend. We’ve tested the show, and the results have been powerful.

“We’re looking forward to bringing this to Ottawa. The last time we were there was with our Space Cadet Headphone Concert. We had such a fun time. So, we’re back with another weird show, and hopefully people will come out to see it. And, it’s at the NAC! This is going to be fun.”

So 2017 brings us a new Kid Koala record, and innovative performances at the NAC. A nice start to the year, and two good ways to challenge those winter blues.

The performances take place in the Back Stage venue on February 16, 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. on February 18.  Tickets are available onlineKid Koala ft. Emiliana Torrini – Music To Draw To: Satellite is released January 20.