Oda acts as the “two cans and a string” connecting at-home listeners to live performances by artists of all ages. Sold as a kit comprised of two flat wooden speakers, a controller and a seasonal membership (billed separately), Oda somewhat fills the void left by the cancellation of live shows—from stadium concerts to DJ nights at clubs and intimate gigs in bars and cafes. Interestingly though, Oda never set out to solve this type of pandemic problem. For Nick Dangerfield, Oda’s co-founder, the mission of bringing live performances home began back in 2016.
“Oda was born when the artist Phil Elverum [the Microphones, Mount Eerie] announced he wouldn’t be able to tour due to personal circumstances,” Dangerfield tells us. “I then decided to try to create a very direct line of communication between artist and fan, free from all the digital noise and distraction—an immediate line for live sound that would make you feel close to the artist.”
While Oda was initially created to facilitate shows for artists unable to tour, in 2020, that included all performers. “When the pandemic hit, we reconsidered every aspect of our service but decided not to change much, except to focus more on elderly musicians, as they are in a particularly disadvantageous position now, and to make it possible for more artists to perform.” Even with a seemingly never-ending list of possible acts to book, the team behind Oda—winter and spring curators Kristen McElwain and Jeff Mao, in particular—remains committed to a unique type of talent.
“For our first seasons, we wanted to introduce ourselves by presenting some of our favorite artists,” Dangerfield explains. “These artists showcase the range of what you may find within the world we are building and also desire the focused listening experience of Oda. Resident artists will be with you Monday through Friday with spontaneous performances as though they were living in your home with you, while the weekend programs will bring considered and unique-to-Oda transmissions and performances that unfold across the days.”
Resident artists include Harlem-based pianist Marjorie Eliot; Philadelphia’s arranger, cellist and producer Larry Gold; singer-songwriter Beverly Glenn-Copeland; Tokyo-based composer Terry Riley; and bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid. On the weekends, artists like Madlib, Beatrice Dillon, Arca and Pastor TL Barrett take over.
The staff divides the programming into succinct chapters meant to open and close with the change of the seasons. Season One, for example, lasted three months. This window leaves room for daily shows, 12 full weekends and special, one-off performances. Each happens like a phone call, piped into your Oda speakers without much notice, to be enjoyed without seeing who it is on the other end. The performers might introduce themselves or listeners may recognize a tune, but the mystery adds to the allure.
“My first concert experiences were in the late ’90s in Europe, when electronic music was exploding and all performances were just a dude with mostly inconsequential ‘visuals’ in the background. I always had my eyes closed,” Dangerfield says. “Now seriously: with Oda we’re trying to create conditions that are inviting deep listening. It’s just so astonishing how music can touch you when you really listen. We tend to underestimate our imagination, which is why we always feel the need to produce video on top of music. I think that visual information sometimes clogs your imagination and limits the depth of the musical experience. It also makes it easier for the artists to transmit, even on a whim, as we so much favor spontaneity in the nature of the performances.”
Ushering listeners into this eyes-closed, immersive state requires some state-of-the-art technology. This tech gets tucked into Oda’s seemingly simple package, all without interrupting its natural essence; one of Dangerfield’s original design principles. Oda co-founder and lead designer, Perry Brandston, has been crafting speakers his whole life—and knew those in CBGB and Carnegie Hall well. He assisted Dangerfield with the build. The University of Dresden’s Benjamin Zenker—a world-leading acoustician—tweaked the final product, embedding a sense of calm and honesty into every output.
“We wanted to achieve a very particular sonic experience. We wanted a type of sound that would underline the illusion that the artist is right in front of you,” Dangerfield says. Brandston “decided that using flat-panel speakers would be the right approach, as they disseminate sound in a similar way as sound naturally occurs. The aesthetics are just a good consequence of this technology. It’s literally a piece of square wood that vibrates. I find the simplicity most appealing—a kind of technological transparency that helps us understand the object and its function much better.”
This transparency also allows Oda to draw a clear, defined line between performers and audience members. “That direct line is becoming more tenuous in recent times, as artistry is pushed to the background,” he adds. “I want to preserve that line, that magic moment, which happens often in the most intimate of performances.”
Images courtesy of Oda