SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Barrett, Jim

Jim Barrett (NaDa BaBa)
is an Australian soundartist living in Sweden.

  • artist biography
  • Interview: 10 questions

    When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?
    I began by cutting up and sticking together and looping cassette tapes and recording sounds and stories with a friend of mine between the ages of 7 and 12 years. From the age of about 8 until about 15 I took guitar lessons which really damaged my whole approach to music. Once a week I would sit in a small windowless room opposite a man and try to copy exactly what he showed me on the guitar. I mimicked “Running Bear”, “The House of the Rising Sun”, “Be Bop A Lula” and other such generic tunes. I was never encouraged to find mine own relationship with the instrument. A hippy friend of my parents showed my how to play “Dark Side of the Moon” in simple chords and I played this over and over again as my parents had the record. It was music that had something to do with my life. I moved on to the jaw harp and mouth organ as a teenager. The latter opened up the world of blues for me. I hitchhiked from the age of 15 and the harmonica was always with me in my travels.
    My early motivations were creative pleasure and admiration for certain musicians (John Lennon, Talking Heads and Sonny Terry to name a few). After I began university at the age of 19 I would gather with a group of friends and we would make four track recordings of improvised jams for hours and hours.

    Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.
    My present living environment is as a father of two boys (6 years and 9 months) married to an artist and writer. I live in a flat but we have a room measuring about 20 square meters we call ‘The Studio’ where we work. I live in the far north east of the Swedish peninsular; long dark winters and bright green summers. This has not always been the case as for most of the 1990’s I travelled and lived as a bohemian life as possible. Many of the values derived from a nomadic, transitory and creative time remain with me today. My formal musical education was minimal after the above mentioned experience with the guitar lessons. In 1990-91 I travelled to India and saw Ravi Shankar play a concert in Mumbai. This was a turning point in my life. After that I studied Indian music for about 5 years, both from teachers of sitar and from books. In 1996 I spent 6 months in India studying music and Yoga (almost the same thing really). In 1994-95 I studied and practiced performance and instillation art at the Sydney College of Art in Sydney Australia. I was not enrolled as a student but went to the college with friends who were and worked on projects with them. I attended a lecture by Mark Pauline of the Survival Research Laboratory and this has had a major influence on what you could call my “musical education”. I have absorbed many ideas about sound and music from reading Hindu philosophy. In 1996 I spent three months in a Tantric Hindu ashram (Machli Bandar Math, Nagwa) in Varanassi, India practising Bhajans and Yoga. Beginning in 1996 I began seriously playing music in the street (busking) in whatever city I was in and as often as is possible. This has taught me a lot about performance and communicating with people through music. In 1998 in Amsterdam I spent three days in the company of Alan Dargin, a master of the didgeridoo. I played music with the famous New York based performance artist SK Thoth over several days that year as well. Both of these encounters have formed and informed my approach and praxis regarding sound.

    Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?
    No, I am not a professional musician at the moment, although I have made a living from music in the past. My context for music at the moment is as a performance artist, recording artist and as part of my practical research for my PhD. I am researching on the nature of the text in digital media. Sound is a very important part of digital media. Spatial constructions are central to my approach to the text and sound is a major way of defining and controlling space. I am also part of a musical collective, Music Your Mind Will Love You and I spend some time each week working on projects for this group. Music is a form of Yoga for me. It allows for concentration and meditation.

    How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?
    I am trying to blend ancient and digital technologies together in sound. I am primarily an improvisation based musician although collaboration is a very important part of my musical practice. I also use musique concrete techniques, found sounds, samples and noise. I am currently studying acoustic trance music, such as Sufi, Aboriginal and Berber music and shamanic practices. I follow the idea of drone music, holding notes over sustained periods. Breath is also very important as a guide to composition. I am trying to resist the militaristic marching rhythms so common in music today. When I make music alone I use multi-track recording to weave together a composition that cannot really be played live in the same way again. I may start with a bass sound and add some strings and then some samples. I write poetry and use this as the vocals to the sound but I do not sing. When I collaborate with another musician I try to listen a lot. If it is over distance they send me a CD with some tracks on it and I add to it. We may send the CD back and forward three of four times before it is finished.

    Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?
    I play didgeridoo (I have nine of them), sitar, guitars (bowed, plucked and strummed), various single and double ended drums (West African, Javanese, Egyptian), jaw harps (Norwegian, Indian and American), a reed pump organ (manufactured 1885), xylophone, harmonica, Tibetan signing bowls, flutes, clap sticks, and bells. I write poetry and prose narratives which I record and modify as part of my sound work. I record with Cubase SX on a home built computer with a dual (external) sound card. I use minimal effects live but I do use a Sony minidisk for samples.

    What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?
    I am deeply involved in new media. I use internet as a source for sampled sounds. I use digital production in recording. I construct music over distance using internet and CD recordings. I work in a new media computer lab as part of my PhD research (HUMlab: I am interested in working with spatial technologies (GIS, GPS tracking devices, mobile networks) to make musical situations. I have a site on Myspace and both my studio CDs are available for free download from the Internet Archive. I also distribute my own music with file sharing networks. New media technologies should be allowed to place control of production and distribution of music into the hands of the artists who make music.

    How about producing and financing your musical productions?
    I finance my own musical production as although I do earn money as a musician it is not consistent. This is mainly due to my only playing at arranged gigs or festivals a few times a year. My research and academic work is connected to my music or sound work and they finance each other.

    Do you work individually as a musician/sound artist or in a group or collaborative? If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
    Both. I have played with musician from many cultures and locations; from Japanese to Sámi. As stated above I am part of a musical collective that is in turn part of a greater network of what could be called the new free folk music (defined here by the BBC: I also play alone and enjoy this as well. I find both different experiences. I must be more mindful of what I am doing when I play alone and when I play with other I have to listen more and remain conscious of the world around me.

    Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?
    There are many. Lately I have been studying the writing and music of John Cage. I am a great fan of much Japanese music: Boredoms, Keiji Haino, and Ghost. Indian music is for me Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan and Nikhil Banerjee. Other influences include the Theatre of Eternal Music collective (La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, Terry Riley, John Cale) and their associates, such as Pandit Pran Nath. I am deeply interested in music from Islamic societies. One such artist I respect is Fathy Salama and Nass El Ghiwane is a group I enjoy. The Incredible String Band and The Sun City Girls are also important reference points for me. The didgeridoo player Ganga Giri has inspired some of my practice, especially with the use of digital technology and the didgeridoo. The film “Lucky People Center International” (1998) is an image I try to live by. The poet Steven Jesse Bernstein has influenced me in my vocal production. My friends are also a very great influence on me and it is with them I am part of the Music Your Mind Will Love You collective.

    What are your future plans or dreams as a sound artist or musician?
    I want a phrase sampler. I want to develop the experience of ancient music produced with digital tools and presented in multimedial spaces. I want to work more with virtual reality and sound; online worlds and game environments, CAVE systems and surround screen technologies. The thought behind Mandalas and Yantras (sacred diagrams of consciousness) interests me and I would like to investigate combining sound, Virtual Reality technologies and such sacred diagrams. Group performance, such as the Festival au Desert and the Fés Musiques Sacrées Du Monde, is something I would like to go to when my family situation allows for more travel again. I also want to record a CD within the Sun Pyramid at Theotihuacán in Mexico.


    Can works of yours experienced online besides on SoundLAB?
    Here are 2 CDs and some live recordings and videos:

    List some links & resources
    Nada Moon (video):
    Swedish News Item (video):
    Soundclick Page:
    Music Your Mind Will Love You:
    Myspace Site:
    Soulsphincter (my Blog):