Opiuo + Syzygy Orchestra turns the synthetic into the organic with full ensemble performance
By Michael Chary
There are many artists pushing the envelope of what electronic music can be and how it can be performed these days. This has increasingly involved the incorporation of traditional instruments to accompany or translate the synthetic into the organic. However, when one listens to the music created by Oscar Davey-Wraight, a.k.a. Opiuo, it would be hard to fathom an acoustic rendition. But that has not stopped him from attempting the daunting task of assembling his own orchestra to transcribe his bass-heavy, glitch-hop music with the aptly titled Syzygy Orchestra.
The word ‘syzygy’ itself is a bit paradoxical — the relationship between two related things, either alike or opposite — not unlike the relationship between a DJ and a symphony. In astronomical terms, syzygy describes a moment in time of perfect alignment between celestial bodies. And when Opiuo headlines Red Rocks with the Syzygy Orchestra, he hopes his stars will align to pull off this bold endeavor.
“It’s been long and it’s been bloody stressful, but it’s also been fun because where we’ve got to now is more crazy and awesome than I expected,” Davey-Wraight told The Marquee in a recent interview.
While local orchestras have often joined artists on stage at Red Rocks, Davey-Wraight, who first gained notoriety in 2010 with his single “Robo Booty,” figured now — even after his music has reached #1 on iTunes, Hype Machine, Beatport and Addictech, and after racking up millions of plays on Soundcloud — that if he had asked any existing ensemble to accompany him he would likely have been met with confusion. So, understanding the challenge, he decided to handpick an entire 20-piece ensemble to meticulously recreate his sound.
“I wanted to go about it in a different way than just playing a bunch of notes in long-form over the top of something that’s maybe a bit more dynamic and chopped up. We’ve really gone in there and reenacted a lot of things using the orchestra and removing that from the synthetic sound as well. So, we’ve been kind of pushing and pulling on things like that. I really went into all the songs and thought about how we can replay them with a composer. I didn’t want it to just be like a beat there and an orchestra over there, I really wanted total integration.”
While this isn’t his first time including live instrumentation in his sets it’s notably different than his previous project, The Opiuo Band. In this former iteration, Davey-Wraight was comfortable and confident; saxophone, bass, drums, and some vocals are pretty conducive to the funky idiosyncrasies of the Opiuo sound, but Davey-Wraight admits that trying to comprehend where the orchestra fits in has been difficult.
“The band grew out of an experiment playing music live with people on stage and I think the orchestra is the next evolution, although orchestras are a really difficult thing to do anywhere other than a venue like Red Rocks,” Davey-Wright said, “I feel like it’s a whole world that I don’t understand yet. I’ve kind of lost the words to describe what it’s going to be like because it’s just been a crazy amount of work, money and time, and to actually sit there — I mean the first real rehearsal when they run together, I think it’s just gonna be a moment.”
The New Zealand native was brought up around music. His parents had an old recording studio on their land, though he never imagined playing music professionally. When he was young, Davey-Wraight became enamored by the sound a symphony could create, and with his latest project he harkens back to the time he first heard one.
“I’ll never forget going to see the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I don’t remember what year it was, but they played a show where it was like a superhero theme,” Davey-Wright said. “I don’t remember the majority of the show because I completely left my whole space and I got to the end of it and was completely overtaken by everything that had happened and the same sort of experience has happened every time I see a collection of people doing it, whether it is an orchestra or a really large band. I just love the harmony and how the moment has to be in synch. That was something I’ll never forget, even though I’ve forgotten the whole part of the show — it was a very transforming thing.”
But despite having the vision to one day build his own orchestra Davey-Wraight never really saw it coming. The sentiment one feels when talking to him is one of perpetual awe from a Kiwi who speaks with humility, and is living in the moment, enjoying every step along the way.
“For me, I guess I’ve never really had this thing that I’ve wanted to reach. For me it’s always been about finding what makes me excited now, what inspires me now, what makes me feel good, what makes me feel something in everything that I do,” Davey-Wraight said. “You know we’re only here for like a split second on this fucking crazy flying rock, who knows what any of it is.”
In the past, he’s said these projects can be exhausting and not always as lucrative as one might imagine, but Davey-Wraight seems unfazed by the challenges ahead.
“I’m so fortunate and lucky to live off something like this, and if I just grabbed all the cash and ran you know I’d maybe have a house on the hill by now, but I wouldn’t be in this moment of excitement and creativity and things that I’ve always dreamed of doing and I’ve been given the chance to do it. I think for me I’m going to forever give it my all until I’m done. I think that’s important, but that’s a part of living, you know.”
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