If you were to trace the course of how a couple of high schoolers obsessed with punk rock would become two of the most lauded emerging exponents of classical electronica, one couldn’t imagine a more convoluted path than the one taken by The Volt Per Octaves. During the past four years, the husband-and-wife ensemble of Nick and Anna Montoya have not only refined their sound, but also firmly established themselves within the swirling world of synthesized music. Like any worthy purveyors of a craft, their relationship with the music they create is fueled by an unyielding passion.
For insight into their musical fervor, one needs only to explore the 10 compositions that constitute their new recorded endeavor, Moogsaic. The album is a summation of the whirlwind adventure that has seen the two evolve from multi-instrumental newlyweds into one of the most talked about electronic ensembles embracing analog instrumentation. While most musicians their age explore the myriad of possibilities offered in the digital realm, The Volt Per Octaves have their hands firmly grasping the dials and keys of classic synthesizer instruments like Moogs and Theremins. And, despite what current convention might suggest, for The Volt Per Octaves, digital technology simply doesn’t measure up.
“You plug a digital synthesizer into the wall and the electricity that comes out of the socket is powering a computer that has RAM and a CPU,” offered Nick. “It is nothing but ones and zeros making some perfectly pitched orchestral sound. But our instruments take raw electricity and run it through various resistors and transistors and springs that actually make electricity audible. What you hear in a Moog is audible electricity. When I am playing the keyboard and twisting the knobs, what I am doing is changing the path of electricity in real time. : It’s not a computer making a sound for you.”
Rather ironically, the life journey undertaken by the Montoyas is just as intricate and twisting as the goings-on in their music. After meeting in high school, the two soon found themselves taking on the role of teenage parents. Having battled all the complications and misgivings that come with starting a family at such a young age, Nick and Anna married. Six years after they first met, music again started to take prominence in their lives. Nick had discovered the Moog and quickly started contemplating the idea of making music with Anna.
“At first, it was kind of rough,” recalled Nick. “We would bombard any open mike night we could find and we would turn up with our keyboards. You should have seen the looks we got!”
“The response we got wasn’t too positive at first,” added Anna. “No one really got it. At open mike nights, most people usually turn up with a guitar, plug it in, and just jam away. And here we were with all of these strange instruments. People would be standing there thinking ‘What are these people doing?’ But, after a while, they got into it and we started to find a niche.”
That niche came at everybody’s favorite downtown bar, Elsie’s. While partaking in a handful of the establishment’s open mike nights, it was quickly suggested that the Montoyas start playing their own shows. After scribbling their names onto the venue’s booking calendar, Nick and Anna became The Volt Per Octaves and Elsie’s became their staple gig. As they concentrated on refining their craft, outside opportunities quickly arose-one of the most important being their entry into the Holy Grail of synthesized music: the synth competition known as Moogfest.
“The big step in between the open mike slots and booking our own shows came in 2005 when we won the Moogfest competition,” recalled Nick. “It was an online competition run through the Moog Web site where all these Moog synthesizer greats were playing the fest in New York, and they were looking for one undiscovered act to join them. We didn’t ever think we would win. Our sound is very simple and we are definitely not like many of the virtuosos out there. But they closed down the contest a week early and then sent us the announcement telling us we had won.”
It wasn’t just the judging committee of the Moogfest that saw something special in The Volt Per Octaves. When it came time for the duo to record its latest album, a couple of those synthesizer greats were more than willing to join Nick and Anna’s endeavor. One of the pair’s biggest influences, Roger Manning Jr. (who has worked with the likes of Beck and Air), contributed an armory of masterful Moog tracks and arrangements, while another Beck collaborator, Ross Harris, also dropped by to lend a helping hand.
“We’ve looked up to these guys since we were kids, and now they are our comrades,” said Nick. “Ross Harris actually wrote, codirected, and produced our favorite movie of all time, called Southlander, which is about the hunt for a rare and elusive synthesizer! It was so cool. He had all the props from the movie at his house-even the synthesizer was there. It was out in his yard covered by bushes and gathering dust and crap. Who would have thought we would get to go to his house and hang out and be barbequing with him? He is one of those humble, think-nothing-of-his-work type guys-someone with cobwebs in his bathroom just like everyone else.”
With the album completed and now in production, The Volt Per Octaves are turning their attention to giving their record a fitting release, which will take place on September 4 at the Wildcat Lounge. The musical charter of The Volt Per Octaves might simply be to bring back into the spotlight the Moog synthesizer, but, through their new album and various achievements, Nick and Anna have also shaped themselves into an act to watch. So much so that it won’t be too much longer before aspiring Moogsaics will be tracking down The Volt Per Octaves and getting excited about barbequing with them.
The Volt Per Octaves will play the Wildcat Lounge (15 W. Ortega St.) on Tuesday, September 4, at 10 p.m. in support of the release of their album, Moogsaic. For more information, visit myspace.com/thevoltperoctaves.