News
Features
ART[icle]S
Creative
Visual
Home » ART[icle]S, General, Profile

Symphony of Bird Song – The Music of Ebe Oke

Submitted by on August 12, 2012 – 10:58 pmNo Comment

The musician Ebe Oke.

Before instruments there was nature, and Ebe Oke is an artist who lets certain elements of this world resound through his music.

It was this unique sound and his voice that caught the attention of Geoff Travis, the founder of Rough Trade Records, who offered the US musician a development deal. Travis introduced Oke to the guitarist Phil Manzenera of Roxy Music, who he then collaborated and recorded music with. Recently, Oke has been picked for the line-up at Brian Eno’s Punkt festival in Kristiansand, Norway in September.

I met Ebe Oke for an interview at his flat in Homerton, East London. The first thing that caught my eye as I walked through the entrance was a photo of a topless page three girl, overlooking the lavatory. Yet rather than being a derogatory image from a populist tabloid, there was something about this young girl in a pink bikini, bottom, lost in the turquoise sea-coloured wall that turned it into an artistic statement instead.

Oke lives alone and one gets the feeling of a hermetic Zen-like existence. The room that is Oke’s music studio is painted in deep red and consists of a piano, an acoustic guitar, Chinese gongs, a violin and two Mac laptops. There are a few electronic instruments. There is one that he calls a “Luminist’s Garden” which is a custom made piece with a glowing glass bar and sprouting wire stalks that you can pluck to create organic electronic sounds. Sparingly furnished, the flat features green crates neatly packed full of books, some pieces of art on the walls as well a shadow box, printer’s tray, with assorted natural relics. Oke eagerly showed me a rattlesnake tail and a Native American arrowhead, gifts sent by his mother.

We talked in the lounge while drinking Ayervedic Tulsi tea over an antique table by a windowsill covered with assorted stones, a Venus flytrap, a Mexican airplant and a, prehistoric looking, Staghorn fern – he tells me. In an enclave on the wall is a tall painting of the back of a Chinese woman in a traditional red robe. Oke explained it’s ambiguity: she is either dressed for a wedding or a funeral. In the opposite enclave is a black and white collage, titled “The Stranger Within”, by his artist friend Javier Rodriguez depicting a spliced triple faced religious-looking man whose presence looms from an inky black backdrop. Some construction noise from outside resonated through the air, getting lost in the ambient sound of Brian Eno’s record Discreet Music which played while Oke recalled his upbringing.

Oke grew up in “the deserts of Texas and the swamps of South Georgia.” His roots are varied: from Irish, Scandinavian and Jewish ancestors to a distant Native American grandmother who was a shaman or medicine woman to her Creek/Muscogee tribe in South Georgia. A child of divorced parents, at the age of seven he moved to his father’s plot of land called Unicorn Farm in Southern Georgia, where he spent all his time outdoors. Oke said: “I remember some of my earliest landscape memories were seeing the oil wells [in Texas] and their sort of slow and hypnotic pace pounding the desert sands. I sought refuge in nature [South Georgia] and just used to go for long walks and investigate the workings of water, insects, birds and the structures of flowers and plants.”

The lack of human bonds and acres of land surrounding him led to an isolation that made Oke feel quite unlike other children. Seeing his interest in birds his father indulged him with exotic creatures. He befriended his peacocks, emus, swans,parrots, crows and wild birds, which he raised. There were other animals like raccoons, squirrels and rabbits, which he also developed a Doolittleesque way of communicating with and getting close to.

As a teenager he started experimenting with bird and insect sounds and produced his first homemade recordings from these. Oke said: “I became very interested in the musical possibilities of bird song. I wasn’t doing it for any particular reason other than just to have recordings of these birds, but one day I started manipulating them and landscapes began to take shape.”

When Oke started school he was alienated for being “different” to the other boys and girls in the conservative Southern schooling system. This indifference followed him through to high school and pushed him even more into a private creative sphere, where he continued experimenting with music as well as art and photography.

Country and commercial music dominated the small town, but Oke found himself drawn to other sounds and took out classical records from the library. After exhausting Bach and Mozart, one day he came across something that changed his life and the way that he perceived music: a Stockhausen record. The 20th Century German composer is known as the grandfather of electronic music and finding the record in small town Georgia remains a mystery to Oke. Suddenly he felt less alone in the world.

Later on he attended art school only to drop out. There had been an outrage towards his photography exhibition in the school library, one of the photographs depicted a deer shot dead and mutilated by hunters, with eyeballs popping out, another showed an auburn young woman in Pietà style pose with a model of an aborted foetus in her lap. It was the final push that made him move to London, in the early noughties, which he felt was a city full of creativity, openness and at the cutting edge. But mainly he wanted move there because he felt that London is a place that “cultivates eccentricity” and “to put an ocean between myself and the deep South.”

Oke was invited to study composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen during one of his summer schools near Cologne in Germany. Upon returning, filled with enthusiasm, Oke taught himself the piano and began the experiments that eventually culminated in his first record Valor. He chose to produce Valor himself working with technicians and his friend Raz Olsher of Fossil Studios who came in to help him co-produce the last few songs when Oke was disillusioned and considered giving up on the record due to lack of resources. Valor is now completed but as of yet unreleased.

Oke said: “At present I envision three records that I would like to make, perhaps a trilogy. My first, Valor explores my interest in combining orchestral with traditional instruments from around the world. Valor taught me how to write from my heart instead of my head. I am returning to electronic music and my love of birdsong so all I will say for now is that I envision my next two records to be taking a very different direction.”

Explaining his raison d’être Oke said: “When I first began with sound I wanted to destroy music and my perceptions of music, in hopes of creating something far more personal, unique and original to my senses.”

Presently Oke is involved with a collective that focuses on dance, film and multimedia. Oke is currently performing in London supported by an electro-acoustic ensemble. Punkt festival will be a big step for this talented, ambitious and down-to-earth artist who will be playing alongside other handpicked stellar performers.

For more information and the music of Ebe Oke check out:

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.