Milwaukee's Black Orchid - Biography
Almost 13 years after the end of the phenomenon that was Milwaukee's Black Orchid (originally known as Black Orchid), I was delighted to find so much wonderful material to work with for the Chronicles releases. I had almost completely forgotten many of the recordings and was surprised at how fresh some of it still felt. None of it sounded old school at all, and I was really pleased I had been able to capture so much from the band.
I was introduced to Craig (Raig Macher) by a mutual friend in July 1993. Craig had been working with Sven Korth as Shadow Orchid but Sven was planning to move to Seattle, which left Craig looking for someone new to work with. The first time Craig and I turned on our equipment Sven showed up and just couldn't resist joining in. The session went so well that Sven delayed his move to Seattle. I managed to convince Craig and Sven to rename the band Black Orchid, after one of my favourite comics, and our recording history began.
At the time we were all listening to industrial music, and in our innocence we began to formulate our own experimental sound that has since been compared to Throbbing Gristle and The Legendary Pink Dots. But the sound of MBO wasn't what we were really all about; MBO was about change and emotional expression. We had three keyboard set-ups (with drum machines and at least two keyboards or samplers each piled into different stand systems) with a microphone, one guitar (into effects) with a microphone, and one bass guitar. During performances, we sometimes might 'Round Robin' between set-ups (which makes it difficult to know who was where doing what, although the guitar was generally played by me and our voices were distinctly different). We'd play continuously for 1-2 hours at a time, moving back and forth between songs, melodies and rhythms. Our vocals became more than just any one of us singing; it was the interplay between three lyrical lines (oftentimes completely unrelated) that gave us that dynamicism (BAM!). We did as many shows during our short history as our schedules could manage. Being an experimental improvisational performance band, we preferred on the whole to fashion new songs and melodies in front of our audiences, but the growth of our cult following convinced us to re-visit a few of our more popular pieces, notably 'In a Heartbeat', 'Mindfire', 'Brains', and 'Felicia'. Our fans were always excited by the theatrical touches in our performances. We were lucky enough to have guest appearances at select shows by Alan Zorn who added some great additional rhythms and Erich Ternes who brought his violin in (which I effected and distorted). Some of my best stage memories are of MBO, particularly the live simulcast of 'In a Heartbeat' on local radio.
The band's last performance was in late November 1994. In December we all parted as friends and wished each other well as we headed off; Sven finally made his move to Seattle, Craig took a job writing techno loops for commercial ads, and I delved deeper into engineering and production. I was given the honour and responsibility of keeping MBO's surviving original master recordings, and managed to release two limited edition CDs, Traveling on Dark Frequencies and Live and Rare.
In working on The Chronicles, I returned to the archives, editing and remastering all the material from the original recordings. Less than half the shows performed had been recorded, but what had been still totalled over seven hours on DAT. The very best of MBO is contained on Chronicles One, Two, and Three, and I hope all our fans are as thrilled to finally hear this material as I am.
J.A.B., March 2007