Referring to her work as "movies for ears," Ela Orleans creates haunting, dream-like experimental pop music using electronic and acoustic instrumentation. Her lo-fi, sample-driven songs, often featuring Casio keyboards and reverb-caked vocals, recall ghostly memories of '50s and '60s pop, drawing from influences ranging from Broadcast to Éthiopiques compilations to Bernard Herrmann film scores. Initially active as a member of collage-pop group Hassle Hound throughout the 2000s, she began releasing solo material in 2008. Following acclaimed early releases such as Lost (2009) and Mars Is Heaven (2011), she released more cleanly produced, electronic-based albums such as 2016's Circles of Upper and Lower Hell, in addition to writing scores for vintage silent films.
Ela Orleans was born in Oświęcim, Poland, in 1971. She moved to Glasgow, Scotland, in 1997 and soon joined collage-pop group Hassle Hound, initially calling herself Lizzy Swimmers. Orleans moved to Warsaw in 2000 and began working on solo material, as well as collaborating with Marcus Schmickler and continuing to work with Hassle Hound, releasing the 10" album Scaring the Grass in the Garden in 2002 and a split EP with Oren Ambarchi's project Sun in 2003. She moved to New York City in 2004 and collaborated on a few experimental/noise projects, playing shows with the likes of Jackie-O Motherfucker, Kevin Shea, and Scarcity of Tanks. Hassle Hound signed with Staubgold, which released Limelight Cordial in 2006, but the group dissolved in 2008, after which Staubgold posthumously released their second album, Born in a Night, in 2010.
Orleans began releasing her solo material in 2008, starting with the full-length CD-R Low Sun/High Moon on Italian label Setola di Maiale. Orleans' first vinyl release, 2009's Lost LP on French label La Station Radar, received acclaim from several indie music publications. The label also released a collaborative CD-R by Orleans and noise artist Skitter the same year. A flurry of activity occurred in 2011, with Night People releasing a split LP by Orleans and kindred spirit Dirty Beaches as well as two further Orleans LPs, Mars Is Heaven (jointly released by La Station Radar and Atelier Ciseaux) and NEO PI-R, the first of many Orleans releases on Clan Destine Records.
Orleans moved back to Glasgow by the end of 2011, and the following year Clan Destine released several more Orleans recordings: The Statement, a four-way split LP between Orleans, U.S. Girls, Slim Twig, and Dirty Beaches; 80 Minutes of Funk, a split mixtape with Curt Crackrach; the double LP Tumult in Clouds; and finally, the limited remix LP Ela and Thee Prophets, featuring contributions by Dan Melchior, Os Ovni, and The-Drum, as well as some of Orleans' previous collaborators. Orleans began an experimental acid techno side project called Tract in 2013 and released De Flechettes, another collaborative LP with Skitter, on Clan Destine the same year.
In 2014, Orleans toured Europe, worked on several soundtracks for independent films, and completed a remix of new age pioneer Laraaji that was released on a 12" EP on All Saints. By the end of the year, Orleans completed the full-length LP Upper Hell with trip-hop producer Howie B, who released the album on his HB Recordings label in 2015. The album preceded the sprawling 25-song Circles of Upper and Lower Hell (the unexpurgated version of Upper Hell), which was released by Night School in 2016. Orleans was commissioned to write and perform scores for the silent films Lucky Star (1929) and Vampyr (1932), respectively by the Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow International Festival. A limited holiday-themed release, Christmas Fell Away, appeared in 2017. Movies for Ears, a collection of Orleans' poppiest tunes from her early releases, was given a full release by Night School in 2019, after previously appearing as a limited CD-R. ~ Paul Simpson