“Doing that monthly meant we had a reason to meet up, once a month in lockdown for work” says Henry, “and bring two hours of music between us which we’d play, discuss, hold physically and share.”
“We’ve all felt a bit dissatisfied with modern music before” explains Esmé, “then we discovered we were looking in the wrong places.” “We switched from playing a lot of old stuff” nods Henry, “and now we’re all buying stuff direct from labels’ websites. We’re tapped into contemporary shit now.”
A further breakthrough came whilst remixing another band’s track in a studio in Goyt, on the edge of Stockport. This became the Goyt method, a central idea behind Tableau. “To Goyt it” explains Sidonie, “that’s getting all these pieces and rearranging them. We had vocal melodies and ideas that we’d then run through and sample, and play them on sample pads. We were being editors, really.”
Where the band had previously only gone into the studio once songs had been tightly crafted at the demo stage, the Orielles began to consider new practices in line with the modern sound they were aspiring to. No demo’s. Heavy improvisation. And no producer – only the band collaborating with friend and producer Joel Anthony Patchett.
“I came up alongside them, engineering on their first two records and each record became more collaborative” explains Patchett, “and we grew closer when they moved to Manchester. It felt super natural working together in a scenario where they wanted a creative level playing fielding. I think that’s a great way to make an album.”
That album would be mostly recorded across Summer 2021 holed away in the Sussex coastal town of Eastbourne. Its recording is a story of experimentation, improvisation and a band discovering how to create an entirely new sonic palette.
In one instance, to create a state of almost total improvisation, Patchett blindfolded the band and asked them to pick up an instrument that they would not ordinarily use.
“We didn’t know who had picked up what” explains Esmé, “Henry went onto the fretless bass, I was on piano and Sid was on the Wurlitzer, which Joel was echoing live but we couldn’t hear that.” That became the exploratory, even mournful track Transmission. In line with contemporary dance music and the sour, other-worldly vocal production of acts like FKA Twigs and Burial, the band began experimenting heavily with treating Esmé’s vocals (just listen to the outro on the remarkable, near 8 minute Beam.) Likewise, Sidonie’s drums transformed from previously having been recorded as an acoustic instrument to simply another sound to be electronically treated, often sped up to something closer to jungle or UK Garage.
It’s like automatic writing but with drawing” Sidonie explains, “he’d show them to players and they’d just play that, just playing the imagery. We did a similar thing for the modular synth that’s on Beam. We drew Joel a graphic score to follow, showing where we thought the ebbs and flows should go.”
The band also utliised Oblique Strategies – the playing cards designed to aide creativity created by Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt in the early 1970s. “We’d been speaking about wanting to use them for ages, and then we found a set of cards at the studio in Eastbourne” explains Sidonie, “before each song, we’d pick out a card and that would be our motif for playing that take.” On another occasion, when a brush broke suddenly during a drum take, Sidonie began playing the snare with her fingers – something she had seen legendary soul drummer Bernard Purdie do. This speaks to an album that’s fixated on chance, automatic processes and alternate methods of editing.
The result is a double album that rewards serious immersion, as complex as it is diverse. Initially, there might appear to be little that links the Sonic Youth dirge of Television with the spectral, beatless Some Day Later. Or tracks like Hornfleaur Remembered and The Room, which carry the influence of the 21st century dance the band have been devouring, with the challenging extended song suite that makes up the album’s A-side. Further listening, however, reveals recurring motifs and sonic ideas that bind the album’s sixteen tracks together closely.
Perhaps the most succinct explanation of the album’s aims is in the standout Darekened Corners. A repeated organ motif circling around a dense Yo La Tengo guitar groove, the track was inspired by Esmé visiting a 2021 Berlin retrospective of American photographer Lee Friedlander. What if, thought Esmé, a photograph was speaking to its maker?
“The exhibition had these monuments, and it was photographs and the photographer speaking to each other” explains Esmé, “and that felt quite apt for this album.” As such, all three of the band take vocals on the track for the first time, representing different aspects of the photograph in dialogue.
Another first would be the band using strings on the album, inviting the Northern Session Collective – led by celebrated violinist Isobella Baker, who worked with Patchett on scoring the strings. At the end of those sessions, when the collective had recorded all the tracks scheduled for the record, the band asked the players to improvise over a song they had not previously heard – The Improvisation, reflecting the working methods that had produced that track.
“We said we’re not going to judge, just listen and react to it” remembers Sidonie. “They said they’d worked with big pop artists” says Esmé, “but that was one of the most spiritual and exciting things they’d ever done.”
Though Tableau is likely to challenge preconceptions, this is something the band suggest they have been doing for quite some time anyway. “All through our whole career we’ve had to prove ourselves so, so much” explains Henry. “You can’t disconnect the age and the gender thing either” adds Esmé, “People belittle your age because they see women in the band. Whereas lad bands, if they’re eighteen it’s apparently exactly what people want to see.” Being from a small town in West Yorkshire may have added to that also, but Sidonie counters that “being from Halifax has also been a blessing, it’s kept our egos in check.”
Perhaps more than any of this, though, Tableau is also simply the product of the unique telepathy between three singular musicians that have grown in symbiosis for over a decade now – simply the three of them in a room.
“As creators, for the fact we’ve produced it ourselves, it feels like a starting point” suggests Esmé, “even though everything that’s going previously has counted, this now feels like Ground Zero.” For the future, now, it’s all gates open.
THE ORIELLES DISCOGRAPHY
Silver Dollar Moment (Heavenly Recordings, 2018)
Disco Volador (Heavenly Recordings, 2020)
La Vita Olistica (Heavenly Recordings, 2021)
Tableau (Heavenly Recordings, 2022)
Words: Fergal Kinney