Traditional jazz drummers are usually only given a few bars to shine, and consequently these short solos are bursting with brilliant ideas and glimpses of pure rhythmic feel. I began to isolate and reprogram fragments of these rhythmic gems […]

read the cover notes to Hidden Orchestra’s first record Night Walks (2010) by multi-instrumentalist, composer and sound designer for radio Joe Acheson.

By basing the Hidden Orchestra’s aesthetics on deconstructed, sampled, looped and layered beats while also attempting to replace as much as possible synthesisers and drum machines with acoustic instruments all carefully “recorded with individual microphone techniques”, Joe Acheson has envisioned a fascinating experimental project lying at the intersection of the classical, post-rock, jazz, folk, ambient, hip hop and electronic music genres.

With Joe Acheson on guitars, keyboards and sound programming and Brighton-based composer Poppy Ackroyd on violin and piano, the presence of two drummers (Tim Lane and Jamie Graham) for their studio recordings and live performances establishes the distinctive percussion-led sound of the band. At the same time, having two drummers allows the ensemble to navigate simultaneously between solid grooves and more complex jazz-inflected polyrhythms.

Hidden Orchestra - Night Walks (2010)
Hidden Orchestra – Night Walks (2010)

Since 2010, the Edinburgh-based project has released three LPs – Night Walks (2010) and Archipelago (2012) both on Tru Thoughts Recordings and Reorchestrations (Denovali – 2015) – and toured in over 30 countries alongside several regular guest musicians and visual artists. Live shows sometimes include up to ten musicians on stage with additional cello, harp, trumpet, clarinet, French horn, saxophone, trombone and whistle.

If the collective’s soundscape stems primarily from an urban electronic and hip-hop influenced background, most of the instrumentals are formulated around field recordings gathered from around the Scottish coastline or from as far as Finland.

“I’ve been recording in the day and at night, capturing sounds that I find interesting or unusual, sounds with an inherent pitch or rhythm that can be used in a musical way. The idea is to take all these sounds and try to recreate the essence of the place.” Joe Acheson

Hidden Orchestra - Archipelago (2012)
Hidden Orchestra – Archipelago (2012)

This reverence for the Scottish landscape is also reflected in the etchings on the cover artwork of all three albums to date by landscape artist Norman Ackroyd. The cover for Archipelago features one of the islets of North Rona, a tiny remote island 70km north of the mainland and was sketched during a trip to record “the opening bird and wave sounds” on “Spoken”.

Apart from two songs (“Footsteps” on Night Walks and “Thograinn Thograinn” on Reorchestrations), the Hidden Orchestra’s music is instrumental – the band’s name refers to the silent film era when a live orchestra would be “hidden” from view in the orchestra pit. With long introductions setting the scene, cinematic string loops, a dramatic brass section and bass lines building up to a crescendo against solo lines on the trumpet (Phil Cardwell) or the clarinet (Tomáš Dvořák aka Floex), many themes suggest an underlying narrative structure ebbing and flowing with stunning amplitude.

“Vorka” for instance was entirely illustrated by British audio visual artist and long-time collaborator Lumen and works as an homage to Serbian-American pioneer in the art of video montage Slavko Vorkapich (1894 – 1976). Based on archival footage,

The music for “Vorka” was originally created as a series of short episodes for a radio drama adaptation of a 1970’s Japanese sci-fi novel, and then combined into one track in a form of montage, so it felt fitting to reference Vorkapich in the track’s title. The themes of the video – manual labour, hard work, and the application of complex processes to achieve a greater goal – also reflect the way that the music has been constructed. Joe Acheson

“Vorka” features the cello layers and the musical saw of Korean-born and Edinburgh-based cellist Su-a Lee, a member of The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and regular collaborator with the band.

Following a visit to Finland at the end of the 2000s, Joe Acheson brought back several kanteles, the country’s national instrument, and started integrating the plucked string instrument to the Hidden Orchestra’s ambient sound. On Archipelago, the kantele’s sound is complemented by its Scottish counterpart, the wire-strung and electro-harps of Mary Macmaster. A founding member of the harp duo Sìleas and also performing with The Poozies, Mary Macmaster accentuates the Scottish folk musical backdrop of the Hidden Orchestra alongside the sound of Uilleann and Northumbrian bagpipes drones throughout the album.

With so many influences coalescing into a unique and consistent vision, Archipelago stands out as a densely textured, atmospheric and timeless creation.

Released in July 2015 last on Denovali Records, Joe Acheson’s new project Reorchestrations revisits existing compositions from current band members (Poppy Ackroyd, Mary Macmaster, Floex) or from like-minded bands (Piano Interrupted, Clarinet Factory, Long Arm). But instead of remixing the music, the original tracks were kept intact and “re-orchestrated” using the Hidden Orchestra production techniques and lush signature sound.