"I don't know, it's hard for me to tell, but are these people in a cult?" Mel Lister, one-half of sibling act Oracle Plus alongside older sister Stephanie Lister, laughs as she recalls one of her favorite moments of audience feedback from a show that was double-booked with a headphones rave in Oakland years back.
Sadly, Orlando Weekly can't even blame the hapless audience member. Witnessing Oracle Plus live is akin to total immersion in the Listers' psyches: an intensely personal multimedia collision of video, sound, costumes and seemingly ritualized movements. Oracle Plus is not just a band, nor performance artists, nor filmmakers, but something wonderfully in-between.
Though currently based in Oakland, the Listers got their respective creative starts in Orlando, with Stephanie in particular using photography as her primary outlet, taking part in group shows and working as a tech at Colonial Photo & Hobby. Both sisters were avid concertgoers in the local DIY and punk scenes, but couldn't really find their own place as active participants. The Listers' earliest collaborations were informal, "making weird art together, just for fun." "We'd paint on the walls and make collages ... the stuff you did before you had a smartphone," remembers Mel.
An embryonic version of Oracle Plus – known then as Plus Whatever – would occasionally stage informal performances, but it wasn't until Stephanie and Mel moved to Oakland, with its vibrant creative scene and their own fresh start serving as prime motivators, that it seemed suddenly possible to synthesize their diverse interests in sound and vision and present it to increasingly interested audiences. "We felt like we belonged," says Mel. Stephanie describes a flourishing underground: "There were shows all the time, live-work spaces were a thing – they were also venues – and everyone was being creative, it was a very new and exciting time." Soon enough, the sisters' reach expanded beyond Oakland, as they took their evolving video-performance act on tours, no mean feat for a group that strives to make every performance unique.
Though Mel half-jokes about the often ad-hoc nature of their matching performance attire – "If we find two of something at a thrift store, we're like, oh we can base a set off this!" – Oracle Plus' alien attire and eerily synchronized body movements aren't even the main focus of their sets. A mix of prerecorded and live video sources form the main narrative arc, with found and live video provided by an array of projectors, monitors, security cameras and even a customized "sculpture camera" – "a clear plastic head with a camera mounted into its forehead for live video feeds," explains Mel – offering a wealth of images that the sisters trigger and manipulate in real time. Their most recent performances have been more "language-based sets," according to Stephanie. Mel goes further: "We've been writing longer pieces which are read by a robot and recorded. They're about depression or anxiety or apocalyptic themes and done through the lens of a Choose Your Own Adventure horror book." Needless to say, there will be audience participation.
Oracle Plus' main influences and interests lie outside of music; they express an affinity with public access television and variety shows.. Stephanie enthuses about "the total beauty of anyone being able to do anything they want on the air." Mel agrees that it's "art for the people." The duo's work is currently centered on a set of timely themes. Stephanie expresses an interest in "redefining what eco-art can be." Mel lists off "media, the intersection of performance and technology and working out psychological traumas through music." The Listers talk excitedly of plans to create their own public access show and of merging their work in art therapy with their creative strategies in Oracle Plus.
With a new DVD out on Resipiscent Records, the sisters are excited about playing the East Coast (Savage Weekend in Chapel Hill, then Atlanta and Orlando) and visiting their hometown. "It's always fun to come back here," says Stephanie. "It's like this is what we're working on! This is where we're from! No matter what we can always play Uncle Lou's!" Welcome home.