Call & Response: Barry Paul Clark


(6 min read)

Barry Paul Clark is a busy fellow. Whether he’s performing double bass with symphony orchestras, creating experimental/electronic music, composing for films, touring in bands throughout the country, or recording bass for our records, Barry is always intentional and honest about the work he puts out in the world. You’ll sense that honesty in his responses below. Read on to learn about his work with improvisation, recent projects, and what every Wikipedia page can’t do without.

Photo credit:  Stephen Kallao

Photo credit: Stephen Kallao

LAB NOTES (LN): If you had to boil your musical journey into one sentence, what would it be? (Run-on sentences accepted and encouraged.)

BARRY PAUL CLARK (BPC): My musical journey feels like a river, wherein there are a number of tributaries of different expressions and disciplines, but they are all connected and running together with the same water, which I see as my intention for all of my expressions to be honest.

LN: You’ve played bass on a number of our records. How do you approach playing on production music?

BPC: I try to serve what the music may be serving, and to utilize my musical vocabulary to best contribute to that intention in an honest way.

…all creative expressions, at some point, are an improvisation. You have to try something, and you may not know what it is you're about to try. So you improvise it. An idea can present itself, and you can develop it or sculpt it further, or just let it be.

LN: Congrats on the recent premiere of Plucked! Tell us how you got to be involved in scoring the film and how you approached the project.

BPC: I was first approached in early 2017 in regards to creating original music for the documentary film. At that time, the director was using some of my previously recorded material as adoptahighway for cues in the working edits of the film. He had first heard that music through a video project for my 2015 album "A Fault" - which was a collaboration between myself and filmmakers Adam Carr and Wes Tank of 8 different music videos for each track on the album that could be viewed individually or as one long narrative piece. So the Plucked crew already had this sonic palette of some of my music going in their minds for this documentary. 

I was shown an early edit of the film in June of 2018, and I started working shortly after that. Since this sonic palette was already so prevalent in early edits and in the filmmaking process, once I stepped in, it was a very smooth process. I also have a slight proximity to Frank Almond, one of the subjects of Plucked, through my involvement as a performer in the classical music community of Milwaukee.

Music for film is a fun challenge, as it differs from more traditional composition or songwriting, wherein the film music should support a theme or emotion of a story on screen, without distracting from the images. It's a practice in "less is more" and how to get out of the way of yourself.

LN: You are a big part of the long running improvised series called Unrehearsed MKE. How long has that been running? Why is improvisation so important?

BPC: Percussionist/composer Devin Drobka is the founder of Unrehearsed MKE. A couple months after starting the series in early 2013, he brought on myself and saxophonist/composer Steve Gallam to co-curate the series to further stretch the ability to bring different people from different creative communities together. June 2019's event will be the 77th consecutive monthly event, so we've been going at it for over 6 years. 

Improvisation is communication. It's about using the vocabulary of your creative discipline to contribute to a conversation. Just like with the conversation of a spoken language, a personality can be expressed. It's been incredibly fascinating and inspiring to not only meet but begin to understand artists through their improvised performances. And not only do we as listeners begin to see the inner workings of an artist's mind through improvisation, but those improvising artist's themselves are continually expanding and developing their vocabulary for expression, which can be brought into a later conversation/performance context.

I think what some may fail to realize is that all creative expressions, at some point, are an improvisation. You have to try something, and you may not know what it is you're about to try. So you improvise it. An idea can present itself, and you can develop it or sculpt it further, or just let it be. 

Some of the magic I find in improvised performance is experiencing the very conception of an idea executed, and knowing that it may never be executed in that way again, like you got a chance to be a part of a flash of something that nobody may every experience again. It's very special, both from the perspective of a performer and patron.

Our goal since the inception of Unrehearsed MKE has been to bring like-minded artists together in a space to meet, collaborate, share, and hopefully continue to create together outside of the space we bring them together in. So many different people have met through Unrehearsed, and other series have sprung up throughout our community inspired by it. I'm really proud of that. It's a continually expanding and fluctuating community, but it's always open. If anybody would like to come say hello and see what this community is all about, you'll find us at West End Conservatory in Milwaukee on the 1st Sundays of every month (starting at 5:30PM)

LN: Tell us what other projects you’re involved with.

BPC: I frequently say that I keep a spoon in a lot of bowls, and that I have a "stovetop" of projects that I try to "keep warm" which I would consider the previously mentioned adoptahighway, which is a moniker for my experimental/electronic music, Tontine Ensemble, an improvising and contemporary music string quartet, Americana outfit Lady Cannon, improvised song trio Argopelter, and folk rock band Field Report. Of course there are many other ways I create and work as a musician, but the projects mentioned here would be on the stovetop.

LN: What inspires you?

BPC: Honestly, I struggle with that, because it's really hard to define and pinpoint. Of course my family, loved ones, friends and creative colleagues all inspire me in a variety of ways, but does it cause me to sit down and create because of it? Sometimes yes, and other times no. I just try to stay balanced on a tightrope of the pressures of life. At times I'll find myself waiting for a bolt of inspiration to strike, and be waiting around for a long time. At other times I'll push my way through whatever slog I'm feeling and grind away, trying and failing until something finally presents itself. And at other times still I'll calmly remind myself that I'm so fortunate to have done, and continue to do, these creative endeavors, and that I'm so lucky to be involved with the people who help me realize these expressions. That last sentiment can be enough to get me on to the next project and through the next day.

LN: What music are you listening to right now?

BPC: I always try listen to recommendations from friends and colleagues, as it can be very difficult to find a connection with something that is trying to force its way into your ears through advertising dollars and algorithms. It's much easier to find a way in to something through someone you trust. Those friendly recommended artists recently include Joanna Sternberg, Marika Hackman, Hante., and (Milwaukee's own) Cairns. I've also been spending more time with music created by and expressed through female-identifying artists, to hear new/different perspectives from my own, and still find a connection to myself through them. Those artists include Hailey Heynderickx, ANOHNI, and Helena Deland.

LN: What do you do when you’re not creating music?

BPC: I like to read a lot, mostly new fiction, short stories and poetry, and enjoy watching movies, with a leaning towards horror and independent films. I also like to take road trips to go camping and hiking. My fiancé and I have hit a number of national parks, state parks and federal lands over the last several years, and hope to do many more.

LN: If you were trapped on a desert island, what 5 albums could you not live without?

BPC: I struggle with this one's difficult, as there has been so much music that I've had such a deep connection with over so many years, but as a friend recently said in relation to this subject, you have to pick the things you keep going back to. So with that in mind (and in no particular order)

- Aphex Twin "Drukqs" (2001, Warp Records)

- Steve Reich "Music for 18 Musicians" (1978, ECM)

- Colleen "A flame my love, a frequency" (2017, Thrill Jockey)

- Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony (any recording really, but preferably one conducted by Solti or Karajan)

- Joy Division "Unknown Pleasures" (1979, Factory Records)

LN: What are three things about you that wouldn’t want left out of your Wikipedia page?

BPC: Instead of the things that could be left out, how about the one thing that I wouldn't want to be left in? That would be any sentence that is followed by [citation needed] - I strive for honesty in my work and we should all strive for honesty in our information! Get those citations!