This story first appeared in Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color and Music. Order your copy today.
Castratii: “Orchid”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Orchid.mp3|titles=Castratii: “Orchid”]
Cloaked in darkness, the Australian electro-ambient trio known as Castratii exerts a mysterious gravitational pull. Together, “spiritual brothers” Beauvais Cassidy and Jonathan Wilson — along with new addition Liela Moss — create an ethereal, otherworldly sound. For the group, darkness is the antithesis of information overload caused by technology. “People are definitely more interested in not knowing right now, particularly as everything is so easily found online,” Wilson says. And for many fans, Castratii’s allure lies in its mysterious movements; by revealing little, the band invites speculation.
Based in rural New South Wales, an hour and a half outside Sydney, Castratii draws inspiration from the untamed environment of the deep, dark bush. “Australia is beautiful and haunted and scary as fuck, and we want our music to be its soundtrack,” Wilson says. The band formed in 2007, when Cassidy and Wilson, both 30, were going through personal crises. “The project was born from sheer desperation and our limits being tested,” Wilson explains. One was physically ill and the other lost and confused. “We found each other in this sound,” he continues. “It was something we had to do to find a way out of the depths.”
Cassidy and Wilson’s first gigs were performances for friends in their lodge. Surrounded by spooky yet comforting sounds of night animals and insects, the band felt at home. “The remote nature of the space, and given [that] ideas appear when light is limited, it made sense for us to play completely in the dark,” Wilson says. “It was like playing to the things that had inspired the music in the first place.”
Moss joined the band in the summer of 2010, adding powerful female vocals to Castratii’s recording fold. “She can do things vocally we would never dream of,” Wilson says. The band’s forthcoming debut album, Eora, pushes to create sounds and sonic textures that it has not yet heard. Trained as artists, mostly in sculpture, the band members rely on their knowledge of visual communication to develop and convey ideas. “We attempt to make solid mental objects, with highs and lows, through our noise,” Wilson says.
By interrupting a listener’s physical space with some “insane” sub-frequencies, Castratii attempts to infuse visual art with sound. “That’s essentially what sculpture is to us, a negotiation of a physical object and its space,” Wilson says.
Two of the group’s early tracks, “Orchid” and “Surrogates,” both concern death, and yet are not as dreary as their titles suggest. “Orchid” is a haunting yet soothing suicide pact, with the power and beauty of the forest expressed through Moss’ angelic vocals and heavy keyboard strokes. “Surrogates” paints a picture of redemption with a meditative sonic structure and a solid backbeat.
Because Castratii is so completely entrenched in its exploration of sound and space, it’s difficult for the band to break down its recordings and assign specific credit. “When we listen back to our music, even we do not know who has played what or who has made what sound,” Wilson says. A single band member begins, but by the end, the song has taken so many different paths that it’s impossible to retrace its steps back to the idea’s birth. “We leave no evidence or trail of breadcrumbs to find our way back,” Wilson says, “and to do so would be a horrible experience, like climbing back inside your mother. So we don’t do it.”
Castratii primarily plays a Fender Bass VI (six-string bass), a Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, a Roland MC 808 Sampling Groovebox, a Roland Juno-60 (61-key polyphonic synthesizer), and a Minimoog (monophonic analog synthesizer). The combination helps the band create a shadowy cousin of 1980s dream pop, which Castratii performs in complete darkness — the band’s signature. “We find that the sound can consume a person in a completely new way if the performer is in the dark,” Wilson explains. In the darkness, the audience focuses on the sonic factors, not on how the music is made; it is total musical immersion. “When people see a rock show or even a classical performance, most walk away with the idea that they were closer to that performer as a person,” Wilson says. And with Castratii, that level of personal exchange does not occur. “This is something we want to keep to ourselves — our sounds and our persons,” he says.
The music connects the band to the audience, and it connects band members, who can barely see each other when they play to one another. “Our only link is the music,” Wilson says. Darkness is a barrier and also a medium for communication. “Darkness is so much better for so many things,” Wilson says. “It encompasses so many different good and evil connotations.”
Although completely isolated in the middle of nowhere, with gum trees, frogs, kangaroos, and possums for company, the members of Castratii don’t seem to mind. “It’s a great feeling being so far from the modern world,” Wilson says. Music is the band’s connection to the world, and though the release of Eora will see the band performing and touring more, it’s not Castratii’s ultimate goal. “We hope that the recorded music changes people,” Wilson says. “That’s where it starts.”