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Interview with Richard Barbieri

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I'm good thanks, back in London after Porcupine Tree's short tour.

What's on your schedule at the moment?
Quite a lot really. Writing for the new PT album, shows in the UK in November with The Bays and an Orchestra making totally improvised music and a trip to Australia, again with The Bays, to play at the Sydney Festival.

„Things buried“ was consciously conceived for an all-digital setup. Looking back, how satisfied were you with it?
I was pretty satisfied as it was the first time I worked solely with Digital instruments and software and I managed to create a consistent mood across the album and of course I enjoyed having live performances from Percy Jones and Andy Gangadeen.

In which way was this digital approach still the basis for „Stranger Inside“? What was the setup in terms of gear for the album?
Very similar in fact. Mostly computer based and a selection of virtual and software synthesizers. Roland v synth series, Access virus indigo 2 and a lot of Reason 4 instruments. Again there was some live performances from Gavin Harrison and Danny Thompson which greatly enhanced the tracks.

The album certainly sounds both very organic and extremely eclectic. Do you feel that, more than ever perhaps, your solo albums are the sum of your various activities (Porcupine Tree, your live improvisations to movies, etc)?
I don't think my solo music is influenced by my other group collaborations, more the other way round.  There are aspects of this album that are recognisible from my solo compositions over the past years. Many themes and ideas I return to.

Next to Software and Synths, the album also features guests on Bass and Drums. How did you decide which tracks and parts to play yourself on Synth and for which to ask respected colleagues?
It's always a joy to work with other musicians and to have them contribute to your music and it's the part of the recording process I most look forward to. I had fairly complete demos of all the material and it was obvious to me which tracks would benefit from a real drum performance and also acoustic bass on the more jazzy track on the album. It took Gavin no time at all to get a great performance and it was exactly what I wanted.

At the moment, there don't seem to be any gigs with the „Stranger Inside“ material planned. Is this possibly because you feel that some of your projects suit themselves less to a stage performance than others?
I am happy to perform this material live but I don't think it would be interesting for more than 40 minutes or so. I like to be part of a bill or line up of other artists or as a support act. There are a few interesting offers lately in this respect , so maybe next year I will be on stage again playing solo.

You've mentioned several times that gear as such doesn't solve problems. What, then, to you, are the decisive factors for the quality of a Synth or Software?
Any piece of software or instrument has to be designed in an intelligent and intuitive way. Most these days are. The more flexible and programmable the design, the better. I have a really wide selection of Analogue synths with their own "character sounds" as well as digital hardware from the last 10 years or so and plenty of software options and emulations also. I now get asked to program sounds for a lot of these synths , so I get a good idea of their possibilities from an early stage. It's nice to have all this different options but with skillful programming, I don't think you need more than a couple of synths.

Vice versa, has it ever occured that a compositional- or production issue caused you to buy a new piece of equipment?

Electronic pioneer Laurie Spiegel mentioned that she feared that, as part of technological development, „music comes from inside us much less often than used to be the case. I am hearing more and more editing, selection and juxtaposition in the new music I run across, and less of what feels like genuine self-expression from within the individual.“ Is this something you can relate to?
Absolutely, I agree with those sentiments. I'm sometimes guilty of that, which is why I feel I need to return to the more traditional studio recording environment. It's very costly just to get studio time and develop ideas with other musicians, but I think that is the way forward for my next recording regardless of how long it takes.

How often are you approached by gear manufacturers to participate in the development of a new piece of equipment?
Quite often lately. Some synths now come with many of my sounds as standard.

Your sound is very recognisable and has been the object of admiration. And yet, it has proven hard to copy. Do you ever hear a piece of music and think to yourself: That guy's playing like me!
I haven't heard anyone play like me since I've never had a "normal" understanding of music and I'm a bit unpredictable in that sense but I've heard a few sounds here and there that seem very familiar.

By Tobias Fischer

Flame (One Little Indian) 1994
Wired 1 (Wire Magazine) 1994
Changing Hands (Medium Productions Limited) 1997
Things Buried (Intact Records) 2004
Stranger Inside (KScope) 2008

Richard Barbieri

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