When British audio-visual electronic DJ duo Addictive TV begin touring their Orchestra of Samples project this week, 200 musicians from around the world will be joining them. But thanks to sophisticated technology – plus an astonishing ear for how hugely diverse genres could blend into perfect harmonies – they won’t need an enormous stage or a massive pizza delivery on their rider

Addictive TV are Graham Daniels and Mark Vidler, known for gigs where they splice together music, movies and videos, creating unique, immersive dance music. A typical Addictive TV set would consist of a mash-up of film supercuts and remixes with music videos. They’d take sounds like a car door slamming from Transformers or phaser fire from Star Trek and mix that into a rhythmic bass-line. Over the top would come unlikely musical pairings like Stevie Wonder with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rihanna and Blur, or Azalea Banks and The Clash.

The Guardian said of them: “Addictive TV continue to take hip-hop‘s scratch philosophy into the cyberpunk age”. Or as Grandmaster Flash put it: “next level shit”.

With a tour starting on 5th May and an album launch on 2nd June, their latest project, Orchestra of Samples, breaks new ground by sampling audiovisual content from global musicians and mixing it together in groundbreaking ways.

The five-year sample hunt

The pair first met when Vidler approached Daniels to make the video for a mash-up he’d created between Blondie and The Doors that was going to be released by EMI, back in the mid-noughties. Appropriately, when the two speak, it’s a seamless mix of them constantly interrupting and talking over each other, and finishing each other’s sentences.

We wanted to collaborate with as many people as we could and do more than the DJ or band thing where you fly in, do the gig and fly back out

According to Daniels, the idea for Orchestra of Samples came about because they wanted to do something that involved more people that just themselves.

“Because we were travelling a lot, we wanted to collaborate with as many people as we could and do more than the DJ or band thing where you fly in, do the gig and fly back out,” he says. “We found that pretty much everyone we were working with were more than happy to introduce us to musician friends of theirs. Then we’d build up a pool of musicians and an archive to sample from, and that became the project.”

Vidler adds: “Because our recording equipment was small enough fit into our hand luggage, it was a great way of capturing audio and video on the road and build up an orchestra from that in our spare time.”

The pair emphasise that the human aspect of Orchestra of Samples means they don’t use anonymous samples downloaded from YouTube. The samples took over five years to collect in person, and there’s a story behind every one. Surprisingly, the musicians are given no strict direction as to pitch and tempo; the magic happens in the mix.

Goat bagpipes and stone xylophones

To capture the tracks, Addictive TV used a palm-sized TASCAM DR-40 digital recorder stereo recorder with an SM57 microphone from Shure, which records onto a SD card together with an Apple Mac with some audio software in it. As a guide track they also recorded onto the camera with XLR camera microphone cables.

But perhaps the most surprising technology involved was the instruments some of the musicians used.

“What surprised me the most was the boudègue, a French bagpipe made form a whole goat,” says Daniels. “And in Mexico a guy who’s an expert in ancient pre-historical musical instruments thinks one of the earliest instruments humans would have made would have been a stone xylophone. He spent many years looking for naturally-tuned fragments of rock. He lays them out in a scale and hits them with another piece of rock.”

“The Circuit Bent made from children’s toys was good,” adds Vidler. “You could get quite musical, psychedelic sounds out of that. And our friends from Kazakhstan had a dombyra two-string guitar which they amplified to give a Jimi Hendrix effect.”

Given the raw material, it’s difficult to comprehend how these radically diverse sounds merge together harmoniously.

“There’s a little bit of maths involved,” says Vidler. “We get the tempo of the riffs and samples and find out the keys. But we never re-pitch the samples. If you start time-stretching and retuning things, you’re moving away from the natural origin of the sound and it’s very noticeable.

Image courtesy of Addictive TV / Joe Haydon. Featured image courtesy of Addictive TV / Alexis Maryon

“Some instruments, like the Hang [a UFO-shaped steel drum type instrument] are only in one key, you can’t retune them,” adds Daniels.

The pair labels every sample by country and instrument, with the key and tempo. The genius comes when they remember, say, the riff from the dombah in Kazakhstan was in the same key as the singer in Mexico. It may not work with the goat bagpipe, but it’s perfect with the mandolin. They then construct their own riffs using a few notes from each.

Some of the more surprising combinations they found were the Japanese Koto which worked really well with the Turkish/Iranian tanbur, and the Hang that sounded perfect with voices.

“One that worked well for me was the Cristal Baschet [an instrument played by stroking glass rods with wet fingers] and the viola-guitar, which gave a quite unique tuning that goes really well together,” says Vidler. “We gave it a more contemporary song arrangement; it was one of the first tracks we started and one of the last we finished.”

A borderless musical journey

Because of the way the samples are mixed live, if you go to see a show on the Orchestra of Samples tour you’ll be guaranteed a unique experience.

“There’s a base bed, because you have to have a foundation to build upon, but it’s highly portable,” explains Vidler. “We could be playing in Leeds and have a blues harmonica playing, or we could be travelling to Russia and invite balalaikas.”

During a show, the audio comes from one laptop and the video from another, but they are networked together and one is slaved to the other, to keep the music and video in sync.

“The software we’re using, Traktor and Arena, are commercially available. But we’ve got specialised versions that the manufacturers are allowing us to use,” says Daniels. “One is sending MIDI signals to the other, so the audio is triggering the video live. All the video is mute on one computer and all the audio WAVs are on another computer, so when you load an audio sample or bass track, it automatically triggers the corresponding video on the other laptop.”

This enables the audience to see where the samples come from and the artists behind it.

“Audiences can expect a musical journey without borders,” says Daniels. “One of the key components of the project is demonstrating how technology can be used to bring people together in new, artistic ways.”

The sound of tomorrow

Looking to the future, the Orchestra of Samples project will continue to grow as Addictive TV’s reputation spreads, and new technology will enhance the experience.

“We’re looking to use something called Stems that Native Instruments do,” says Daniels. “You can perform live with individual parts of different tracks. You could solo the trumpet, drums, or singer on a track, for example, effectively doing a live mix of the elements within a track. But there currently isn’t a visual version of that. We’re going to see the software developers about that next month.”

“It’d be great if they could, because on a night where we have live trumpets, we can mute the trumpet and bring up the bouzouki,” says Vidler. “It means you can build unique versions of a track on every performance.”

Given the combination of musicians who’d never normally perform together, and their instruments which wouldn’t normally be heard together, it’s fair to say Orchestra of Samples promises a unique technology-driven audio-visual experience.

Beyonce’s album is still not available on Spotify. It’s been 6 months. No-one disputes that artists should be allowed to release their music where they want, but they have to realise that if they don’t release music everywhere, then we’ll acquire it via other means. We speak to Spotify users about whether they’ve started torrenting albums yet

The party season is almost upon us, but if you want to elevate your party from ‘just a few family and friends’ to Project X, then you need to start choosing music now. But if you’re going to be DJ-ing a party that closes out 2016, or if you can see a situation arising where your playlists are going to have to go toe to toe with other partygoers, then you might also want to think about getting together an Excel spreadsheet of what music is available on what streaming service.

Image courtesy of Beyonce.com. Above: image courtesy of arvzdix / Shutterstock.com

Image courtesy of Beyonce.com. Above: image courtesy of arvzdix / Shutterstock.com

If you’re planning on playing Beyonce’s Lemonade then you’ll need Tidal; if you want to listen to Taylor Swift then you better have access to Apple Music; but if you’re thinking about listening to anything from Prince’s back catalogue then it’s back to Tidal.

Like many people, I’ve listened to all of these artists, but I’ve not subscribed to separate providers or had to open up separate apps to do it. I’ve taken advantage of alternative resources described by Spotify’s global head of creator services, Troy Carter, who said, in an interview with Billboard, “limiting access to music only incentivises fans to seek it out on pirate sites or YouTube, where it generates less revenue”.

To find out whether exclusive albums offered by Tidal and Apple Music are pushing people back to torrenting, we asked Reddit’s /r/spotify/ group what they think.

The situation was probably best summed up by JeffZorzz, who said: “Every artist knows the cowboy laws of the internet. If you’re going exclusive you know you’re missing out [because people will be] torrenting your shit. Perhaps their exclusive contract offers a great deal, but still it’s ignorant to act otherwise.” Well said, JeffZorzz. Well said.

Are Tidal and Apple right to keep music exclusive?

Since Jay Z purchased Tidal in 2015, I haven’t been the only person to ask: if a record’s only available on Tidal and no-one’s around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Any popularity that Tidal has is pretty much down to exclusive albums. So, what was initially proposed as an artist-owned streaming platform, is essentially maintained by a cabal of some of the music industry’s biggest players.

Tidal has around 4 million subscribers – compared to Spotify’s almost 40 million and Apple Music’s 17 million – and the fact that the service has a mild surge in popularity every time a massive album drops is fooling no-one.

Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal will all be in bidding wars for the best of the best

But some redditors think Tidal’s strategy is justified and here to stay. Alexei_Kovalev_GOAT says: “When TLOP (The Life of Pablo) came out look at how many people signed up for Tidal. Even if most of them quit after the free trial, it was enough to get people to realise that this is a legitimate way to release albums going forward.

“The future of music, at least for the foreseeable future, will be to see which streaming platform big-time artists will use to drop their album ‘exclusively’. Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal will all be in bidding wars for the best of the best. They’re all going to offer exclusives to reel people in.”

There were rumours that Apple Music was considering purchasing Tidal in order to secure the service’s close relationship with a number of high-profile artists. But this would be such a lazy tactic by Apple. Why can’t they improve the service they offer, rather than just putting content behind a paywall? Apple exclusives don’t make up for a shoddy app and the inability to share music with peers.

“I’ve been a Spotify premium user for a few years now,” says kermagod. “When Apple Music had some exclusives I wanted to listen to I signed up for a free trial. I paid for about 3 or 4 months after my trial expired, but the Android app was awful so I cancelled. Plus, I didn’t need to pay for two music subscriptions. Now my stance is if it’s not on Spotify I won’t listen. I haven’t heard the latest Beyonce album.”

Think of the artists

The reason for writing this article isn’t just because I’m a disgruntled fan who can’t get hold of Beyonce’s latest record. Pushing people back to torrenting isn’t good for artists either.

record-ssIn August, Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group, sent out a directive that appeared to order the company’s labels to stop the practice of making “exclusive” distribution deals with streaming services to discourage artists from “enter[ing] the marketplace with one hand tied behind your back”.

According to Bob Lefsetz, author of influential music industry newsletter Lefsetz Letter, Grainge said: “Most people don’t give a crap about the new Frank Ocean album. We’ve got an industry that promotes marginal products that appeal to few and makes them unavailable to most people? That’s hysterical!”

Grainge’s reservations probably have something to do with the fact that music labels could become obsolete if artists like Frank Ocean can engage directly with streaming services. But Reddit’s users agree that as well as not being good for music fans, online exclusivity deals are no good for artists, and lead people to use torrent sites.

We’ve got an industry that promotes marginal products that appeal to few and makes them unavailable to most people? That’s hysterical!

“If artists want to act like hobos and sell their albums out of the trunk of their cars then more power to them. However if they want to give their fans a wide swath of streaming options then it is only going to be beneficial to their exposure,” says Third_Planet.

“Musicians can do as they please as it is their intellectual property. However, as a consumer, I don’t listen to artists not available on Spotify and I go out of my way to avoid listening to, promoting or caring about artists wrapped up in exclusivity deals,” says LifeinParalysis. “If I really love an artist, I will support them by buying an album and merchandise, but I won’t subscribe to multiple streaming services.”

“I agree artists should be able to make their music available wherever they want. I haven’t had an issue in the past with an album not being available except for one time, which was for Frank Ocean’s new album. It was hyped, yet it wasn’t available on Spotify, so I will admit I torrented it,” says BlackSapper.

Buying music

While some people have been pushed back into torrenting thanks to the increasing number of exclusive album deals, other have chosen to go old-school and just buy records that aren’t available to stream. And by ‘buy records’ I mean that they purchase digital tracks rather than actually going to a store and picking up a record. Because, let’s face it, no-one does that anymore.

Most of the time I won’t listen to it if it’s not on Spotify

“Most of the time I won’t listen to it if it’s not on Spotify. That said there’s only ever been one artist’s album not on Spotify that I’ve been bothered about. In that case I actually purchased the album because I’m a big fan of the band,” says Junglebreath.

“When, say one streaming service has one exclusive album you really want, you might as well buy the album rather than spend a single monthly fee for the service. The cost evens out at around $10 anyway,” says LILMACDEMON.

Not everyone is burdened by their own integrity and feels compelled to buy music rather than torrent it. Nielsen revealed in its Mid-Year Music Report that purchasing digital tracks is down 24%, while purchasing digital albums is down 18% compared to 2015.

ftr_1611_feature-footerBut despite the drop in numbers, people aren’t listening to less music, so they will find another way, and if you’re keeping your music off the most popular streaming site then expect it to get stolen. A lot. Beyonce’s Lemonade topped the torrenting charts, as well as the actual charts, when it was released in April. If artists continue to put limits on their music’s availability then don’t expect that to be the last time it happens.