Challenging Your Conventional Listening Stereotypes: Zach Danziger and Owen Biddle TEDx Performance

After last night’s concert of O.S.Z. – short for: Owen Biddle (bs), Sixtus Preiss (keys) and Zach Danziger (dr) – at Kongress Bar Munich, I ventured a little further into finding out about the concept that Owen Biddle and Zach Danziger started with Oli Rockberger, who manned the keyboards at last year’s performance in the same venue in Munich. And I came across this:

Zach Danziger and Owen Biddle TEDx Performance.

Now, as an avid live music buff or culturally inclined individual, I think it’s a good idea to be prepared for the fact that you can leave your typical ways of conventional listening to music at home – and this doesn’t even account for your preferred genre of music. Instead, what you’re going to experience transcends downtrodden, stale ideas of genre, musical form and performances thereof: You’ll experience a sonic vortex that will challenge not only your musical self – be it as an active musician or music lover -, but what the congenial power trio are bringing to the stage in real time is nothing short of a new approach to sonic perception per se. Forget about figuring out, where the predominant beat of any given bar is placed, cast aside ideas of “four on the floor” or even just regular measures, but try to open your mind to the idea of a pulse being generated from a free form of audio triggers that will still amalgamate into an inimitable blend of phrases, beats and heavily throbbing sub-tones coming from Biddle’s bass with its equally outstanding looks sporting an acrylic body, thus exposing the electronics built into the instrument.

With this year’s lineup the sound seems to have changed a little bit over last year’s, probably due to a new, less cumbersome approach of the band to setting up and handling the electronic hardware involved in creating these fireworks of signals, both conventional as well as MIDI-triggered/electronic. In a nutshell, you could say that each instrument is connected to an audio interface that functions a little bit like a microphone at its core, thus sending the regular audio impulse to a piece of software on the laptop, from which a series and layers of electronic signals are being generated. I hadn’t really asked for a proper interview slot nor asked for such a thing impromptu (thus respecting the band’s schedule and existing agreements with other parties), but managed to get this one inquiry in when overhearing another interviewer’s question, while the band finished setting up and checking sound. For the tech geeks amongst  us: From what I derived from Zach Danziger’s reply was that they now use an approach, which takes the raw audio signal, sends it into the software, the software reads “transient spikes” of audio and uses those spikes to generate a MIDI signal to be interpreted by sound generating plug-ins, such as e.g. MIDI synthesizers or arpeggios coming from said plug-ins. I would have loved to follow up on this and get the specific details, but this time, I hadn’t really arranged for such an opportunity in advance. But if you watch above video closely – in particular the media screen behind the musicians – you get the basic idea of how the equipment is wired and who controls what at any given moment during the performance.

What’s interesting about this approach is that there is a stronger place and role for the conventional sounds coming from the instruments. In other words: Whereas last year’s sound was almost purely electronic, this year’s sound provided a more prominent place in the mix for the instruments per se, which became visually and sonically apparent via Preiss’s vintage Fender Rhodes piano on stage, which created a nice antidote to the purely electronic sounds coming from all sorts of other keyboards and hardware they had set up. At the risk of contradicting my own headline here: You might say that the instruments’ natural sounds being more present in the overall “audioscape” might be taken as a kind of sonic “guardrail” or “anchors”, whereby you might have an easier time discerning all of what’s going on on stage.

The most impressing thing – to me, anyway – was the connection between the band members and just how they’re capable of keeping that pulse going without form, lead sheets and acting purely on feel, instinct and a few cues here and there, while they seemed to take turns in “leading the pack” musically with the other two responding immediately and making musical sense of whatever was introduced at any given moment.

If you had to put it in one phrase, I’d say this outstanding act represents a musical force majeure that can barely be explained, but needs to be experienced in order to get the full effect of their art. And isn’t true art about challenging conventions of any kind here and there? If that was true, O.S.Z. fully deliver!


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