BB Video: Micachu and "maker" music, the Russell Porter interview


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Today's a Russell Porter double-header on Boing Boing Video. In this episode, our UK-based music correspondent introduces us to minimalist/electro/glitch trio Micachu and the Shapes. 21-year-old songwriter/musician/MC Mica "Micachu" Levi leads the band, with Raisa Khan on keyboards and Marc Pell on drums.

They're destined to win a Grammy for best use of a vacuum cleaner in a melodic noise composition. Well, whatever, maybe not, but I love that they use a "hoover" as a voice modulation accessory on-stage, and they build or mod other instruments from odd origins.

In our Boing Boing video interview, they joke about the vacuum cleaner thing being a gimmick, but it's cheap and punk and I like it. Micachu's debut record is due out in a couple weeks (early February, 2009), and was produced by the acclaimed electronic musician Matthew Herbert.

As is the case with many of the bands Russell introduces us to in these Boing Boing interviews, his timing is prescient. Music critics in the UK are using headlines like "Is Micachu The Next Big Thing?" which probably means: yes. But we wouldn't hear about them in the US otherwise for months.

Here's a snip from the band's Wikipedia entry which delves into the "maker" aspect of their act:

Micachu describes the music she performs with The Shapes as pop, but the term may be misleading, as her music veers away from much of pop's defining characteristics, including obvious choruses, and accessible lyrics, and often makes use of unconventional playing styles and use of noise like bottles breaking or a vacuum cleaner. There is also little or no bass line in much of her music, which is very uncommon in pop music. For these reasons, her music has been widely described as experimental, and difficult to categorize.

Inspired by experimental composer Harry Partch, Micachu uses unorthodox instruments which are sometimes customised or even homemade. These included a modified guitar played with a hammer action called a 'chu' and a bowed instrument fashioned from a CD rack. She also uses improvised instruments, such as glass bottles or a vacuum cleaner.

Here's more about Harry Partch, (June 24, 1901 - September 3, 1974), the pioneering American electronic musical instrument maker and composer Micachu cites as an influence. At left, an image of his "cloud chamber bowls," described here as "sections of 12-gallon Pyrex carboys, suspended from a redwood frame on ropes... difficult-to-find and impossible-to-tune glass gongs played very carefully by a percussionist who risks the anguish of splintered disaster." Partch obtained the original bowls at the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, where they'd been used as cloud-chambers to trace the paths of sub-atomic particles.

Björk is said to be a fan of Micachu and the Shapes:

[O]ne of her mix tapes brought her to the attention of the east-London grime scene. But ask her about Bjork calling her up after a gig and she scrunches her face. "Yeah, that was nuts. We spoke but she didn't call me up. It's not like she had my number or anything. "But I spotted her dancing and I kind of stopped for a second."
Below, a promotional video about the band from their label, Accidental Records.


* Boing Boing Video Archives
* Previous posts with Russell Porter music interviews
* Russell's Porter Report website.