Production Notes: Start from Silence

This post is already awkward. I’m only one third of Barton Bayard Moody, but the album Start from Silence was such an interesting experience that I figure that someone should document it.

So here we are.

In the fall of 2019, I drove up to Seattle to both present and perform at the inaugural Velocity festival, and to break up the drive I spent one night with Todd Barton, master composer, shakuhachi performer, and Buchla synthesist. When I arrived at his house, after a few hours of deep soul-staring and laughs, Todd’s friend Bruce Bayard arrived, and we decided to jam. I pulled part of my performance rig out of the car, and there we were in Todd’s basement in Ashland, Oregon: three people, two amps, no plan, no discussion, no shared clock, not even a shared mixer. Todd said, “Shall we start in silence?” What you hear on the album is what transpired after that moment, with only four brief edits over the hour of material.

While Bruce and Todd knew each other, I had never met either artist, nor had the three of us played together. I was intimidated and scared, to be honest. I’ve not been fortunate enough to perform with skilled musicians that often. Once the sounds started flowing, though, a natural respect formed; each of us would duck out of each other’s way, and follow each other’s lead. I’m not even sure we made solid eye contact during each performance, yet we all found an equilibrium between each other, using only our ears and our hearts.

What made the three live takes so interesting isn’t just our energies, but the odd assortment of instruments that we used. Todd opted for the simplest and most complex instrument: a Hordijk Blippoo Box, routed into an attenuator and a looper. Bruce Bayard performed on a Buchla Music Easel and a small Eurorack skiff centered around a Make Noise Morphagene. I had an embarrassingly large setup by comparison: A pedalboard with a Ciat Lonbarde Tetrax Organ, Sidrax Organ, and Cocoquantus 2, and a small mixer with a few effects pedals.

We had no discussions around key, tempo, or anything formal or technical. The last words on the recording before the music started was Todd saying, “Follow the sound.” And that’s exactly what we did. Todd was performing live with a high-fidelity looper, I was performing live with a dual lo-fi looper, and Bruce was performing with a mix of sequences and live gestures.

We watched each other through our peripheral vision to read cues just off each other’s breaths, body language, and posture, but mostly we just used our ears to guide us. Whether through a combination of conscious gap analysis or unconscious call and response, the improvisations were unusually fruitful and expressive.

Back in my studio, I found the live recording – which was done by recording the amps’ output, not a direct tap from a mixing desk – to be pretty challenging to deal with. Room resonances, clicks from pedal switches, breaths, clothing rustle…the recording was done fast and loose so that we didn’t slow down getting to the actual performance. It took a lot of digital and analogue work to master the project. At the end of the day, though, realism and honesty were the guiding principles. If you hear us moving or breathing, that’s what it was like in the room at the at moment. We hope the recording reflects this authenticity.

But even the release itself was deeply collaborative. Todd came up with the track names, which instantly and intuitively resonated with us. Bruce produced the cover art, which also just felt right.

Start from Silence is far from perfect or pristine. It’s a combination of wabi sabi imperfection and ma, trying to find the right intervals and moments of action and inaction. You hear us move and breathe. You hear errors and successes. It’s a document of a moment between three musicians in time. We thought there were enough synergistic moments to share it.

So here we are. 🙂