Double-CD compilation containing the best of Mythos and Voluntary Dreaming, six loop-based guitar and percussion pieces from 1992 (four remixed 2003), two ambient guitar pieces from 1981, and an entirely improvised solo guitar loop piece recorded live on the Echoes radio program.
released November 11, 2003
Barry Cleveland: electric & acoustic guitars, bowed guitar, 12-string acoustic, synthesizer, sampler, slot drum, gourd, kalimbas, thunder drums, loops
Michael Pluznick: conga, sampled conga, dumbec, triangle, eggs, film cans, hoop drum, shaker, talking drum, bell (1, 3, 6, 10)
Michael Masley: bowhammer cymbalom, xylophones (2, 6, 7, 9)
Bob Stohl: Lyricon, synthesizer, flute, bass recorder, bells, gong (8, 9)
Kat Epple: flute, bass flute, bells (9)
Robert Powell: pedal-steel guitar (2, 6)
Barry Cleveland: electric guitar, bowed guitar, Vocalizer, percussion, loops
Carl Weingarten: Dobro, slide guitar (1, 3, 6)
This two-disc set is essentially a compilation (and a fairly complete one, at that) of Barry Cleveland's works through the mid 90s. The first disc contains almost all of his first two albums, Mythos (1986) and Voluntary Dreaming (1989), while disc two features the original Memory & Imagination material recorded in the early 90s, two tracks from Stones of Precious Water (private cassette release from 1981), and "Echoes on Echoes," a track recorded in 2003 for John Diliberto's Echoes radio program. In fact much of Cleveland's work doesn't sound like the work of your conventional guitarist at all, but rather a far-reaching compositional visionary who uses whatever instruments and processes necessary to achieve his ends.
Recorded for Larry Fast's Audion label, much of the Mythos material takes a more ambient approach, with many of its tracks oozing with drifty washes of total color and subtle free-flowing percussive nuances. The standout here is the twenty minute title track, an expansive improvisation featuring Bob Stohl and Kat Epple on woodwinds, Lyricon and percussion, and Michael Masley on bowhammer cymbalom and xylophones, with Cleveland tying it all together with guitars, played conventionally with effects, Ebow, bowed and bowhammered; a shimmering beauty of epic proportions that the listener can easily get lost within. In general, Voluntary Dreaming takes a more rhythmic direction, with most tracks employing percussion of some sort (talking drums, shakers, congas, dumbec, kalimba, etc.) in various rhythmic patterns, many with an evident world influence perhaps a precursor of the sounds that Cleveland would more overtly explore on his latest release Volcano. Six of the album's original seven tracks are presented here, many featuring percussionist Michael Pluznick, as well as Michael Masley and Robert Powell playing pedal steel. The odd track is "Cleopatra's Needle," a solo piece featuring haunting synth lines, deep bass, and virtually no percussion. As a bonus, an early mix of "Voluntary Dreaming" is included.
The second disc kicks off with six tracks of the Memory & Imagination material. Most of the pieces here are based on guitar and percussion loops, layered with additional improvised guitar parts. With the exception of Carl Weingarten's contribution on Dobro and slide guitar to several of the pieces, this is pretty much a solo adventure using delays and overdubbing. The amazing thing is that many of the sounds that one might guess were made with keyboards are in fact done with guitars, using a variety of techniques. "Snakey Jake" with its dual howling leads over a looped bed of guitars and hand drums is typical of five shorter pieces that lead up to the 24-minute title track, which breaks the mold, and for the most part returns to a more shimmering ambient style without the drum rhythms; at times it might be reminiscent of the looped guitar explorations of Fripp & Eno's Evening Star, but using a much wider range of guitar techniques (including slide, bowed and bowhammered) and some subtle percussion (bells and such) which all taken, gives the piece some serious dramatic impact over its duration. Disc two closes going full circle with two ambient guitar pieces from 1981, more along the lines of the dreamier material on Mythos. In summary, Memory & Imagination is an essential retrospective of Cleveland's best work.
On the 2-CD Memory & Imagination, Disc 1 includes what Cleveland considers to be the best of his first two albums, Mythos (1986), and Voluntary Dreaming (1990). Disc 2 includes recently remixed pieces created circa 1993 that were produced using only guitar and percussion, along with a solo guitar piece performed live on the Echoes radio program in 1993 (quoted from the promo sheet).
With Volcano being my introduction to Barry's music it was nice hearing the earlier tracks from his first albums. I was immediately struck by the prominence of percussion and world music influences on several of the tracks, elements that have apparently informed his work through the years. Several of the musicians that participated in Volcano are present on these early albums, though the tracks are mostly solo and duo performances, and Barry plays synths in addition to guitar. The effects and sound processing that made Volcano such an interesting and beautiful experience are present, though the earlier music is characterized by more mellow, floating journeys, with a powerful ambient soundscape element.
But even when the percussion is up-front, it is busy and varied... and yet so steady and smooth. I love the pedal-steel on "Ritual Sticks." We're even treated to heavenly symphonic space on solo tracks like "The Inward Spiral" and "Cleopatra's Needle." "Hawk Dreaming" is an intense piece that has some of the most cosmic winding guitar on the album. "Abrasax" is a standout track that combines Frippoid guitar patterns with bass throbbing drones, spacey symphonics and beautiful wailing guitar lines. But the highlight of disc 1 is the 19-minute "Mythos," a gorgeous blend of meditative drones, symphonics, psychedelia, and a hint of the avant-garde. The music builds slowly throughout, intensity levels rising but never peaking. The journey is the focus... too much focus on destination would only be a distraction.
I was particularly eager to dive into disc 2 when I saw Carl Weingarten's name appearing on three tracks. I loved the playful slide and Dobro melody he contributes on "Still Smiling," played against a steady tribal rhythmic pattern. "Snakey Jake" is a very cool bit of psychedelia given an extra kick of cosmic Blues from the Dobro. The third track Weingarten plays on is the nearly 25 minute epic "Memory & Imagination," a deeeeeeep in space voyage with a banquet of brain candy sounds from the guitars and Dobro, and a continual wave of varied soundscape textures and drones. Imagine Ash Ra Tempel meets Frippertronics. I got completely lost in this track and would have been perfectly happy if it had gone on for an hour. Absolutely beautiful. We've got several solo tracks from Barry too. I really liked the varied guitar sounds on "Signless"—a nice blend of spaciness, rock and tribal rhythms. "Bottoms Up" has a dancey cosmic groove that I enjoyed. I love the trippy Eastern vibe on "Lucid Mirrors Of Eroticism." I've mentioned Fripp a few times in this review, and the excellent "Echoes on Echoes" has the most overt Fripp influence of any of these tracks. "Stones of Precious Water" is highly meditative but also a tad on the avant-garde side—another varied combination of guitar sounds and effects. And "Indigo Blues" ends the set on a floating Tangerine Dreamy note.
CD SERVICES (U.K.)
In many ways, Barry Cleveland was the forerunner of the "guitarist making waves in the synth music world" genre. The odd part about this, as opposed to the more recent guitarists such as Dwane, is that Cleveland made no attempt to let his work "sound" like a synth, and arranged any electronics to serve pretty much as textural filler. And yet he was a strong force in, and loved by, the synth music fraternity. This CD is a tale of two halves. The first CD looks back on his work from the eighties, taking a gorgeous set of tracks from albums such as Voluntary Dreamingand Mythos, and revealing that the real musical comparison, if you have to, is more someone like Steve Tibbetts than anything, only here, more celestial sounding in the main.
The first couple of tracks are guitar chords, layers and textures set to rolling multi-instrument ethnic percussion that has resonance, feel and depth in the same way that someone like Steve Roach uses it. It's a full sound but one that has the effect of watching clouds passing by in a blue sky on a summer's day - magical. "Visual Purple" is even slower but has flow as the drums and chords become a bit grander and stronger, while "The Inward Spiral" is just Cleveland on piano, synth, guitar textures and samplers, all quite beautifully constructed and played to sound melodic, celestial and slightly eerie. "Cleopatra's Needle" is similar, while the following track, "Hawk Dreaming" sees the pace increased as an electric guitar soars away on top of the resonant bass synth-like and mulit-percussive rhythmic background, with a solo that is just superb and very much in classic Tibbetts mould, a fantastic track.
Then come the three tracks from the Mythos album, first a five-minute slice of lazy elegance with drifting synths, lilting xylophones and gorgeous guitar clouds. Then comes a track—the seven minutes of "Abrasax"—that could almost be out of the Fripp way of doing things. With Discipline-era-styled searing guitar and Lyricon lines that weave a thread across layers of the trademark cascading Fripp-esque guitar rhythms, but around all this a bass synth line resonates, and that cyclical percussive backdrop adds extra depth. Another fantastic piece of music. You get the whole 19 minutes of the Mythos title track that starts very exotic with tinkling percussion, hushed flowing flute, almost violin-like sweeps and a high-register flute and distant textures in the background, as the piece evolves, flowing, drifting and flying with texture, atmosphere, melody and grace. With a constantly changing instrumental arrangement, it is this combination of guitars, Lyricon, flutes and percussion that charts a full-sounding and largely essentially rhythm-free course through the track. Ending with a rather fine remix of the first track, this has to be seen as a wondrous CD.
CD2 is nearly all previously unreleased music, this time from the early Nineties. Three of them were recorded with Dobro/slide guitarist Carl Weingarten, who adds his extra soundscapes and melodies to the tracks, the album's title track being a mammoth 24-minute piece that features Weingarten on Dobro and Cleveland on guitar, bowed guitar, Ebow guitar and bowhammer guitar. One that starts in celestial mood then, over the course of its length, gradually intensifies, with ever more layers added, eventually a rhythm breaking out from the cyclical guitars towards the fifteen-minute point as the track moves to Gunther Schickert territory for this finale of cyclical guitars and flowing warm backdrops. Elsewhere we hear the guitars, electronics and percussion at one end and the Fripp-meets-Tibbetts stuff at the other, the five-minute guitar-only piece "Echoes On Echoes" being the one in question to represent the latter style. But throughout the feel is one of warmth, space, multi-leveled soundscaping, melodic without being tune-laden and generally washing over you with a replenishing effect. Different, accessible, and just under two hours of enjoyment.
The double CD Memory & Imagination contains nearly the entire work of the American guitarist Barry Cleveland before his 2003 album Volcano, including the majority of the two albums Mythos and Voluntary Dreaming, as well as unpublished material for a planned further album and different individual numbers. Supported by guests such as Michael Masley and Carl Weingarten, Cleveland weaves meditative numbers, which are very impressionistic and calm. The attention lies here particularly on the timbres used: Guitars and other instruments processed with lots of effects, so that a very dreamy and partly surreal atmosphere develops.
As a result of the use of different ethnic percussion (and non-traditional percussive sounds) a certain similarity arises with particular sounds of the young Mike Oldfield (Ommadown) in the case of some numbers. Other pieces are clearly inspired by gamelan ensembles, both in the glockigen percussion sounds and in the structure: in each case simple lines with different accents interweave so that a complex whole results. This effect is produced partly also by several intermingled guitar lines, a technology which Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew used as "interlocking guitars" and which technique Fripp also admitted was borrowed from gamelan music. This number also sounds partly similar to calmer passages of the 80's King Crimson, an impression which is confirmed by an occasionally Frippy sawing lead guitar with much sustain. Other pieces are loop-based and electronic sounding, made all the more interesting by meditative leisurely elaboration nearly after Eno's "ambient" music, though more happens. This is a beautiful, meditative disc for calm evenings.
There is within both CDs some moderate alternation, but altogether it is nevertheless really quite restrained, too. A little alternation and an occasional outbreak would not be bad in my judgement (Volcano, Cleveland's 2003 album, features more elaboration of sounds and tends to push the rhythm into the foreground), however there arises a very uniform, trance-like, well-behaved tendency, which is also not a bad thing.
—Udo Gerhards (gist translation from the German)
EXCERPTS FROM ADDITIONAL MEMORY & IMAGINATION REVIEWS
This double CD of the American guitarist Barry Cleveland puts abundant amounts of technology to the service of true inspiration. The trick is there, but it's not seen, and so the complex devices applied to six strings exude a sort of magic. "Voluntary Dreaming" plays with a soft loop accompanied by various non-invasive percussion instruments, recalling Pat Metheny or Shadowfax. "Ritual Sticks" combines ethnic imprints with attractive melodic invention, the mysterious piano of "The Inward Spiral" seems to conceal, and to the same time to reveal, ancient secrets, while "Cleopatra' s Needle" possesses the depth and space of the best Tangerine Dream. Within the 19 essential minutes of "Mythos" appear mystical Tibet airs—an enchanted marriage of meditative digressions. the long, enchanting journey to the discovery of distant worlds in "Memory & Imagination" arises from hypnotic improvisations. "Stones of Precious Water," like "Indigo Runes," metabolizes the work of Brian Eno. Technology should not obscure the fundamental nature of the music, and at this, Cleveland succeeds perfectly.
—Francesco Fabbri, Escursioni Musicali (gist translation from the Italian)
Many of these pieces haven't been available for a number of years and the fidelity is better than ever. I'm pretty sure that the Stones of Precious Water tracksnever appeared on CD before and they sound great. The combination of blazing electric guitar, synthesizer, and Lyricon on "Abrasax" is as arresting as ever. "Aeon" is a delicate piece of introspection; it's just about the pinnacle of mid-1980s electronica. The pieces from the Voluntary Dreaming CD (and just about the whole album is here) are still strong enough for National Public Radio to continue using for program segues. The upbeat tracks have great hooks and the "mood pieces" possess an edginess. Sometimes surging, inquisitive, or harmonious energy grabs you by the lapels; sometimes it lurks in the shadows. Robert Powell's steel guitar—beautiful waves of tone that weave in and out of the intricate rhythms—is reminiscent of Jerry Garcia's playing, circa 1970. The newer pieces mingle dark and serene imagery that challenges the listener. The title track contains more ideas than most musicians put onto entire albums. Although there's consistency amid the shifting themes, Cleveland never lets you get too comfortable. There's just a whole lot to like about virtually every piece.
—Richard Price, amazon