Orchestra of Samples: How Addictive TV uses tech to bring world music supercuts to the stage

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.

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC