Concerts

Itchy-O's Next Ceremonial Concept Concert Showcases New, Unexpected Custom Instrument

The Colorado School of Mines created this SÖM SÄPTÄLAHN for itchy-O.
The Colorado School of Mines created this SÖM SÄPTÄLAHN for itchy-O. Colorado School of Mines
Denver is home to several venues and performance groups that serve as portals to otherworldly dimensions, but perhaps the most original, unique and unexpected is itchy-O, the avant-garde 57-piece marching band of masked musicians.

The group has made an indelible mark on Denver since its inception in 2009 with out-of-this-world immersive performances, from intergalactic masquerade balls to meditative sound baths. It even found ways to keep music alive during the pandemic with livestreams and drive-in shows.

The next move for itchy-O is its Tetrapolar Purification Ceremony at the Fillmore Auditorium on Saturday, July 16, which will also serve as the debut for a brand-new instrument that the group has acquired. Westword caught up with itchy-O, which speaks as a collective, to find out just what we can expect from the ceremony.
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Studio Apocalypse
Westword: How did you come up with the idea for a Tetrapolar Purification Ceremony, and could you explain what that means?

Itchy-O: The Tetrapolar Purification Ceremony came into focus as a reflexive response to the last few years, with all of the physio-, psycho- and sociological ills. Frankly, it’s all been taxing as fuck for everyone...but for us, our Patreon supporters and fans, itchy-O has been an antidote.

Our shows always hold some sort of ceremonial component, so we felt called upon to devise a ritual to help our community re-center, recalibrate, purify…. Call it what you will, this ceremony will be at the intersections of art and science, physiology and phenomenology. Expect a night of specifically engineered psychoacoustic arrangements, inviting attendees to take part in an interlocking and interactive process. Participation will be simple, easy and powerful, with information provided upon entry.

We strongly suspect this will become another Denver tradition for us, much like our annual Hallowmass has. And if none of that is your cup of tea, you can always just lose yourself in the chaos and shake yer ass  to the cathartic rhythm and noise this beastly orchestra always throws down.

One of the highlights of this show is audience participation around three "elemental" themes of fire, air and water. Could you elaborate on that?

The tetrapolar concept is hardly new — it follows some esoteric principles laid down by both ancient Vedic and hermetic teachings. Late-nineteenth-century scholarly mages like Rudolf Steiner and Franz Bardon also wrote extensively about these principles, but in a nutshell, you have three elements: Air, Water and Fire. Abstractly, Fire represents anything expansive; Water is a polar opposite of contractive; and Air acts as a neutral. Together or against each other, they work as magnetic poles. Add yourself to the paradigm, grounded here on this Earthly plane, and you have yourself a walking, talking, dancing, writhing, sweating, four-pole tetrapolar magnet, ready for manifesting action (or inaction).

July 16’s ceremony at the Fillmore will serve to burn off the bad stuff, contain the good stuff, and recalibrate our magnetic poles, in an effort to serve each other and our communities more effectively. And like any itchy-O event, it will be a very wild ride.

At this show, you’ll debut a SÖM SÄPTÄLAHN. When and how did you acquire this instrument? Why did you want one?

For those who might not know, a gamelan is a set of gongs and metallophones originating in Indonesia around 78 A.D. With deep reverence and exhaustive research into gong- and bell-based instruments (stretching back to the early ’90s for some members), itchy-O wanted to create and incorporate its own unique ceremonial centerpiece to the ensemble.

Thanks to a partnership with the Colorado School of Mines Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Hot Shop, and the Hennebach Program in the Humanities at Mines with artist-in-residence Sarah Harling, we were gifted the opportunity of a lifetime to design a fifty-plus-piece gamelan-like instrument, cast in our own customized scale and specifications right here in our backyards.

To construct the SÖM SÄPTÄLAHN, we collected more than 600 pounds of donated metal from Denver-area percussionists with our Broken Cymbal Drive. Many of the donations were covered in Sharpied tattoo sentiments, memorials and other weirdo doodles. Cymbals were melted down into a mellifluous monstrosity that our music and fan community is now literally a part of. So what has emerged is a brand-new, seven-tone-scale, itchy-O design based on no other existing Eastern or Western musical temperament, with the resulting effects absolutely unique to anything heard before.

Some of us jokingly refer to our SÄPTÄLAHN as our new shiny “sonic spaceship.” We’re certainly excited to see where it takes all of us.

What do you hope the SÖM SÄPTÄLAHN will bring to the show? Will you be using it in the future?

There is something inherently magical about the sound of gongs and metallophones; the way the metal resonates with human anatomy and physiology is truly phenomenal. One of our new additions is a gong over five feet in diameter; it seriously tickles you in places you were never aware of.

Our scale is also distinctively “itchy-O,” as well; however, the pieces we have written definitely feel like a new chapter. Without giving too much away, the Tetrapolar Ceremony on July 16 will begin with these pieces to open the door to the night’s proceedings, as well as usher in the next phase of our sonic manifesto.
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Itchy-O at its three-night run of Hallowmass at Summit Music Hall in Denver on October 29.
Jacqueline Collins
How would you describe an itchy-O performance to those who haven’t seen one?

Honestly, we try not to. However, y’all at Westword have described it: “Like an Appalachian tent revival performing a Day of the Dead ceremony in the year 2500, Itchy-O's live performances have become infamous for a kind of digital spirituality, a bone-shaking sensory experience of complex instrumentation and feverish exigency.”

We like that...might just add “and commanded by feline gods.” Many of us behind the curtain are devout cat people who serve the will of the kitties.

How do you hope audiences at this concert will leave feeling?

We have some serious science and magic up our sleeves now. After diving deeper into music theory than we ever have, we’ve coupled our custom SÄPTÄLAHN scale with frequency entrainment techniques to activate our rhythmic brains, and have discovered that a lot of the stuff we’ve been doing for years holds real measurable benefits with regard to wellness.

All of this has, of course, opened doors to doing these things even better, and inspired us to lean even more into these territories where art and science work together to shift thinking and maybe even restore balance individually and collectively.

We began to experiment with binaural frequencies at shows in 2019, and that led to a guided Noise Bath meditation series developed for Patreon supporters in 2020. And while we continue to learn more and more about these entrainment techniques aimed at individual practice, by and large we think the real banger is when these methods are employed among groups of people, all resonating with music in synchronicity at the same time in the same room.

Music is spiritual, and whether folks know it, say it or recognize it, people go to live music to have spiritual experiences. It’s physiological and a huge part of human evolution. Over the last several decades, current concert venues and the live industry have slid into something we think is quite inefficient at delivering what folks really yearn for, and in some respects, [it] feels outright unhealthy. We’re certainly not interested at all in castrating any thrillz, but we do hope to challenge current systems and deliver something more beneficial and of more substance.

Make whatever you want out of it, but at the risk of sounding too lofty, itchy-O hopes people will come away from our events feeling more connected to themselves, more connected to others, and leave with some sort of joy or hope they can take home with them and spread infectiously.

Does itchy-O have an overall mission that ties in with these unique performances?

Oh, yes. From day one — almost twelve years ago — our mission has been to create spiritual experiences through transcendental musical inclusion. Our performances are intended to confound the senses and disorient the audience’s sense of place, time, order, reason and categorical identity. The Tetrapolar Purification Ceremony is about to do this more effectively than we’ve ever done it before.

How has itchy-O maintained itself coming out of the pandemic?

The pandemic hit — and we hit the ground running. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been sprinting since March of 2020; we actually played more shows in 2020 than we did in 2019. From our Sypherlot and Hallowmass drive-in shows through 2021 year’s end, we’ve been following all of the official recommended precautions, counseling with local infectious-disease docs, and enhanced our own ever-evolving safety protocols.

We actually got all the way to the end of 2021 without any COVID infections related to our shows or rehearsals. Then came Omicron and our New Year’s shows that were scheduled at HQ (our formative old stomping grounds as 3 Kings). We would very likely have canceled those shows, but in the wake of the senseless December shooting rampage that took five lives from us, including that of Alicia Cardenas, a longtime and dear member of itchy-O, we felt obligated to press forward at the venue just a few doors down from Sol Tribe Tattoo on South Broadway. We’re glad we did, too, as we were able to raise over $9,000 for victims’ families from those shows.

Today we are still taking the safety — of both our crew and attendees — very seriously. You’d see masks behind masks and masks behind curtains if you were allowed to.

Are there any projects in the works that you can give us a hint about?

We put out our double live record in 2021 that documented the 2020 drive-in series mentioned above. That felt like a real turning of the page.

We have a ton of major irons in the fire right now, including some shows outside of Colorado, but also, we are really excited about the music we’ve been writing over the last few years — along with what is to come with SÖM SÄPTÄLAHN. Our next studio record will reflect the last few years, which have been intense, to put it lightly.

Itchy-O Tetrapolar Purification Ceremony, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 16, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street, Tickets are $29.50.
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Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson