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IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 105

INTERVIEW with Barry Cleveland



Barry Cleveland was "introduced" to us through one of our promoters... he plays some of the most powerful guitar you'll ever hear, & I'm very pleased to have him grace our pages & tell us a bit more about himself and his art!

Zzaj:  Your music is B-I-G (to these ol' ears anyway); give us a bit of bio to tell us where you originated, how you've evolved (personally & musically), & what galaxy (or other universe) you anticipate retirement in, please, Barry. 

 Barry: That’s a B-I-G question, and to get a complete answer you’ll have to wait for the publication of my memoirs, which should take place shortly after I retire to Theta Orionis.  

 My older brother listened to a lot of music when I was a kid, and I was exposed to his record collection and a continual stream of radio at around the time of the British Invasion. I started playing guitar when I was 12, and quickly formed a band that played mostly Zeppelin, Sabbath, Hendrix, and other heavy music. I listened to a lot of ECM jazz while in college—my favorites included Terje Rypdal, Ralph Towner, and Barre Phillips—along with fusion bands such as Mahavishnu, Miles, Weather Report, and Oregon. All of this music influenced me, particularly sonically. And I studied electronic music in college, where I was exposed to Stockhausen, Subotnick, Schaeffer, and Ussachevsky. Eno was also a big influence. 

 In 1978 I joined an eight-piece funk and soul band called Devastation and toured the Southeast U.S. for a year. 

 I began learning more about recording in the early ‘80s, and played in several groups, including an improvisational duo with bowhammer cymbalom player Michael Masley called Thin Ice. In 1981 I recorded Stones of Precious Water, which was released by a small Canadian label. The first project I did in a professional studio, Mythos, was released on Larry “Synergy” Fast’s Audion Recording Company label in 1986.  

Voluntary Dreaming was recorded in 1989. It was scheduled for release on Audion, but the label folded before the project was completed. Fortunately, I got another deal and it was released on Scarlet Records.  

In 2003, I released a 2-CD set titled Memory & Imagination, that contains most of Mythos and Voluntary Dreaming, and loop-based improvised guitar and percussion compositions recorded in 1992, along with two ambient guitar pieces from 1981, and an improvised solo guitar loop piece recorded live on the Echoes radio program.  

The following year I released Volcano, which featured pieces based on African and Afro-Haitian rhythms arranged by Michael Pluznick. 

The other two principal players were bassist Michael Manring and sax/flute/clarinet/EWI player Norbert Stachel.   

My new album, Hologramatron, is a departure from my previous work. Besides being the first album I recorded with lyrics and vocals, Hologramatron is also my first “rock” album—though it also drew on progressive, psychedelic, metal, ambient, trance, funk, electronic, and various other styles. The core team was myself on acoustic and electric guitars, Moog Guitar, and Guitarviol; Michael Manring on bass; Robert Powell on pedal-steel and lap-steel guitars; Celso Alberti on drums and percussion; and Amy X Neuburg on vocals. Harry Manx and Deborah Holland sang on one piece, as did I, and Michael Masley—a.k.a. the Artist General—improvised the rant on “Warning.” Turkish electro-acoustic guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu co-wrote “You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe,” and percussionist Gino Robair and drummer/percussionist Rick Walker also played on the record. Besides the eight original songs, there are covers of Malvina Reynolds’ “What Have They Done to the Rain” and Joe Meek’s “Telstar.” Bonus tracks include remixes by Evan Schiller (“Lake of Fire”) and Forrest Fang (“Abandoned Mines”), as well as an alternate mix of “You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe.” Grammy Award-winning engineer John Cuniberti mastered the album. 

Zzaj:  It looks to me like you've been through several "genre evolutions", playing in different styles & exploring anything (musically, anyway) that you enjoy... why?  What haven't you explored?  What will you be exploring next? 

Barry: The muse leads and I follow.  

Zzaj:  Is your primary instrument electric guitar, or are there other axes you employ in your creations? 

Barry: I play electric and acoustic guitar, including electric and acoustic 12-strings. I also play the Moog Guitar, which provides infinite sustain and other sound-shaping capabilities, and on Hologramatron I played the GuitarViol, which is a 6-string bowed instrument that is tuned like a guitar. 

Zzaj:  I've read that you (sometimes) play in the "world music" zone.  What does that mean to you?  Give us your definition of world music... or is genre/category description a waste of time? 

Barry: One way of looking at it is that world music is music from someplace in the world that you don’t live. Since we Americans tend to think of ourselves as occupying the center of the universe, music from anywhere else may be marketed to us as “world music.” Of course, it is absurd to lump, say, Brazilian, Malian, Iranian, Irish, and Jamaican music into a single category, but that is what is done. The music on my album Volcano is based on African and Afro-Haitian rhythms, and for that reason it is considered to have “world music” influences, though the actual compositions are entirely unrelated to African and Afro-Haitian music, and the musicians on the record are white people living in Northern California. Is it “world music”? I suppose in response I’d ask, “Are you looking to buy a world music CD?” 

Zzaj:  Since you're (also) a writer for Guitar Player magazine, tell us how you move/shift from "editorial" mode to "player" mode?  (My rationale for this question is that as a player/writer myself, I sometimes find it difficult to go from "observation" to "output")... if this is a ridiminious question, just say so, please. 

Barry: What I write for the magazine draws directly on my perspective as an artist, and all of the many things I learn about music while doing my job, especially picking the minds of extraordinary musicians and listening to an incessant flow of new music, feeds my artistic awareness. Being exposed to so much great music and guitar playing can be very humbling, but that is of immense benefit, because as any genuinely creative artist will tell you, the flow of creative energy is inversely proportional to egoism and self-consciousness.  

Zzaj:  I'm an improvising musician, for the most part... how does improvising fit in with your own style?  Do you enjoy playing off-the-cuff more, or do you prefer music that's scripted? 

Barry: Improvisation plays a principal role in my music, and nearly all of my compositions began as improvisations. In fact, it would be fair to say that without improvisation I would have no compositional skills, as my formal knowledge of music is quite limited. I also encourage the musicians that play on my recordings to improvise. For example, “You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe,” on Hologramatron, is almost entirely improvised, and so is much of “Abandoned Mines.” And when the Hologramatron band performs live, about half of what we do is spontaneous. 

In the ’90s I played with an entirely improvisational group called Cloud Chamber. It included Michael Manring on bass, Dan Reiter on cello, Joe Venegoni on percussion and hammer dulcimer, and Michael Masley on bowhammer cymbalom and instruments that he invented. When we performed live we would just walk out on the stage and begin playing, with no discussion of time, key, style, or anything else. And it was the same in the studio. The music on our Dark Matter CD—still available on iTunes, by the way—was entirely improvised.  

Zzaj:  Do you have any "red-hot scoops" for our readers?  Next projects, tours, that kinda' thing?  

Barry: Barry Cleveland’s Hologramatron Featuring Michael Manring, Robert Powell, and Celso Alberti—that’s actually the name of the instrumental version of the band at this point—will be performing at ProgDay in North Carolina on Saturday September 4th, which should be a fun gig. And the quintet version of the group, featuring vocalist Amy X Neuburg, will be performing various gigs later in the year. 

I’m also about halfway through recording an instrumental ambient album with Michael Masley called The History of Light, and I hope to begin work on an album of “beautiful music” with French guitarist and synthesist Richard Pinhas before long. 

Zzaj:  Can music change the world, or does the world always "change the music"? 

Barry: Music undoubtedly has the power to change individual human beings, and therefore potentially the world, though the distinction may be a false one. After all, what is “the world”? There was certainly a widespread sense that rock music could transform people for the better back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, at least in Europe and the United States, as anyone who was alive at that time and not a total square can tell you. Why that sense was so pervasive at the time, and why it ultimately faded is a mystery that I’m not sure anyone can explain adequately. Optimists, however, may take some comfort in the fact that if that transformative musical energy could manifest unexpectedly then, that it may happen equally unexpectedly again.  

Zzaj:  What kind of gear rig(s) do you have?  Those who play guitar in our readership are always interested... especially if you have "preferred" guitars, amps, etc? 

Barry: My main guitar is a 2003 PRS Custom 24 Brazilian, a nearly perfect instrument that I fell in love with when I reviewed it for Guitar Player. I also play a 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom that I bought in 1974 and played exclusively until I got the PRS. Whoever had it before me cut a hole in it and installed a third pickup. I put a couple of genuine1959 PAF humbuckers in two of the slots and kept one of the ’69 humbuckers in the third one. I also have a Daisy Rock 12-string electric that plays and sounds great, and a mahogany Baby Taylor acoustic. I used numerous other guitars on Hologramatron, including some gorgeous Martin and Taylor acoustics, but I don’t own those guitars.  

For the past year or so I’ve mostly been playing through a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra, which is an extraordinary device that simulates tube amplifiers and produces nearly any effect imaginable. I also have a Rivera Venus 6 1x12 combo that I really love, but that I use mostly for recording at this point. For looping I have a Looperlative LP1, which is by far the best and most versatile device available for live looping. 

I have an extensive collection of effects pedals, including most of the MoogerFooger pedals, which are fantastic, especially the MuRF and the Freq-Box. Pedals currently on my pedalboard include a Euthymia ICBM fuzz, an Electro-Harmonix Micro-POG, and a Crowther Audio Prunes & Custard Harmonic Generator/Intermodulator. My main delay is an SIB Echodrive, which I think is the best-sounding delay pedal ever made. I use Blue Chip TD 35 picks, and GHS Progressives gauged .010-.046. 

Zzaj:  What are your words of wisdom to those players looking to "make it" musically?  Is it a worthwhile pursuit, or would they be better off giving that dream up for Wall Street, or a career pumping gas?  

Barry: I suppose that depends on what “make it” means. People who are deeply compelled to dedicate their lives to playing music typically won’t be deterred by reason, whether they succeed commercially or not, because for them less tangible compensation may be sufficient. But surviving economically solely as a musician is becoming increasingly difficult, so people who aren’t willing to sacrifice comfort in service to their art—or are simply motivated by vanity or the desire to have a good time—will likely find themselves doing some soul searching at some point unless they are extremely lucky. Of course, I can hardly be said to have “made it” musically, so readers will be well advised to take my words of wisdom with the proverbial grain of salt


To get more information about Barry, check out the links he sent below, in particulate the youtube stuff:





















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