Becoming a Member of Kid Koala’s Turntable Orchestra

Last Saturday, I made my way down to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to witness and participate in what would be one of the most unique performance I have ever seen. Kid Koala had brought his Turntable Orchestra concept to Ottawa in order to promote his newest ambient record, Music to Draw to: Satellite, and I could not wait to take part. I was familiar with the album, but the brief description of this innovative live setup did not give me a real sense of what we would be experiencing. I left that performance with a huge grin and a few scratching techniques under my belt.

In order to get a sense of this concert, I’ll have to explain the setup. Every two or three audience members sat down at a table with a turntable. The turntable had three small vinyl records, with a different colour on each side of each record. To the right of the needle and stylus was the “Interstellar Orbiter”, an effects pedal which allowed us to manipulate the sounds coming from the record player similarly to manipulating waveforms on a synthesizer. It had two oscillators which could be sped up and mixed. A circular light sat to the left of the turntable, and changed colours in order to indicate to us which record we should play at each moment. With the help of an explanation of all the equipment in front of us and learning a few DJ moves from Kid Koala, we were ready to serve the music.

Kid Koala, of course, had his own tremendous DJ rig, loaded with turntables, MIDI controllers, and who knows what else. He was joined onstage by a conductor and an artist, who was making a live visual display on a rotating table that was projected onto screens above. As we moved from one track to the next, we sat ready for each instruction from the light on our turntable or the conductor so that we could help make the performance our own. Each time the light came on we would explore a new stead ambient sound that we could then manipulate to build on what Kid Koala was doing up front. Everyone in the room created these outer-space soundscapes together.

I was a little concerned that I would be too busy working my own turntable to pay full attention to what Kid Koala was up to, but that proved to be a needless worry. The show alternated between moments that focused on the audience and moments in which we were silent, watching in amazement as Kid Koala deftly operated his own turntable. After just learning some techniques myself and trying them out, it was even more impressive to see how much control he had over every sound. Seemingly without effort, Kid Koala skewed rhythm and modified melody without ever missing a beat. His encore of “Moon River” was a beautifully sentimental display of just how much a DJ can make a song his own.

I can safely say that I have never been to a concert like Kid Koala’s Turntable Orchestra, and that in and of itself is no small feat. If you have a chance to take part in this concert at some point, or any creative Kid Koala show, do it. If you’re a little more curious about the songs he was playing, check out my review of Music to Draw to: Satellite, or better yet, go listen to the album.

~Dave

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