Live at Frequency Freaks, July 2019Mike Barber9:46
Live at Frequency Freaks, May 2019Mike Barber8:06
Author: Mike Barber
experimental composer/artist based in toronto, canada. for over 20 years he has been recording and performing both as a solo artist and as a collaborator in experimental and avant-garde formations in toronto, montréal, philadelphia, and new york city. he has also composed and performed musical scores to a number of independent documentaries and short films.
i do hope you download it and give it a listen. as always, my albums are pay-what-you-can and you can even enter $0 to get it for free if funds are super tight (as is the situation for many of us during this pandemic).
this season of the podcast deals with the politics of expertise in the “post-truth” era—who is and isn’t considered an “expert” in different contexts and how it is leveraged in different ways (often times for bad). like “this american life” but rooted in history and science. the stories include from a hoax paper published by a scientist, indigenous people subverting the canadian government’s narrative at expo ’67, the makers of tamiflu buying influence at the CDC…
thru these stories, we see how what we are presented with as truth is often skewed—facts are manipulated to present certain favoured narratives. as this is one of the common threads running thru the season, i intentionally chose a sonic palette to reflect the wavering condition of truth bending under pressure by way of lo-fi and distorted sounds.
being a soundtrack, it’s not going to sit firmly in one genre or another. i’d say it moves around within the ambient articulations of the post-rock and lo-fi electronic genres, with some modern classical elements peppered here and there. if you’re a fan of mogwai, boards of canada, jóhann jóhannsson, a winged victory for the sullen, or the electronic duets by ólafur arnalds & nils frahm then you will certainly enjoy this album.
In honour International Drone Day, I will be performing two live improvised ambient drone sets — one at dawn as the sun rises, the other at dusk as the sun sets. The start times are 5AM and 8:30PM eastern standard time, with expected durations of about 45 to 60 minutes each (it will be governed by the actual sunrise and sunset). The YouTube stream links for each are below.
a few years ago (may 4th, 2014 to be precise) i was sitting in the pub when the thought occurred to me: what would it sound like if i looped every occurrence of the word “alderaan” from ‘star wars: a new hope’ overtop a wall of sound made up of all the duran duran songs at once.
i present to you alduran, alderaan — the fucked up result of such an experiment, along with every shot of alderaan for nice visuals. may the fourth be with you!
this post was intended to go live over a month ago — on march 11th. unfortunately, i was in the hospital having my exploded appendix removed that day, so i wasn’t able to finish and publish it. but, as they say: better late than never.
five years ago today was the release of loch ness, an expressionist two-part drone piece about my adventure in 2014 canoeing the length of loch ness — solo — over a day and a half. the experience was a transformative one, to say the least. i can tell you, it certainly lives up to its reputation for being beautiful, haunting, and treacherous — qualities i feel i captured in these drone pieces. take a listen while you read my story…
it was just after midday when i put-in at fort augustus, on the western-most tip of loch ness and began my journey eastward along the 36.2 km (22.5 mi) long lake. with a surface area 56 square kilometres, it is the second largest scottish loch (second to loch lomond).
it was an uncharacteristically warm and sunny autumn day, and i actually managed to get a bit of a sunburn! but what started out as a smooth, easy-going paddle became a stormy hell after headwinds picked up in the late afternoon, creating waves one to two feet high. i was paddling alone and against the current. if i stopped paddling for just a moment to rest my aching shoulders, i would lose a whole canoe-length (16ft) of progress.
because of the high hills and tree lines which rim the loch, the sun effectively sets here around 7pm or so. the steep angle at which the hills meet the water is such that one can’t just make land and set up camp on a whim. the difficult challenge i found myself in was to paddle thru the stormy waters to find a spot accessible and flat enough to pitch my tent. fortunately i managed to find a spot just flat enough to work just as the sunlight began to disappear, leaving me to set up camp with my flashlight.
early the next morning i made some porridge, took in the beautiful scenery before me and set out to make up for lost time — i was at least five kilometres short of where i wanted to break for the night. before packing up, i took a few photos as the dense fog was beginning to lift. the water was so still across the loch, it was like glass. it was hauntingly beautiful and i would have loved to sit longer and take it in, but i still had 20 or so kilometres of loch ness to paddle before i made it to the river ness — a 10 kilometre snaking river that connects loch ness to the beauly firth at the city of inverness (my final destination).
by the time i arrived at the pick-up point to meet with the outfitter from which i rented the canoe, my body was so exhausted i could not even pull the canoe out of the water myself. the entire day i was paddling against the current, with but one single break to snack. after loading the canoe into the van, i was dropped off at the train station in inverness. i bought my train ticket to the town of keith where i was to visit a friend. i had time to kill, and resentment to extinguish. i said, “fuck you, nessie! i’m going to go eat one of your friends!”
i walked into the first pub i found and ordered a pint of stout and a plate of fish and chips — thus ending 19 years of vegetarianism. it was delicious.
i am excited to announce a new limited live experimental music series i am curating on the last thursday of february, march, and april.
“APPETITE FOR DECONSTRUCTION is a limited series curated by experimental artist Mike Barber. Join us for an evening of improvised experimental music. Each evening is divided in two parts—guest artists will perform their sets which will be sampled and used as the raw materials for Barber’s closing set. The audience will first experience the original source performances unfold live, then an improvised deconstruction of them immediately after.
five years ago today was the release of ama bala, a 22-minute single-track ambient/drone EP. it is the first release from my period experimenting with the technique of digitally granularizing a recording and then elongating the grains by a significant amount and smearing them together. if that description is obtuse, imagine i was taking a length of cassette tape and chopping it into wee (maybe one to two milliliters in length) pieces or ‘grains’–that is the granularization. now imagine i took each of those tiny snippits/grains of tape and physically stretched each one of them in length from 1mm to 100mm, then taped those splices back together in order. i’ve long been a fan of glenn branca, and the first movement (slow mass) from his second symphony has always been a favorite of mine. i was looking for my own way to carry out the deliberately long, drawn out yet subtly morphing tones without the use of any synthesizers, and this technique proved to be the way.
here is an excerpt (the last 12 minutes) from my set opening up the community performance portion of the toronto sound festival on november 23, 2019. an extended video will be posted in the near future.
one year ago today was the release of duets for saw & deviated septum. in a recent post i talked about how the beginning of 2019 also marked the beginning of a new phase as an artist, and what role the leap into the world of eurorack modular synths played in that. ‘duets’ plays an important part in that change as my first album created using the eurorack modular synth setup i curated. one might expect that my first album using such a synth would be more traditionally musical as far as electronic music goes, or at least fit under one of the many electronic sub-genres. the direction i decided to go in was very different.
MODULAR FOR MUSIQUE CONCRÈTE
modular synths are fascinating in that they are particular to the person putting them together. beyond just the selections made in curating one’s synth, the immense flexibility in how they are implemented adds even more individuality to the synth. two artists can have the exact same set of modules, but how each routes and configures them will produce different results. the vast majority of the time, modular synths are curated for the purpose of making electronic music of some kind—be it tonal or atonal, with a beat or rhythmless and ambient—the sounds are generated by oscillators and/or complex physical modellers to produce sounds using various types of synthesis (subtractive, additive, frequency modulation, etc). while i am also interested in producing such sounds (such as on ‘third rail of a one-track mind’ for example), my goal was to design a modular synth that could also be used for musique concrète—an avant garde form of music where recorded sounds from field recordings, not musical instruments, are used.
the album title ‘duets for saw & deviated septum’ is quite literal. in true musique concrète form, each of the three pieces on the album are comprised strictly of field recordings of me sawing thru a 2” piece of ash with a hand saw, and a recording of me snoring (which my partner recorded one night with her iphone to demonstrate just how awful my snoring can be at times). each piece is done in a single, improvised take during which the field recordings were manipulated in real time thru electronics to build layers and add textures to the sounds.
REVIEW AND PRAISE FOR “DUETS”
the good people at avant music news were kind to not just publish a review of ‘duets for saw & deviated septum’, but they also included the album on their ‘best of 2019’ list!
This is a rather descriptive title of the compositional process rather than the resulting sound. Mike Barber recorded a hand saw cutting wood as well as his own snoring. From these sources, he looped, layered, and manipulated the recordings into three 20-minute pieces. The outcome is a distorted ambient environment that could serve as a soundtrack for a horror or science fiction movie.
Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.1 builds up slowly with sounds that resemble a machine or factory operating in the background. Shaped white noise and crackling elements drift in and out of the foreground along with prickly scrapings. Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.2 provides overlapping waves of muted grinding and distortion, with foreground aspects moving between speaker channels. This mix boils and folds upon itself for some time before featuring more immediate and indeterminate distortion processing. Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.3 is perhaps the most interesting piece, with undulating surges and gentler portions that juxtapose higher frequencies with the low-end rumblings.
The extent to which the overall sound of this recording departs from its source material is quite remarkable. While there are a few points where the listener can identify sawing and snoring, without the liner notes indicating such it would be been nearly impossible to discern. None of these recordings are overpowering – instead, in true ambient form, their influence is on both the subconscious and the conscious.