Orcas Is An Ambient Post-Classical Folk Duo On The Wrong Side Of The Law

By Benjamin Shapiro


Orcas is basically the Leopold & Loeb of the post-classical scene: L-R Rafael Anton Irisarri and Benoît Pioulard.

If you’re listening to post-classical ambient music right now, chances are you’re trying to do one of two things—fall asleep, or keep abreast of one of the most fertile genres of American music in 2012. If you’ve still got the patience and attention span to actually sit still and listen to a full album, the rewards for this stuff are vast, and far outweigh the narcotizing effect.

One of my favorite new bands on the folkier side of the genre is Orcas, a collaboration between songwriter Benoît Pioulard and composer Rafael Anton Irisarri, also of the Sight Below. Their debut record came out on Morr Music a few months back, and we’re proud to present the album’s first video, a hazy, scratchy visualization of the records second track, “Arrow Drawn.” I wanted to know what kind of mindset produces this stuff, so earlier this week I hopped on the line with Rafael to talk about breaking the law, bananagrams, and recording in the abandoned saw mill from the Twin Peaks title sequence. Check the video and accompanying interview below.

NOISEY: Hey Raf! Thanks for talking to me, dude.
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Sure, no problem.

Can you tell me a bit about how you and Pioulard came together for Orcas?
I was the co-curator for a fest here in Seattle called Decibel. I booked Tom back in 2009, and we kept in touch. I invited him over for a weekend at my studio in Seattle afterwards and we started to work together on improvisations in the studio. It all grew from there.

Didn’t he move to England?
Yeah, I haven’t been over there in a bit. He was over in Portland this past September—we put on a show that got shut down by the police.

OK wait. A minimal post-classical show got busted by the cops?
Haha, yeah. Probably the first ambient drone show shut down by the fuzz. It was pretty ridiculous.

What happened?
Noise complaint, go figure. Cops in the Northwest are hardasses, just like everywhere else I guess. I’m in Seattle, and we have some really absurd rules.

What’s the last law that you broke?
Drinking onstage. Up until very recently, drinking onstage wasn’t allowed in Seattle.

You’re kidding.
Nope. Venues would have signs backstage warning bands not to drink onstage. I once saw Peter from Sonic Boom get kicked out of a club for it.

I didn’t realize that minimal composers were such badasses. What’s the deal with all this ambient post-classical stuff coming back? I feel like with Winged Victory For The Sullen’s success there’s been a bit of an upsurge?
I have no idea. I find it strange, mostly because this music doesn’t really provide instant gratification. It’s fairly inaccessible, and it takes time and effort. That’s something kids don’t do. People are so damn lazy, just skipping from one illegal download to the next, and not really listening. It’s very awkward for us to see the good response to our record.

Rafael Anton Irisarri.

How does the success of Orcas fit into your movement forward as a composer?
Oh, I’m not a man with a plan. I just do, and chips can fall where they may. Plans are for suits.

I feel like a nerd now.
I like spontanaeity. Going according to plan sucks. That’s why I improvise all my sets. Around four or five years ago I had a regular job working for a PR firm, spinning things for douches and lawyers and whatever. Letting go was very liberating.

It must have felt so good to let go.
Well, technically I was fired for being too opinionated, but you know what I mean.

I think that counts!
It definitely had an impact. I was going through a severe depression before all that shit went downhill, so making the Sight Below’s first record was a great cleanse. I learned I had no control and there was no point in trying to plan anything. I love that risk.

It seems like Orcas was a bit of a risk.
Oh, definitely. It all could have gone pretty wrong, Collaborations are usually terrible. I mean… LULU?

That was definitely a piece of trash.
For sure. But Tom and I respect each other’s work and are in sync. It’s worked out so far. We’re planning some European tours now for the spring and summer and into the fall. We’re going to hit the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic… All that. We’ll be doing solo sets as well, so it’ll be a three-band thing with just the pair of us.

What’s Tom like? I’ve never spoken to him.
He’s the nicest. Very polite and soft-spoken. He’s like my kid brother. He lived with me a while and it was very cool—we’d go to a local pub and play bananagrams or kick it drinking scotch and watching curb. We’re huge Larry David fans. Oh, also huge David Lynch fans. We field recorded up by the Snoqualmie area, where Lynch shot Twin Peaks. If you listen to the eight track on the record, “I Saw My Echo,” you can hear some stuff we recorded in the abandoned saw mill from the opening sequence.

That’s amazing.
We love David Lynch!


You can pick up Orcas' new record right here.