Electronic Improv Band Collaborates with Oberlin Arts Collective

Rosie Black

Archie Pelago recording and mixing tracks in the studio is one thing, but when the eclectic trio played at the ’Sco on Friday night, it was an entirely different story. The Brooklyn-based group’s recordings are predominantly instrumental, creating an emotive and atmospheric texture, but their performance didn’t quite live up to the promise of the recordings. As they took the stage, Hirshi, a DJ and trumpeter, informed the audience, “We’re gonna take you on a little improvising journey.” And so they did.

Preceding the trio, solo act Jacob 2-2 graced the stage, accompanied by two computers and a soundboard. As he jammed, his entire body convulsing to the beat, a series of visuals flickered on the screen behind him in a repeating sequence: little running cartoon men, stylized numbers, off-color pictures of satellite dishes and a rainbow cave of wonders. True to his name based off the cult Canadian children’s film Jacob Two Two meets the Hooded Fang Jacob 2-2 also included movie clips of boys in the throes of childhood exploration, a theme that runs throughout much of his music. He built the music onstage without interacting with the audience, dropping the bass with a flourishing hand, mellowing out for a measure, then bumping it up again for the audience’s pleasure.

After gesturing “rock on” to the crowd, Jacob 2-2 ceded the stage to Archie Pelago, composed of saxophonist Kroba, cellist Cosmo D and DJ Hirshi. Each musician had his instrument or a mixing board and computer in front of him. To kick off the improvisational journey, Hirshi laid a beat, and Kroba and Cosmo D proceeded to play a few bars before looping and mixing what they just played using Ableton music software. The resulting highly rhythmic, smooth jazz-influenced electronic sound with thudding bass and synth-pop overtones got the crowd dancing, and the improvisation kept the audience guessing.

Hirshi checked in with the crowd every now and then, as if wondering whether or not to keep playing. The audience answered every inquiry with applause and cheers, so the trio played on, trying different riffs, playing with the bass and layering traditional jazz and pop melodies with experimental, atonal lines. The three had great chemistry and obviously felt comfortable with each other as they shared a giggle onstage or reached past each other’s arms to mess with the soundboard. When they especially enjoyed a line they were creating, huge smiles broke out across their faces and their whole bodies pulsed along to the music.

Toward the beginning of the show, the audience shared the band’s excitement. Many people danced along to the music, while others stood swaying or nodding their approval. However, little by little, the band’s repetitive, experimental sounds drove many from the dance floor.

A loyal handful of dancers and listeners remained until the end of the show, and those lucky few received the benefit of experiencing the array of visuals presented by double-degree seniors Charlie Abbott and Devin Frenze, which ended up being an understated highlight of the show. Abbott’s and Frenze’s visuals included a diverse array of shapes, colors and themes, which often appeared in the form of a kaleidoscope of morphing crystals. “If it’s not weird, you can hit me in the face,” Abbott said jokingly before the show. It was definitely weird, but the interactions of the graphics with the music and the constant additions of new material kept the visuals fresh and enthralling.

Abbott and Frenze are members of Real Boy Digital, an artist collective founded in 2013 by Conservatory senior Myles Emmons to enable collaboration between artists to put on shows that feature projection and video art alongside other media. Recently, the group started looking for more professional collaborations, and Abbott was excited to work with Archie Pelago. “I met them [the night before the show] and showed them some of my work, and they put us on the show. I’m also a big fan of their music and especially their style of performance (with saxophone, cello and electronics), and I was super excited to play with them,” he said in an email.

The collective members use a programming language called Jitter to create the visuals. The different visual themes exist on different systems called patches, and Abbott and Frenze control how the objects in each patch interact with each other. During a show, the performers move through the patch, and their path determines how the visuals appear on the screen. Abbott described the movement through the patch as “flying through space,” traveling through a video game or playing a “visual instrument.” Said Abbott, “I like to think of [it] as an amalgamation of all three of those ideas.”

The originality and improvisational quality of the Real Boy Digital visuals made them the perfect accompaniment for Archie Pelago, which renders its songs uniquely at each performance. The graphics shed light on the music, but also could have easily stood alone. Although many audience members didn’t stay for the chaotic, experimental sound, they should have stayed, if only for Real Boy Digital’s work.