Modular synthesis is a unique musical art form, both from a creative process and a listening experience. Bart Hawkins has 25+ years experience as a filmmaker with a concentration on cinematography, which has translated well into visionary music. Bart is just about to release his first solo album, 21 PULSE ECLIPSE, on the Spotted Peccary Music label, featuring his work with modular synthesizer / sequencer programming in the Berlin School / Classical Electronic Music style. The album will be available on September 27, 2019 in 24-BIT AUDIOPHILE, CD, CD QUALITY LOSSLESS, and MP3 for streaming or purchase in CD form. I interviewed him via email. - Robin James
BART HAWKINS: For me art is a calling. I believe we are ‘Creators in training’ and Earth is the school grounds on which this creativity comes to life. Having a strong imagination, good intuition and finding your passion, is vital for a happy creative, healthy and connective life. In my early 20’s I fabricated metal sculptures and painted a bit. I chose a profession of cinematography and film editing, because I love the concept of sculpting visuals and sound together, as Andre Tarkosky puts it “sculpting in time.”
I remember editing films on a Steinbeck flatbed and realized how important sound impacted the visuals. I began to experiment with tape loops, delays, re-recording techniques, and mixing ambient sounds with music to enhance the mood of the film. So I guess being creative and thinking outside of the box has played a major role in my life.
The first time I saw a picture of Tangerine Dream’s modular synth back in the late 70’s I was completely intrigued. Knowing these systems were rare and cost more than a house, it was just an obscure dream. It was not until the mid 2000’s that Craig Padilla introduced me to the Arp 2600.
Then 10 years later, the film I Dream Of Wires comes out as the popularity of Eurorack starts taking off. And in the spring of 2017 I started to build my own modular synth, starting with a Make Noise DPO (dual oscillator), Optomix, Maths, and Morphagene, Mutable Instruments Clouds and Peaks, Intellijel UVCA II and Metropolis, Mannequins Three Sisters filter and a few others. The picture below is the synth I used to create 21 PULSE ECLIPSE.
When I was making 21 PULSE ECLIPSE I had no idea how unusual it was to create music using only the modular with no keyboards. I realize now that instead of a deficit, this makes the music very unique and sets it apart from traditional keyboarded music. The sounds that are created from a modular has a certain organic personality or unique sonic footprint. Building these sound personalities into a moving sonic journey is like sculpting something that is infinite. Once I became familiar with the modular system, the obsession really started.
ROBIN JAMES: How would you describe your composition process?
B: Working on 21 PULSE ECLIPSE makes me think of what it would be like for a mad scientist on the verge of a multidimensional breakthrough. First you have to know a bit about the science behind electricity, waveforms, voltage control, modulation, envelopes, filters, etc. What comes next is the journeying... searching and sculpting the sound that will take me into uncharted places, the rabbit holes that can lead to completely new musical ideas.
Sometimes I have a musical idea in my head and patch that idea into the modular synth and get the results I was looking for and sometimes I find there are plenty of ‘happy mistakes’ going down the sonic rabbit holes where I find these unique ‘voices.’ When I find one that speaks to me, I record it. Then I start in a new direction to find a second voice that can enhance or accompaniment what I previously recorded. Sometimes I end up with 20-30 hours of recorded tracks, like pieces of scrap metal waiting for the sculptor to cut, bend, melt and weld them into a cohesive work of art.
The thing I love about modular synthesis, you have to first create the raw sounds you will be working with, like a painter that makes his/her own paint. You become more connected to your work. I wanted to capture this journey and discovery in 21 PULSE ECLIPSE.
Sound is incredibly important to me. It is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. “In the beginning there was the word...”
Sound can transform, not only mental states of being but can transform physical states as well. Sound can physically heal cells in the body and also destroy cells. Sound can levitate objects, create geometrical patterns (cymatics), travel between universes, can can be expressed in mathematical and astrological equations. Sound can be very personal and universal simultaneously. With the right combination of sounds, you can levitate the human experience to a very high level or down to its lowest depth in the unconscious mind. When I started meditation in 1984, I became very aware of sounds both inner and outer. Hearing became not only what I could hear with my ears, it became something entirely different. A big part of who I am is someone who studies shamanic principles. What is shamanic? Simply put, anyone or thing that acts as an intermediary between our "normal" world and the "unseen" world. Music can be used as an important vehicle between dimensions, a spiritual catalyst, and much more. 21 PULSE ECLIPSE is meant to be the electrical part of a multidimensional journey and is meant to be experienced with your eyes closed, sitting in the ‘sweet spot’ between your speakers or with your headphones on, with no distractions.
This is active listening, meant to engage your mind’s ability to visualize what you are hearing and using your imagination to create your own listening experience. This music is art for your ears and inner eyes.
R: How did you come to learn from your visit to Hopi territory and what would you like to share about that experience?
B: In my early twenties, I had a unique opportunity to live with the Hopi while I produced two short films about their way of life. Being on Hopiland and experiencing their way of life planted seeds within me that even today, 25 years later, are still providing great teachings about the inner connections to life and all beings. I experienced other worldly Kachina dances and rhythmic trances that opened my perception of the ‘invisible world.’ I was taught ‘heart technology’...the foundation to a shamanic life and the responsibilities that come with it. My experiences on Hopiland are entwined in the music I produce.
It is my passion to create musical journeys of the mind, even in ways that go beyond rational thought. I still visit Hopiland from time to time, it's a place I feel at home in some deep way, both with my bare feet on the ground and my head in the stars above, it's one in the same there.
R: Your songs on 21 PULSE ECLIPSE appear to be about energy.
B: Energy is life pulsing through your veins right now. The universe is made up of all types of energy and we are just a medium through which this energy flows endlessly. So this whole album is about this energy flow and my personal journey to record it with a modular synth. I wanted to capture the powerful, raw, undulating currents that create the life and breath of electronic music. I wanted to learn from and know these currents as I would know a human being. To listen to each voice, to know their own unique life cycles as they come into being one moment and dissolve into the next.
I wanted to create music entirely on a modular system, using no keyboards. Throughout the album, I incorporated tape loop recording techniques and used natural sounds that I recorded. In the track “Torus Energy,” I even pulled audio off of my old video tape of a Tibetan dance I recorded when I traveled to India in 1994. I recorded sounds of a small local music festival, so that I could weave it into the tracks, “Dream Meditation” Parts 1 and 2. I wanted to embrace not only electrical energy from the modular, but also electrical energy found in nature and elsewhere. I believe this gives 21 PULSE ECLIPSE more of an organic experience.
R: What does the album title mean?
B: The title track was composed and recorded on August 21, 2017 during the full solar eclipse in Oregon. Eclipses have their own very special energy about them and throughout history they are steeped in deep lore. So I wanted to sit down in front of the modular synth the day of the eclipse to, as I would like to think, pull down that unique energy of the eclipse and let it evolve through the modular synth, as the eclipse evolves through its cycle. I did notice that there was a particular ‘pulse’ of energy associated with this solar eclipse and this pulse also showed up musically. The 21 is not only the date of the eclipse, but is considered by many esoteric texts as a divine number and is very sacred. It was quite an experience for me.
R: What does music bring to your life?
B: I found my passion through music. It's a combination of my life’s work as a visual and creative cinematographer, film editor, metal sculptor and shamanic practitioner. Creating electronic music lets me combine these different experiences into one holistic creative passion. Making music with a modular synth is super therapeutic, even spiritual/esoteric at times. It has deepened my ability to listen, to be unafraid to go down rabbit holes that sometimes takes hours with no results or go fearlessly into dark places, as well as the lighter places. This sonic journey, in a strange way, is like a practice ground for my personal life. There is no way to separate me from the music, from the awareness of a grand spiritual adventure in this life. It has also deepened my appreciation for the great composers like Bach, Beethoven. Mozart, Stravinsky, Reich and many many others. Music is a mystical and magical experience.
R: What are some of your most significant discoveries?
B: I have been a 35 year fan of electronic music starting with the Berlin School style of electronic music, most famously by Tangerine Dream. It was a time ripe for musical artists who wanted to recreate themselves, a complete rebirth from their past, Germany at the time was a musical Phoenix that was absolutely original and unique. What I like about Tangerine Dream’s music is its use of ever evolving patterns of sequences mixed with ambient or drone music. I am more interested in the evolution of musical phrases and patterns, similar to a visual fractal journey filled with sonic landscapes, sound textures and that are seamlessly moving from one translation to the next. For me this is just as much a visual art for the mind as it is music.
R: Much electronic music seems to be very serious, I appreciate your subtle sense of amusement, and I have to ask, what is a “Frobog”?
B: The word “Frobog” came to me while I was creating the track. Frobogs are mischievous little creatures who inhabit a planet much like Earth. Like a cross between a Fairy and a Troll, Frobogs act like a small wind gust creating a bit of momentary chaos without doing any harm. On this imaginary planet there are 7 different magical forests that mimic the 7 energy centers of the human body and the Frobogs play an important part by playfully skipping and chasing each other creating much needed chaos in such a pristine and peaceful place. We all need some crazy Frobogs in our lives, to shake things up a bit.
R: You have a professional history in film and video production what kind of clients do you serve?
B: When I graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography in 1993, I bought my own Arri SR2 16mm camera system and Avid editing suite. I lived in Los Angeles where I worked as a camera operator and editor for independent films and documentaries. Later I moved to Atlanta and some of my clients include CNN, Turner Broadcasting, The Weather Channel, Coca-Cola, Discovery Channel and others. I left Atlanta in the early 2000s for Northern California to work on several documentaries. Now I create films for myself and select clients. Creating film soundtracks, for myself and others, are also in my future.
The project Ibiida Lahaa started by me meeting Craig Padilla, electronic musician, while working at a local news station in Northern California. I just bought the first Sony HDV camera and started a series of ‘test’ shots of nature. At the time there was no editing software to handle the HDV codex, and it took a year to get a beta version out to the public. So I ended up with about 20+ hours of nature footage that I collected that year. Both Craig and I wanted to do a time lapse based film featuring his music. “Ibiida Lahaa,” translated from the Wintu tribal language, “to doctor or heal, going into trance” is a 58 minute journey into a musical and visual trance.
Ibiida Lahaa was the first of a conceived 3-part series on trance. First using nature as a subject of trance, then the second video uses erotica as a subject of trance and the third video uses machinery as a form of trance. Ibiida Lahaa was the only one produced. Maybe someday we will produce the second one. Right now I am busy making a second album for Spotted Peccary Music and will be releasing a series of Experimental Electronic Music.
R: Thank you very much for your time and for making such an interesting album! May the Frobogs be with you.
Spotted Peccary Music Artist: Bart Hawkins
I Dream of Wires
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