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interview – adoptahighway

photo courtesy of david szymanski

sometimes incredibly thought-provoking music is simply dropped in your lap.  such was the case with a fault, the dark and disorienting new album from experimental artist adoptahighway that showed up in our inbox early last month.  we recently caught up with adoptahighway’s mild-mannered alter ego, classical musician barry paul clark, via email to talk about a fault, influential composers, and the experimental music sub-culture that has firmly entrenched itself into milwaukee’s expansive music scene.  check out the transcript below.

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there seems to be a lot of disjointed and competing rhythms throughout a fault, especially on tracks like “qualmness” and “defiance,” and those rhythms mirror the disjointed and aggressive undertones of the record really well.  can you talk about your inspirations while writing this record?

the inspiration behind this record had a lot to do with defining and obtaining inspiration – where it is, what it is, how it comes to be, whether or not it can be harbored or contained, and the spectrum of conflicting emotion and self realization that presents itself within that journey.  i know a lot of artists deal with these issues in different ways, so everything i expressed on the subject within the record is very personal.  i’m still unsure if i’ve answered any of my own questions on the matter, but at the very least i made what i consider my most honest material.

i did some internet digging and found out that you spend a considerable amount of time playing classical upright bass in various ensembles.  how does that experience translate to your electronic music, or are do you tend to compartmentalize the two?

yes, i studied and graduated with a degree in classical music performance on upright bass, so outside of adoptahighway, i spend my musical efforts in a handful of regional symphonies, smaller chamber ensembles, jazz and improvised music outfits, and a string quartet i co-founded called the tontine ensemble, which is dedicated to new music performance, mostly by wisconsin composers, as well as our own compositions and improvisations.

i don’t think I necessarily compartmentalize adoptahighway and these other efforts, although i do get a bit of a surprised reaction when i say i’m a classical musician who makes experimental electronic music, or vice versa.  some musicians are totally dedicated to a single craft, which is absolutely amazing, but i use each musical outfit i’m in to express a different part of myself.  it keeps me happy and excited to be able to do that.  i do feel a constant, direct correlation between my classical training and electronic music would be the composition techniques and theory/orchestration studies that I’ve taken part in translate into my work as adoptahighway.

are there any particular composers that have heavily influenced adoptahighway, either throughout the project’s existence or on this album in particular?

i’ve always been inspired by the extreme emotional output of the romantic era to early twentieth century composers.  some of my most fond performance memories, and composers i listen to regularly, are tchaikovsky, mahler, sibelius, and ravel.  i’m also very keen on minimalist composers like glass, reich, cage, john adams and lamonte young; the ability to say very much with sonically very little is very impressive.  i also have a close group of friends through the wednesday sound collective with whom i’ve developed heavily as an electronic musician: my pals lorn, dolor, and 18andcounting.

another project you’re involved in is unrehearsed mke.  can you talk a bit about the experimental music scene in milwaukee?

unrehearsed mke is a project that was started by my longtime friend and frequent collaborator, percussionist devin drobka.  it’s a monthly event here in milwaukee where we, along with the help of composer and saxophonist steve gallam, put together groups of musicians from all fields and disciplines – many of whom have never met or played together before – and ask them to create music on the spot, improvising in a performance setting.  we’ve been doing this for just over two years and it has really brought together and developed a brilliant community of improvisers and artists.  i always equate improvising with speaking.  you’re using the language of your instrument or craft to communicate an idea, just like how you would in any day-to-day conversation.  it’s about speaking clearly, without judgement, and without ego.  there have been some unforgettable and brilliant performances that have taken place this way and part of the magic is that it will never happen again, in light of it being improvised with no prior meeting of the musicians beforehand.

this is only a small facet of experimental music in milwaukee at the moment. another great contributor to the scene for the past several years has been a series called melt, that showcases electronic musicians in a performance setting, curated by my friend the demix.  he’s done a brilliant job advocating and getting support for the actual performance of original electronic music, and not just djs stuck in a booth in the corner of a club somewhere – which is unfortunately what often gets equated with “electronic music” for some people.  melt has been amazing in giving an outlet for many experimental musicians who would otherwise be confined to their studio spaces.

i could talk for hours about more goings on, but i guess the bottom line is that there’s a strong and healthy community of new music happening in milwaukee; you just have to be willing to seek it out.

wisconsin is the rightful beer and cheese capital of the country, and milwaukee especially embodies that stereotype.  what beer and cheese combination do you think would pair best with a fault?

ha!  i haven’t really thought about an edible/drinkable comparison to the record, so i guess i’d go with personal preference of dark beers.  i’ve heard reviews of my music as being dark and heavy, so a porter, stout or black ale seems to make sense.  my girlfriend really enjoys edam cheese, and she enjoys my musical output as well, so there’s that – dark beer and wisconsin edam.

do you have any immediate plans for adoptahighway, in terms of touring, new music, or both?

i don’t have anything necessarily planned outside of a show coming up in milwaukee at the end of march as adoptahighway.  maybe once the snow melts and there’s sun again i will try to string together some shows and hit the road.  i’m looking forward to getting into new music now that a fault has finally been released.  i invested so much time and emotional energy into this record, i felt that i couldn’t move on until it was released and out into the world.  i get very much involved in the concept and expression i’m trying to reach each time i write, so a fault really latched its teeth into me.  it was like exorcising a demon, really, and now that that’s off of me, it’s time to let the next one in.

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the show clark refers to is a stacked bill at cactus club in milwaukee on march 27th, part of the relaunch of melt; if you’re in the area, strongly consider attending.  in the meantime, you can stream and download a fault through the bandcamp link provided below.

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