How to make music with a bicycle wheel and other tips...


Hackney's Producer/Multi-instrumentalist “The Orbalist” has been gently dropping his diverse music experiences into his solo debut album “Is this real life?”. Named “The Orbalist” by Nima from “Arrows of Love”, he began releasing singles in 2016.

This album blends Techno, Deep House, Avant-Garde, Synth-pop and the underlying shuffling rhythmic structure of UK Garage and 2-Step. Inspired by a natural flair for groove, he used to drive his parents crazy building beats by hitting things up. He mainly uses his own “Organic” samples, recorded at the studio out of a bicycle wheel, cardboard box, harmonica case, leatherman multi-tool, hand clap, tiger balm lid, shaker, cowbell, baoding balls, whistling and even rubbing two marble stones to get a vinyl background texture.

Born in Spain, he soon started developing his music skills as a cajon player among Jose Luis Antoli and Faluco Santos (Full Laugh), behind the decks as DJ, but also spending a lot of time in the booth as a Flamenco and Electronica (Madbek) producer.

Ultimately, “The Orbalist” stepped outside his DJ/Producer confort zone to play regular gigs with Abdoulaye Samb & Minnjiaraby (Cajon/Percussion), Sunset Sunrise (MIDI Controllers/Synths), Murk FM (Drums), Antonia Carrena (Drums), Lit FM (Percussion) and Kasai Masai (Percussion).

“It's fun to make music alone in your bedroom, but I'm addicted to the sparky chemistry and inexplicable connection worked as a result of jamming with a group of musicians, all coming from different music worlds, synchronising to each other to create beauty throughout music.”

We asked “The Orbalist” to unfold the stories behind the songs on “Is this real life?”, a junction between vaporwave, autostereograms and “Jacques” tactics.

1.- “Dos Pasos”

This is the one song that gave me the biggest headache. I was inspired by Bobby McFerrin melodies playing at the Olympics and decided to make a dreamy song “in crescendo” overlaying 80's Minimoog synths. It was fun to compose but so hard to mix as most of the synths were in dispute for the same range of frequency and it was tricky to get the levels right. That's why this is the only song with two different masters, the “Single” and the “Maxi-Single” version by XY Mastering.

AMP Medley is regularly laying down the bars at my studio and I wanted to frame this album as a collaborative project, so I just played the instrumental and he impulsively recorded the lyrics. He is well-versed in the art of freestyling and his rhymes are full of wisdom, no one better than him to express the current world's sociopolitical landscape in so few words.

2.- “Space Trappers ft Troy Hewson”

I already recorded the percussion for some of Troy's up coming album songs. I was quite happy with the groove, so I started experimenting with the sample. The song was made live jamming, like the rest of them, but this time at Troy's studio. I remember playing the bass-line on the Akai MPK while Troy was tweaking the Mini-moog knobs, thus the fat bass sound.

Mic's were already setup so we began to record clicks, claps, shakers, etc...then Troy handed a metal plate to me and...man...groove was in the air.

3.- “Tawasnee”

This song kicks off with a Leatherman multi-tool sample, a Tiger balm lid being opened and an harmonica in its case played as a shaker. The clap was made by hitting the multi-tool against the harmonica case and obviously the shaker was sampled as I did in most of the songs.

The name of this song (Ta-was-ne) comes from the native North-american Navajo, Pueblo and Siux album “Sacred Spirit”, and means “Elevation”. It is also the name of my family house in South Spain mountains, where I was raised. We built it up almost entirely ourselves, but most of it came from my step-father Paco “El Halcon”.

This song is dedicated to his memory.

4.- “The only one ft ÜNAM & Troy Hewson”

This is actually the first song I started working on for the album. ÜNAM was visiting me, as we have other projects going on, and I took over his Mac during one of our breaks. I recently went out in Dalston and had that beat burning a hole in the back of my brain. I chose a Tom instead of a Kick, the Hi-Hat and played the main rhythmic pattern.

Troy has his studio next door and keeps a large collection of percussion instruments, so I just knocked at his door and asked him to bring some. I'll never forget that witches' sabbath jam. The snare was made knocking on an old wooden speaker, we were swapping shakers, cowbells, etc... recording completely enchanted by the groove and then I began scat singing.

5.- “Explosions in my mind”

I grew up listening to all kind of music and bands like Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, David Bowie and Joy Division, who caught my attention with their synthetised sound, waveforms and futuristic vision of music.

This song's original idea was to emulate 80's synth-pop by exploring new avenues. It is the first song I actually sang, although I wanted to use it as an integrated part of the melody and not the predominant element of it.

6.- “The Cheetah”

I began writing this song sampling a mug, by playing it with my nails, and adding some percussion out of an iPad cardboard box. I also replaced the snare for my own clap and beatboxed the Hi-Hats.

I think it makes a big difference to have those elements in the tune as my aim was always to preserve an organic groove throughout the album, that's why almost nothing has been quantize, trying to be loyal to the spontaneity and pulse of live composing.

The name of the song is a wink to “Minilogue's” “The leopard” and “DJ Rolando's” “Night of the jaguar”, but it is also connected to a trip I did to South Africa and my interest for the wild feline.

7.- “Time to give up on you”

I did this one at the very end of the writing process. Following the concept of the album of using “organic” samples' groove, I grabbed the mic, set it up next to my bicycle and span the wheel around.

I also wanted to confer a vinyl texture to the tune but my plugins weren't too convincing, so I rubbed two marble stones obtaining an unique feeling as a result. The next sample was taken playing the lid of a Tiger balm bottle with my nails. I then took the baoding balls I use to distress and add them to a new track.

My idea was to tell a story and fusion “Artful Dodger” and “M.J. Cole” UK Garage with “Ten Walls” and “Solomun” deep house vibes, wrapped in a “Duke Dumont” and “Infinity Ink” bass-lines.