Boston Typewriter Orchestra taps out catchy beats
The Lois Foster Wing in the Rose Art Museum this semester has featured Mika Rottenberg's sparse Bowls Balls Souls Holes exhibit. However, on Sunday, as a part of the Leon ard Bernstein Festival of the Arts, that space transformed to feature the five-member Boston Typewriter Or chestra , a group focused on employ ing rhythmic typewriter manipula tion to create eccentric and inventive music.
The BTO , founded 10 years ago by Tim Devin, came to life on the heels of a spontaneous purchase. Devin bought a thrift store typewriter and pitched to the current members of the group-Alex Holman, Jay O'Grady , Brendan Quigley, Richard Madallo and Chris Keene-an unparalleled idea: an orchestra that uses typewrit ers .
"The idea was totally innovative and out of the box but we figured it would be a great creative outlet," O'Grady said in an interview with the Justice. "There are no rules and it's totally free-form."
One decade later, the orchestra is writing the rules for typewriter- based music and on Sunday the Brandeis community learned them.
The clacking of the typewriter keys, a now unfamiliar sound to the average individual, pervaded the gal lery at the outset of the first composi tion . The group then made the most of the various parts of the typewriter, adeptly adding the sounds of the car riage release lever and the platen knob to the composition. The combi nation created a cohesive, rhythmic piece that had the audience on its feet.
The Boston Typewriter Orchestra, however, prides itself on an eccentric and inventive satire behind its rhyth mic typewriter manipulation. The second piece complemented a nar rative that centered on the themes of de-individuated workers and cor porate monotony with a repeated drumbeat of the keys and consistent rubbing of the typebars . Ironically, though, those simplistic movements and one-track compositions grabbed the audience's attention and proved to be greatly enjoyable.
The performance, though, took interesting turns in its fourth and fifth compositions, ones that particu larly stood out for their messages and musical differences. The BTO began to type in unison but then added a modern twist. One of the members of the orchestra rose on his seat, calling for a "revolution" against the mass fixation on social media-and the 140 characters on Twitter.
However, he then layered this com mentary with obsolete, 1950's-based pitches for suburban home products. The temporal juxtaposition was fas cinating . In the process, the other members of the orchestra hunched over their typewriters, typing and cracking the carriage release lever to create a monotonous drumbeat. The spoken and musical components worked in tandem to make a reso nant critique punctuated by the line "The revolution will be typed!."
The sixth performance took a light- hearted turn, replicating a modern day pop rhythm with a new typing arrangement and shifting of the type wheel. The members of BTO , were hammering away at the keys and banging on the backs of the typewrit ers when an orchestra member rose on a chair to surf along to the sound, catching the audience off-guard.
As the group approaches its 10th anniversary, it is consistently look ing for new ways to make a noise out of a typewriter and develop an arrangement, as well as a message, from their art. "Our best pieces come from just banging the hell out of the typewriters until we find a new rhythm that works and we go from there," O'Grady said.
Even after 10 years, there still seem to be many parts of the typewriter- and many combinations-left unex plored .