International Artist in Residence, January 2023
Oren Ambarchi is a composer and multi-instrumentalist with longstanding interests in transcending conventional instrumental approaches. Currently based in Berlin, Oren is a pillar in the international experimental scene, in addition to his prolific output he also runs the label Black Truffle.
How did you first get involved with synths and electronic sound?
I was interested in electronics from a very young age. My grandfather had a 2nd hand store in Sydney in the 1980s. So as a 10 year old I had access to reel to reel machines, microphones, effect pedals etc. Records were super important too, I was continually discovering sounds I could have never imagined and I tried to emulate them on the tools that I had.
I started out as a drummer but always was attracted to electronics. I loved using a double tape recorder as a DIY way to make my own music via crude overdubbing from bouncing from tape to tape. I’m not really a ‘synth’ guy as I never really had access to synths (as opposed to guitar pedals), but I remember having a Yamaha CS01 when I was 12 or 13. It was very basic but I had a lot of fun with that synth. Quite amazing that it was battery operated too.
How would you describe the sounds you make today?
Oh.. not sure how I would describe the sounds..
I really love working with overtones and feedback and trying to mould those elements into something that pleases and excites me. In a way, the bones of my music is all derived from feedback (although it might not sound like it). Feedback by its nature is chaotic and unpredictable so it’s exciting to work with a material that is always on the edge of chaos and to try and harness it and make it ‘musical’ (for me anyway).
I’m super into using a Leslie cabinet too. I love the sound of records from the early 70s that had guitars going through Leslie cabs and that’s a big part of my sound world. That said, I’ll utilise anything to make a piece work.
Where do you find inspiration, what motivates you?
Records are a fundamental inspiration and always have been since I was young. I am constantly in awe of works that have an allure or mystique – where something unique is happening which baffles, intrigues and excites me – it means that I want to return to it over and over again. This kind of thing fires me up to make my own work.
I am always inspired by my partner Crys’s work and by my close friends and colleagues and their respective work too. I feel lucky to work with so many inspiring friends. Coming back to Australia and hearing all the birds, insects and wildlife is super inspiring too.
What’s been one of the most rewarding or satisfying moments of your journey so far?
I often pinch myself that I am able to do what I do and that some people are interested in my work. I am super thankful that I’m able to play shows and make records and do what I love doing.
And the most challenging?
I’m always trying to push myself to make work that is different to what I’ve done previously. The big challenge for me when I make work is to be satisfied that I have ventured somewhere that is new for me.
Do you have a current ‘go to’ set up at MESS? Any favourite machines or combos that you’re currently digging?
I was playing the Buchla the other day and it was quite frustrating as it sounded like a synth (haha) and I was hoping to get it to a point where it didn’t have that cliche “synth” sound. Eventually I hit on something (by routing it in a way that probably wasn’t “kosher”), where all the elements were feeding back on itself. It sounded like horns, very breathy, alien sounding and not very ‘electronic’. It was also behaving in a way where everything was changing and evolving over time which was cool.
Are there any machines in the MESS collection you’ve had your eye on but haven’t tried yet?
The Serge, but that’s a big mountain to climb.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you first started what would it be?
I was always obsessed with music/sound from a young age but was discouraged a lot as I grew up, where I was told that it was a ‘hobby’ and that it wasn’t possible to do it full time. So often I was pushed into trying other paths, all of which never ‘worked’ as music was always such a huge distraction. It took me a long time to have the confidence to just get on with it.
So my advice is, if you are passionate about something, don’t dilly dally, “just do it.”