peering from behind the curtain, the organ octet – many years ago


The Organ Octet performing (as a quartet) in London (2012)

I spend most of my time with other people’s music. Even before I chose to write about it, this was always the case. I have a profound respect for what it takes to venture into these water, and owe the deepest dept to those who do. Though I took piano lessons during childhood, and was obsessed with music from a young age, I never made attempts to make it myself – that is, until a dare levied by a friend during graduate school. Bowing to the humor of the proposition, I bought a guitar and challenged myself to avoid learning how to play. Eventually my affection for the object got the better of me. It kept finding its way into my hands. The longer I spent with it, the less I managed to keep the notes from falling into place.

As a rule, I don’t perform or record – my reverence for others gets in the way. I prefer not to muddy the waters – making music generally remains a private pursuit. Occasionally I’m asked to take part in a gig or project. Sometimes I oblige. In these instances, I rarely collaborate – finding the pressure more manageable on my own. Of the few exceptions, one in particular yielded incredible rewards.

I don’t remember when, but somewhere in the middle of the decade I spent living in London, my friend John Chantler asked me if I would join an ensemble he and his wife Carina Thoren were forming. The idea was simple – an octet of organs freely improvising, while collectively joining in a shimmering drone. I couldn’t resist. If nothing else, it was a chance to collaborate with two of my closest friends.

Over the course of our collective’s life – lasting until I departed for New York, with the coffin’s nail being John and Carina’s move to Stockholm soon after, we gathered and performed as much as we could. Because of the scale of the ensemble, with the fact that everyone was busy or often away on tour, we quickly worked out strategies to adapt. Rather than a strict grouping or number of performers, the Organ Octet became an open concept. In some cases we performed with as few as four, in others we stretched well beyond eight. If someone was unable to play, or a potential collaborator was in town, we were elastic. In addition John, Carina, and myself, the cast included Duke Garwood, Dom Garwood, Dale Berning, Jamie Quantrill, Matt Nicholson, Jodi Cave, Sam Jones, Alexander Tucker, Sébastien Roux, and Lawrence English.

Though John was good enough to record most of our gatherings and performances, in addition to a lovely excursion on Resonance FM, there is little left in the public domain. We have evaporated into time. This video, shot sometime during 2012, is nearly all there is. It features one of our most constrained outings – John, Carina, Jamie Quantrill, and myself. In the spirit of tearing down the curtain, joined with the sentiments which come with missing your friends, I though I would pass it along. I hope you enjoy.

-Bradford Bailey

The Organ Octet performing (as a quartet) in London (2012)

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