Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary emerged on the global improvised music scene in the last few years, pushing his bold vision and broad scope of musicality through constantly-changing collaborations. O'Leary can cross easily between genres, from progressive, synth-laden rock and seventies fusion to free jazz and abstract soundscapes.
The guitarist's encyclopedic interests and remarkable prolificacy are amongst the many subjects he covers in this latest installment of In The Artist's Own Words
. Chapter Index
Beginning and Formative Influences Mark O'Leary
- Beginning and Formative Influences
- Becoming a Musician
- Selected Projects
- Matthew Shipp, Mat Maneri and Randy Peterson
- Shamanic Voices
- On the Shore
- The Synth Show
- Artistic Goals
- Future Plans
: I live in Cork, in the area of Turners Cross Douglas. When I was around seven or eight, I wanted to be a drummer. I used to play along with these shows on TV, on whatever was available and sounded good. I have an uncle who is a multi-instrumentalist that was involved in the show band scene in Ireland in the '60s, and my grandparents also had an upright piano in their house, so any time we visited I would spend hours at the piano just pulling out melodies. A year later, my brother began to play the guitar. I had no interest at that time, but at the age of 11, I began watching Top of the Pops
and really started to get into what was happening at the time. I got a guitar from my uncle, and that was it. I actually started to use it as a bass and then as a lead guitar, as most of the strings were missing at that stage except the top three. I acquired the basic open chords from a neighbor and got the rest from the Complete Guitar Handbook
. Some magazines as wellDown Beat
, especially the old issues from the 1970swere a source of inspiration. Later, imagination and determination took care of the rest.
My early influences were Louis Stewart
, an amazing guitarist from Irelanda great player and a genius as well. I idolized him. And of course, Rory Gallagher
, who came from the same neighborhood in my town, Cork. I spent hours copying his tunes when I was 12. I would put on the record of him and I would play along with it while my family were looking at me as a party piece. Later, I would get word that a guy across town had a tape of Mahavishnu Orchestra
from the '70s and I was on my bike to check it out. I would try to figure out what John McLaughlin
was doing and try to study the scales he was using. His swing lines, broken rhythms, chords, energyit just inspired the hell out of me.
When I was 16, I was working with delay pedals as well and getting into soundscape material inspired by Terje Rypdal
and Robert Fripp
. Rypdal was probably the first guitarist I remember seeing on TV. For me, he is one of my most important influences. Even as a sideman, his playing on Edward Vesala's Satu
(ECM, 1976) just amazed me; it still does. His use of delay with distortion opened my imagination. Fripp's layering was what attracted me, but it is also his intervallic approach which I found unique. I tried to work on that and move it somewhere else.
I loved John Abercrombie
. His album, Timeless
, (ECM, 1974) was just amazing. I also liked Philip Catherine
quite a bit because of his sense of melody. To be honest, Bill Frisell
is also an influence. I don't listen to him too much anymore because he is so copied, but I think he is superb, the way he can constantly reinvent himself. Pat Martino
also inspired me, in terms of his long fluid lines and his energy. Martino's Live!
(Muse, 1972) is still one of my favoriteshard to beat, for the idiom. Pat Metheny
's Song X
(ECM, 1985) is another serious influence. I could talk all day about that record. I also liked the darkness of Allan Holdsworth
. He is a genius.
Ironically, when I started playing, the guitar I had was a little unstable and the bridge broke, so I used to elevate the strings with a battery. It sounded a lot like Derek Bailey
, who later, I have to say, also became an influence. I had some Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) recordings, and he and Evan Parker
influenced me quite a bit. Evan's angular, cut-off phrases and Derek's use of volume pedalthat influence is all over my work.
That's how I learnedtotally autodidactic and idiosyncratic. I had to discover this myself, looking through record and tape collections, reading a review and getting the album. Several teachers at my high school were inspirational intellectual types who encouraged us to set high goals and go beyond ourselves. The scene here in Ireland was rock and pop-oriented, although jazz has a tradition all over Ireland, with a lot of incredible playersvery modest, giving guys who never recorded or made careers for themselves, but gave so much to me and others. When I was in my late teens I played all over Ireland and ended up playing with most of them.
class="f-right"> Becoming a Musician
At the age of 15, I knew this was what I wanted to dobe a musician. I set the goalposts very high and decided that I wanted to study at http://www.mi.edu/ TARGET=_blank>Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. I went there while I was quite young, at 17. That was an incredible experience because there were so many older, more experienced musicians than me there, and you would get up in the morning and go to school and as soon as you were in the Institute's building, you were learning. Things that I needed to know, theoretical things, mainly, but ironically that's also where I discovered Karlheinz Stockhausen
's tape music, Steve Reich
, Gyorgy Ligeti and Bela Bartok and Ornette Coleman
and all the jazz guys I had missed.
When I think back, I remember that the teachers every Friday would get up on stage without material and improviseno structure, nothing written, just play. I found this amazing, and I ended up doing it a lot myself, but it was my first introduction to it and it inspired me quite a bit.
So I was there for a year, and when I returned to Ireland, that's where the major work began. I started to work as a teacher and I also discovered some very important music which I consider my strongest roots Edward Vesala, Paul Bley
, Tomasz Stanko
and early Jan Garbarek
. I liked his Triptykon
(ECM, 1972). The austere melodies and rubato figures contoured my aesthetic. Vesala's stark melodies on Nan Madol
(ECM, 1974), Satu
(ECM, 1976) and Lumi
(ECM, 1986), and the way the music evolved, the dynamic contrast, are really a music for the soul. It reached me and effected me deeply.
I love Stanko's early recordings. He is one of the great tone poets; Stanko always has a song in his heart. They, along with Stockhausen, Reich, Ligeti and later Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg
really shaped who I am now. Even though I am always open and listening and learning from new music in all idioms, I would consider these artists of foremost importance to the shaping of my aesthetic as a composer and musician.