Peace of Mind Orchestra
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Peace of Mind Orchestra

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"Peace-of-Mind Orchestra give you a piece"

The Peace-of-Mind Orchestra started with a recording. Matt Engel and Ari Leopold grew up within 20 minutes of each other and went to college together at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Even after going their separate ways, the two kept being drawn back to each other to create music. The Peace-of-Mind Orchestra was born out of a long-distance musical relationship, where much of their work was recorded on opposite sides of the country, and the e-mailed pieces create the whole songs, which define their project.
A couple of years after starting to get serious about making an album, the group is getting closer and closer to the release of their debut album, “Still Awake at Dawn, Part One.”
The word “orchestra” in the band's title would generally assume a certain number of members in the group, but in its current incarnation, this Orchestra is only two pieces. Engel plays keyboards, bass on synthesizer, sings and plays a high hat cymbal with his left foot. Leopold plays mostly percussion, having created a modified guitar that acts more as a piece of his drum set than an actual stringed instrument. The “slapstick guitar” is two bass strings and three guitar strings and sits on a stand at a nearly 45-degree angle. It's played with a drumstick (labeled “Guitar Only!”), alongside a cymbal and a tom tom.
”The idea is kinetic polyphony,” says Engel. “It's using the economies of motion to maximize our sound. It's all driving towards us getting one big sound, collectively, as a duo.”
The “orchestra” idea can be attributed just as much to the sheer number of jobs that each member's limbs do, as it can to the song-based concept that Engel and Leopold have adopted.
”(It's an) orchestra versus a different kind of group because it's songs,” explains Leopold. “And both of us, in most of the other groups we've played in and currently play with, normally we're doing a lot more improv, just as musicians, and with this project it's a lot more about the song.”
Engel plays locally with both the Steve Watts band and Chris Wixson and the Speakeasy Saints and can often be found at the Red Fox Acid Jazz Experiment, every Monday night in Eureka. Leopold plays with a couple of groups back at home in New Orleans. The two meet up at least a couple times a year to tour the country, mostly as a duo with the occasional added guests. Sometimes Engel plays solo shows locally, under the name of the group. Understandably, the sound of the Peace-of-Mind Orchestra varies wildly from show-to-show and recording-to-recording.
Folks who are lucky enough to end up with a copy of the not-yet-released album, might notice that versions of songs from their copy sound different than the versions of songs heard on the band's Myspace page, or even from a copy of the album they may have heard the day before. While the album is done being recorded, it's in a constant state of mix-down, and will be mastered soon.
Of the songs on the band's Myspace page, the vocals on tracks like “Tattered Things” and “Every Path Leads Back” are much more heavily distorted than they are on the most recent mixes of the album.
The Myspace audio, says Leopold, “is only a somewhat successful experiment to make it sound as brash and insane as Nirvana's 'Nevermind',” an album he was listening to heavily at the time of that particular mix.
The Peace-of-Mind Orchestra's sound is a constant evolution. How the band sounds tonight may be completely different from how they sound tomorrow night or Saturday morning. It's all a matter of how many amps and microphones the band decides to lug around and who's running sound for them.
The only thing that's likely to stay the same for the Peace-of-Mind Orchestra is the organic composition of their actual noises.
”We like to stick with the more organic sound and try to keep it as real as possible,” says Engel, “making as much noise as we can with all of our limbs, without necessarily using overdubs or loops or anything like that.”
The evolution of the Peace-of-Mind Orchestra can be witnessed by visiting their Myspace page at www.myspace.com/peaceofmindorchestra, then clicking over to www.thevenueproject.com, where video of tonight's performance at the Passion Presents studio will be broadcast in a live stream.
Tomorrow night, they'll be at Humboldt Brews in Arcata, then Saturday morning, they play in the Let It Grow parking lot, across from the Co-op in Arcata, before heading up to Eugene, Ore., for a show later that night. - Monica Topping For the Times-Standard


"CD Review: Peace of Mind Orchestra -- Still Awake at Dawn Part One"

Peace of Mind Orchestra

Still Awake at Dawn, Part I

By Al Kaufman

When most people imagine an orchestra, they imagine more than two people playing in it. Peace of Mind Orchestra consists of Ari Leopold and Matt Engel. Engel plays bass and synthesizer, while Leopold handles the guitar, drumming and singing duties. And they do so without looping any sounds.

The result is a type of jam band that crosses Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, and a sprinkle of Frank Zappa, with the poetry of Leonard Cohen. The sound is rich, full, and organic, but also somewhat trippy and psychedelic. Leopold's distorted vocals only add to the overall experience.

The orchestral duo created the CD over a two year span, often while in different parts of the country. They emailed everything from tracks to little snippets of music to each other. Through this process, they created so much music that they plan to release Still Awake at Dawn Part II within the year.

Part I combines trippy, and sometimes ambient, jams with enough New Orleans-style funk so that even someone not stoned can enjoy the whole deal. There are plenty of long, spacey jams here, such as on "Burnin/Turnin'," but they are able to hold interest, a rarity for extended jam sessions.

Live, Peace of Mind are even more of a sight to behold. Leopold's guitar is attached to his drum kit, while Engel plays keyboards, synthesizers, and bass simultaneously. Nothing is looped in. To hear all that music coming from just just people would make the soberest of people think he had just eaten some magic mushrooms.

Peace of Mind Orchestra play Smith's Olde Bar on Monday, March 16th. 10 pm. $5. Tickets are available at the door only. Check out their live show here. - Atlanta Music Guide


"Musical duo rocks orchestral sound"

By RACHEL JONES
Special to 2theadvocate.com
Published: Mar 6, 2009 - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
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Matt Engel has a collection of vintage keyboards and lives in California. Ari Leopold lives in New Orleans and has been drumming since his hands were able to grip the drumsticks. What could these two people possibly have in common? They are both passionate about music and creating uniquely perfect sounds.

Their individual musical journeys brought them together in Chicago where mutual friends introduced them. Both Engel and Leopold had a desire to develop a quality, organic sound, but found that other musicians weren’t as committed.

“We had a bunch of musicians we played with, but no one was really about practicing as much as Matt and I were,” Leopold said. “We met a bunch of times and knew that somehow we could use our skills to put it all together and make a complete sound, just the two of us.”

Together Engel and Leopold now make up the experimental rock duo Peace-of-Mind Orchestra. Describing their music as a blend of Pink Floyd, Motown and New Orleans funk, the twosome was propelled by their natural skills to work between California and Louisiana to perfect the complete sound they had envisioned.

“We’ve been working back and forth from our home studios for the past couple of years, just really trying to fine-tune it and getting it to where we want it to be,” Engel said. “We’re just getting to that point right now, which is very exciting because we’re about to go on tour and share it with everyone we meet.”

For over two and a half years, Engel and Leopold have spent countless hours working on their first album. The time plus distance traveled across country just to work together requires dedication and motivation.

“As far as what motivates me, I love listening to our music. That’s the bottom line. I just want to hear it,” Leopold said. “I spent so many countless hours listening to songs on repeat over and over again. If it didn’t totally get me to that sort of other place mentally, then I would keep on tinkering with it until it did.”

Technology helped make the recording process a little easier. They got together in the summer of 2006 and recorded keyboards and drums for rhythm tracks. After the basics were laid down, Engel played keys and created the ambient sounds, while Leopold laid down the bass and guitar tracks. They each worked on their own time in their own places and then e-mailed their parts to each other for editing.

“He would lay tracks without regard to what was or wasn’t a keeper, and then he would send them to me,” Leopold said. “The songs themselves are really composed, but a lot of those little licks, especially Matt’s keyboards, were improvised when he actually laid it down. I would chop up his tracks and put it together. It was like giving me a big block of marble and then I could chip out a sculpture.”

The album, “Still Awake at Dawn Part 1,” has finally been completed and the first pressing will be with them as they begin their Southern tour this month. Those interested will be able to catch the Peace-of-Mind Orchestra with their new album and addictive sounds at the North Gate Tavern in Baton Rouge on March 12.

“The first songs are songs that Ari wrote in high school that we used as a vehicle to start the Peace-of-Mind Orchestra,” Engel said. “The more we got involved with creating this album the more we got excited about the idea of making more music that sounded like the music we’re making. It’s a snowball effect where it’s inspiring to hear the sound in your head come out through speakers. Once you’ve created those sounds you want to keep making more and more.”

The duo created so much music together they had to break their first album into two parts. “Still Awake at Dawn Part 2” stems from the same rhythm track session that happened in 2006, but they decided that after two and a half years they should release the first portion of finished work.

“Hopefully within a year you’ll hear Part 2,” Leopold said. “We recorded so much stuff we were going to end up with an 80-minute album when it was all done. If we waited until we finished the whole thing before we released anything, it would be years before anyone heard any of it. Conceptually all the songs are linked together, there are common themes, and a lot of the ideas that are in Part 1 will reappear in Part 2.”

Leopold and Engel’s studio recordings have so many different instruments and layers happening within their songs, they had to get creative in developing that same sound for their live performances.

“The studio performance has a lot of layers, but the live performance is a stripped-down version of all the songs, because we’re playing all of the parts at one time,” Engel said. “We have to create in a slightly more interesting fashion just because there are two of us. We have come up with creative ways to play the songs in the live format that doesn’t include any loops or samples, creating an organic sound.”

In creating a totally natural sound, the pair had to invent new instruments. Engel plays bass with a synthesizer and keys and Leopold connected his guitar to his drum set, enabling him to use his drumstick on the guitar strings while playing the basic drumming parts with his feet. The new setup allows them to recreate their large studio sound with just two people.

“It’s like a seven-piece band, but really it’s me and Matt playing all the parts,” Leopold said. “We made a demo of us playing live, and we went back to listen and did a pretty decent job of encapsulating all the [layers from the record]. The songs sound surprisingly similar, and we were actually really surprised.”

To learn more about the Peace-of-Mind Orchestra or watch videos of their live performances with their adapted instruments, you can check out their myspace page at www.myspace.com/peaceofmindorchestra. - TheAdvocate.com Louisiana


Discography

Still Awake at Dawn, Part One (LP - March 2009)
Animals Turn Back to Plants (LP - Winter 2011)

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Bio

“Wow, I’ve never seen anybody do that before!” new fans tell the members of Peace of Mind Orchestra. The group has two members, but if you close your eyes and listen, your ears will be pleasantly surprised. And though at first glance, it is the acrobatic instrumentation that captures the audience's attention, underneath the eclectic visual spectacle lies a solid body of crafted compositions.

Peace of Mind Orchestra (aka “POMO”) is comprised of Ari Leopold and Matt Engel. The duo finished their first record, “Still Awake at Dawn, part one,” in the summer of 2009. The record has a funky, psychedelic, vintage feel, pillared by catchy choruses and captivating instrumental sections. With Matt and Ari recording various parts, each on several different instruments, it actually sounds like a 4-6 piece band.

In emulating this sound live, the duo avoids the ever-more-traditional approach of using loops and sequencers. Instead, Matt covers both bass and keyboard lines, using a Moog synthesizer bass, and a Nord Electro (known for its Hammond Organ and Rhodes Piano sounds.) Ari developed a similar 2-at-once approach for drumkit and guitar, involving homemade footpedals for a snare drum, and the “beat guitar,” where he hits the strings with a drumstick.

POMO’s music takes adventurous journeys across the genre pool, ranging from ambient aural landscapes to tightly interlocked, musical mosaics, resolving into their own blend, hinting flavors of Pink Floyd, New Orleans funk, and live electronica.

The group is currently working on post-production for their upcoming “Ambition(animals turn back to plants).” To date, they have played in 70+ cities around the country and continue expanding toward a wider national fanbase.

Check out sights and sounds at peaceofmindorchestra.com . You will find sneak previews of the new LP and recent video tour footage.