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Barry Cleveland: Beyond Convention

By Published: November 29, 2010
AAJ: Manring has been a mainstay of your output. What makes his presence so special to you?

BC: I have known Michael for more than 20 years and throughout that time he has never ceased to amaze and inspire me. Michael's presence is special to me because not only does he always bring something unique to the music—he inevitably brings the right thing. He is certainly one of the most innovative and forward-thinking proponents of his instrument alive today, and arguably the greatest solo electric bassist in the world. His concept is so advanced that I suspect he sometimes has difficulty keeping up with himself. Michael is also an extraordinarily intelligent and thoughtful man, as well as one of the nicest people I know—though he does have a wicked sense of humor.

In terms of process, I typically give him rough demos with simple bass lines, and he will either build on those parts and transform them into something much more sophisticated, or compose entirely new parts that I could never have imagined. He arrives at sessions with several complete ideas for each song and records them in one or two takes. Once he's finished with that I'll have him just go crazy and improvise one or more additional tracks—pulling out all the stops—and he'll always come up with something totally unexpected and mind blowing. Sometimes he will decide to experiment with different tunings and start flipping the tuning keys on his Hyperbasses. You can see his mind working like a slide ruler as he calculates the moves necessary to arrive at the desired combination of notes.

All of the songs on Hologramatron include multiple bass tracks, some of which are mixed up front and others further back—occasionally so low that they are felt rather than heard. I also like to process his parts, particularly the more unusual stuff, like when he plays a fretless with an Ebow. For example, I used a Moogerfooger FreqBox to add a fat and nasty snarl to his fretless lines on "You'll Just Have to See It to Believe" and a Minimoog-like funkiness to some of his parts on "Money Speaks."

AAJ:Powell is someone you've known and worked with for a long time. What do you find appealing about his guitar approach and how does it mesh with yours?

BC: I met Robert back in the mid '80s, and we've played together hundreds of times over the years. He played pedal-steel guitar on my Voluntary Dreaming album. Robert is an excellent guitarist, and he can get great sounds out of anything you play with a slide—but his approach to pedal-steel is unique, and he is adept at using effects to push the sound of the instrument even deeper into uncharted territory. My playing tends to be somewhat angular and linear, and his more flowing and textural, and the two mesh quite well. We also share what you might call a cosmic bent, which adds continuity to the sound, especially when we are improvising together.

Robert contributed to nearly every song on Hologramatron. In terms of process, we have worked together so long that while he usually asks me to let him know what I have in mind for any given song, I've found it is best to just give him complete freedom to see what he comes up with. Often that involves having him record several improvised tracks that are later edited and processed in various ways.

AAJ: What insight can you provide into the creative collaborative process that drove the record?

BC: My creative process varies, but in most cases it is rooted in improvisation. I also rely heavily on intuition, and just being able to feel my way along, whether it is generating new ideas, discovering interesting ways to process existing parts, or finding solutions to compositional or sonic problems. So, I naturally gravitate toward musicians that thrive in that environment. And it really is a collaborative process, as each musician brings their own ideas and energies to the songs. I give them direction, but what they ultimately come up with oftentimes bears little relationship to my original concept. And sometimes they compose phrases or other material in the process that I will develop into whole new sections. A good example would be the main themes on "Money Speaks," which I extrapolated from one of Michael's bass parts in another section of the song. Another would be Michael Masley's "lyrics" on "Warning," which were entirely improvised. I put him in front of a microphone after altering his consciousness, and had him rant along with a loop for about 20 minutes. Then I edited together the best parts, processed each one individually, and organized them into a relatively linear form.

AAJ: What were the biggest challenges you faced when making Hologramatron?

BC: The biggest challenge was probably just keeping the project on track, because it took so long to complete. Having a full-time job and lots of interests means that I have limited time to work in the studio, and when many months pass by it can sometimes be difficult to maintain momentum, especially when you are mostly working by yourself. Another big challenge was finding the right title. I had some working titles at various points, but none of them were entirely satisfactory. Then, I was walking in the woods one day, thinking about a program I'd seen on the holographic paradigm, and the word "Hologramatron" just popped into my head. It is a very suggestive word that connects obliquely with themes touched upon on the album, but which has no literal meaning, and I recognized it as the title immediately.

Once I had the title, everything else began falling into place, including the cover image. I had taken a nighttime photo of the underside of the Eiffel Tower that I was hoping to do something with, and my friend Richard Price had photographed some giant bulbs and lenses at a lighthouse that he visited. Richard manipulated one of his light bulb photos and created a composite with my photo and suddenly there was the Hologramatron. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I saw it.

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