Origamibiro: Odham's Standard
Denovali Records

Though Origamibiro is formally a collaborative outfit consisting of musician Tom Hill, visual artist The Joy Of Box, and multi-instrumentalist Andy Tytherleigh, the group's latest recording, Odham's Standard, is largely Hill's baby. Yes, The Joy Of Box collaborated with Hill on the artwork and contributed VHS tape transfer and “Butterfly Jar” samples to the project, and Tytherleigh is credited with double bass, but, as the inner sleeve clarifies, the album was otherwise written, performed, and produced by Hill. In that regard, it makes sense that Origamibiro started as his solo vehicle before turning into an audio-visual trio that creates music, installations, and live audio-visual performances.

Odham's Standard, which falls fast on the heels of Denovali's re-issuing of Origamibiro's first three albums (Cracked Mirrors and Stopped Clocks, Shakkei, Shakkei Remixed), is a modest recording in terms of total time—thirty-five minutes, to be exact—but not unappealing for being so. The more relevant concern has to do with the group's sound, and on that count one might begin by characterizing the Origamibiro output—insofar as it's presented on Odham's Standard, that is—as a particularly unusual kind of rustic folk. But even that doesn't quite capture it for the simple reason that Hill and company don't limit their sound production to conventional instruments. Instead, in their live performances they explore the audio- and image-producing potential of found objects, video feeds, books, typewriters, celluloid, paper, wildlife recordings, and home movies, a strategy that enables them to generate sounds and visuals of startling originality.

An interesting additional detail about the album is that during the early stages of its development, the group members experienced a shared interest in paranormal phenomena. This resulted in research into spirit photography, in which images of the deceased imprint themselves onto photographic plates through the presence of a medium, and EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), a related phenomenon where the voices of the dead find their way onto audio recordings.

In the light of such background, the listener is prompted to hear the recording's ten pieces as transmissions of a particularly unusual kind. And so it is that while the album's tracks include sounds of acoustic piano, keening strings, double bass, and acoustic guitar, they also feature less conventional sounds, and it's these that one can't help but sometimes link to EVP. When spidery flutter appears at the beginning of the title piece, for example, the listener might be as inclined to hear it as haunted ghouls scratching their way onto tape as the rapid pluck and strum of stringed instruments. At the same time, making too much of the paranormal theme threatens to get in the way of a more straightforward appreciation of the recording on purely musical grounds, and on that count it succeeds perfectly well. The best tracks are those that see the group striking an effective balance between rhythm, in the form of found sound-generated percussion, and guitar, piano, and string melodies. Some of the pieces (e.g., the delicate reverie “Pulmonary Piano”) are pretty indeed, and on one such as “The Typophonium,” Origamibiro sounds like a musical group that's time-traveled from the nineteenth century to today. Anyone looking for a kindred spirit might start by imagining a vocal-less Múm and go from there.

March 2014