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ISSUE 117 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/10/2003

A night of techno: Tiki Obmar and Cepia play complex, emotional sets

By Ian Anderson
Staff Writer

Friday, October 10, 2003

On Thursday night at the Pause, local musicians Tiki Obmar and Cepia played for a small crowd of onlookers. Although it was an intimate performance, both Tiki Obmar and Cepia played their original form of live techno.

Huntley Miller, otherwise known as Cepia, opened the show. It was a great scene: extremely loud, conflicted pops and bleeps filled the Pause, while Miller sat alone on the nearly pitch black stage manipulating his Apple laptop to generate his art. Either grinning or grimacing, depending on what he was doing, Miller improvised and changed his songs on the fly for his forty-five minute set.

Starting from quiet and seemingly random clicks and rhythms, Miller built up each song to a peak of emotion and instability, at which point he slowly descended from that climax back to the same random clicks and rhythms. This display of Miller’s material set up a mood conducive to that of Tiki Obmar’s, creating a perfect segue between acts.

Formed two years ago at Edina High School, Tiki Obmar consists of three musicians: Chris Smalley on laptop and guitar, Graham Chapman on bass, and St. Olaf student Brett Bullion ’07 on drums and drum machines.

The band has compiled an impressive track record: they won Radio K’s Battle of the Underage Underground this past June, played at the Walker Arts Center in July, were named 2003’s “Teen Artist of the Year” by the MMA’s (Minnesota Music Academy Awards), have been “Picked to Click” the past two years by the City Pages, and – possibly the most impressive accomplishment on this list – were recently signed to Merck Records, who put out their album on Sept. 16 called “High School Confidential.”

“We don’t really think of ourselves as a band, we just show up and bounce ideas off of each other,” Bullion said. Comprised of this unorthodox setup, they play live techno-influenced instrumental music. The audience watches as they create intricate music using loops from Smalley’s laptop and drum effects from Brett’s assorted collection of drum machines.

Surrounded by his veritable plethora of drum machines, Bullion said, “I pretend the machines next to me are people playing with me. But they have perfect time, and I don’t.” He continued, “You get to know your gear very well – like some kind of weird emotional connection.”

That strange connection has evolved into the creation of critically acclaimed original music, and possibly a professional career for the band now with their record deal with Merck Records. “I never looked at music as a job,” Bullion said. “I just want to pay rent and buy food.”

The album that has inspired this prospect is getting good local college radio coverage. “It’s old-school,” Smalley said. “Not the greatest production, but I like it. We were still in the process of finding our sound, so it was raw, but I liked it raw. That’s why there were mistakes on the album, but I liked the mistakes.”

Recreating techno live is far more complicated than anyone would expect – countless hours of pre-production are required to reproduce what is heard on the album. “That’s the downside of playing this live – it takes a long time to load. That’s why I like jazz drummers; they just show up and play,” Bullion confessed.

The show was great. Playing songs constructed in the same fashion as Miller’s, the band’s experimental and creative instrumental sound conveyed emotions without any need for words. With multiple themes layered on top of each other, they built songs from childish melodies reminiscent of wind-up toys to avante-garde Happy Apple-meets-laptops chaos.

Chapman ran his bass through distortion and effects pedals, which gave it a creepy, yet stable feel. Bullion and Smalley played without showing much emotion, but Chapman had moments where he really got into the music.

Smalley ran his guitar through his laptop, which gave him the freedom to make it sound any way he liked. It varied from a standard, clean Telecaster to a choir of high-pitched ambient sounds that sounded like they were being played in a room the size of the Vatican.

Lastly, Bullion’s drumming was very experimental – at times he used what looked like a pasta strainer. With a combination of different elements of jazz and rock, he found a perfect balance to both complement, and be complemented by, his use of drum machines.

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