Matt Hsu creates curious worlds of intricately crafted experimental music, made with odd instruments and rethought everyday objects.
The word on the street is that you play over 20 instruments! What was the first instrument you ever played & what made you get into making your own music?
Music was integral to my childhood, I was immersed in music from around the world because of my parents – it showed me that this was a language that conveyed so much regardless of language or locality. My first instrument was trumpet in grade 5, and that gave me the feeling of, I can be part of this musical conversation!
In my 20s I co-founded a folk-punk band called The Mouldy Lovers. That was a really crucial experience in my life, making music in this passionate communal experience, travelling around the world, having the opportunity to try all these different instruments around me.
After being nourished by that experience, I started getting curious about what it would sound like to create music wholly on my own, from start to finish, being responsible for every sound. That’s how ‘Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra’ began.
We love that you use everyday objects to make music? What would is the most unexpected object you have created music with?
I’ve enjoyed spinning bicycle wheels, putting a drumstick to the spokes and recorded the percussive clanging. I really love the sound of the cimbalom, but can’t afford one, so I’ve been hitting mandolin strings with chopsticks and it seems to create a similar effect. I’ve even ‘ooh’ed in a stormwater drain and until I found the resonant frequency of the tunnel and recorded it.
Let’s talk about the one-man orchestra thing. How did that come about?
I sort of began composing with all these instruments without thinking how I would perform them live. I didn’t want to perform, one instrument to a pre-recorded backing track – it felt like it would cheapen the experience. So, creating each layer on a loop pedal was the only thing possible as a ‘one-person orchestra’. Although, I could only play one section of the song, say, the verse, before having to stop, restart and build the chorus. It wasn’t always practical. I’m so thankful for my 17-piece ensemble now!
You are a wonderful advocate for diversity and inclusivity through music, what are three big learnings for our readers?
There’s nothing warmer and fuzzier than getting to know a person or community that has been previously outside of your ‘comfort zone’. Having real conversations with people outside your immediate community is the best way to combat prejudice. Too many people form opinions about X community, without ever having meaningful interaction with them – it’s just ideas based on second-hand hearsay. It’s important to make an effort, especially when it comes to making up your mind about the value and humanity of people.
If fair equal treatment and opportunity for everyone in your community is something you care about, it’s important to actively champion that, not just have lofty ideals and only occasionally act on them when it’s convenient. If see yourself as someone who is not racist, then be actively anti-racist, not an inactive bystander.
Difference is something to be celebrated and nurtured, not afraid of.
You’ve collaborated with slam poets before… what excites you about the concept of Gran Slam?
I love the inclusivity that it encourages. Older people in our community have a wealth of deep experiences and a lifetime of love given, and having those insights communicated in new channels and artforms, I think it absolutely beautiful.
The Purpose of our organisation is To Move Communities – that movement can manifest in all its guises; physically, socially, emotionally, culturally. To be moved and to move together. What moves you?
Seeing individuals come together to create change and action they really care about: whether it be a film crew, small business, community of artists. I really love seeing that community passionate bring things to life.