The Colorist Orchestra Create the Ocean Around Howe Gelb’s World with “Counting On”

The Colorist Orchestra (Photo: Michelle Geerardyn)

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

It started with a rhythm pulled from a Casio keyboard. Chords were added, along with open pockets for keyboard and bass, and then Howe Gelb stepped in with the story to fill it all in. Piece by piece, “Counting On,”  the latest single from The Colorist Orchestra (TOC), off the group’s upcoming Not On The Map (Dangerbird Records), out Oct. 1, started taking shape in a most experimental, collaborative way.

“The structure of the song is made up of four stanzas, all based on different chapters of escapades in history,” say TOC. “The mood of all the melodic parts illustrate the story. The tendencies and drama of the strings are very cinematic, the piano and marimba are meant to give a playful contrast the percussion and bass forming a basic groove to underline Howe’s narrative and accentuate his timing.”

Led by percussionists Aarich Jespers and Kobe Proesmans, the Belgian avant garde collective of The Colorist Orchestra also features Sep Francois, Karel Coninx, Jeroen Baert, Tim Vandenbergh, Wim de Busser, and Gerrit Valckenaers, all fusing bespoke and traditional instrumentation into a myriad of musical concoctions. Touring and recording with Sumie, Cibelle, Gabriel Rios and Lisa Hannigan, including a collboration with Emiliana Torrini in 2016, bringing the Giant Sand frontman into the mix was a fitting fusion.

Gelb with The Colorist Orchestra is a prismatic musical experience, a marriage of experimental and experiential elements conjured by both sides. When Gelb joined, so did another texture in arrangement, with the addition of folk singer-songwriter Pieta Brown. 

A follow up to recent single “More Exes” the first peek into the group’s collaboration with Gelb, “Counting On” is a continuation of the storyline, building around their union.

The Colorist Orchestra (Photo: Eric Verberdt)

Touching on something more ominous in its slow-drifted arrangement and Gelb’s near-monotone narration, “Counting On” was drawn from “the role love plays defiantly during various times of historically catastrophic persecutions”—its mumbled verses depicting two lovers surrounded by chaos.

“The chorus lyric is a vocalized yellow highlight marker underpinning the thing everyone is counting on, no matter who they are or when they were,” shares Gelb, who initially consulted Brown on what he should sing about on the track. “Before I went in to sing this, I needed a point of reference to riff on… The first thing that pops into her head is usually good advice. The lyrics that flowed for me on this take were based on her counsel.”

For TOC, the song explores perseverance, through any hardship irrelevant of whether love is a factor. “The song has a very strong message and that makes us feel good about performing it,” share TOC. “Especially in this day and age, this song is very relevant.”

Written and recorded by TOC prior to Gelb coming in, the song already had a structure for his story. “The emotion for me came from that soundtrack playing back while I attached the lyrical events on to it,” says Gelb.

Typically arranging sounds around varying tones and frequencies—often using made-up instruments—then writing and rehearsing each piece, melding Gelb in is different musical dialect for the group on Not On The Map.

“You have Howe, and he’s creating a world,” said Proesmans’ 11-year-old daughter upon hearing some of the new tracks. “And then you guys create the ocean around it.”

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