Barn Owl APF 2014 Official Interview

Barn Owl is duo Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti. The San Francisco based band has put out a number of releases on Thrill Jockey Records, most recently 2013’s “V”. Our friend Ryan Muldoon at Revolt of the Apes has compiled a list of 10 questions for Barn Owl in anticipation of their APF 2014 performance.


In what ways do you think your creative experiences outside of Barn Owl influenced your sound in ways that are surprising even to yourself? How – if at all – do you think your sense of confidence in your sound has changed since the beginning of Barn Owl’s life?

Jon: The Barn Owl sound has evolved gradually out of our consistent collaboration over the years but I feel it has defined itself more clearly recently with the use of new instrumentation. We have brought new methods into our setup but continue to focus on achieving the same musical goals. Clearly defining these goals, even subconsciously, was a big part of figuring out how to create them with new tools. We’re at the point in our project where we have an intuitive sense for what we want to achieve and in that sense we are more confident in what we want to do as a band.

Evan: We were very young when we started the band so we’ve grown up a lot. Learning your strengths and weaknesses and developing your sound, these are things that can only come with time and practice.

How do you think the circumstances of your immediate environment impact the music – meaning, do you feel the music you make would be significantly different if you made your home in a different country, for instance? Are there particular locations that you can point to as having a direct impact on sounds you’ve created?

Jon: Certainly you could argue the open, horizontal expanse that makes up most of California has played a role in defining the attention to space in our music.

What evolution in your sound are you conscious of that may just be too subtle for most listeners to recognize? Have you ever been introduced to an aspect of your sound by someone outside of Barn Owl, offering a perspective that you simply hadn’t considered, but ultimately came to agree with?

Jon: We once had a blog review written by a deaf writer. He was focused on the physical vibrations produced from the sounds- which we thought was fascinating.

Our introduction to Barn Owl came in the form of 2010’s stunning (and occasionally spooky) “Ancestral Star” album. What is the origin of that title, and what made you decide that it was the most appropriate title for that album?

Evan: The title comes from the concept of ancestral memory as it relates to musical tradition. In the case of a tradition like flamenco for example, ancestral memory has to do with the performer tapping into the pain and passion of past generations and acting as a conduit, the music is a release of all the emotions associated with past experiences. We’ve always been interested in music as a way to dissolve the ego and tap in to subconscious and universal currents so this idea acted as a starting point.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, our ears pick up more star-gazing frequencies on last year’s “V” album than on “Ancestral Star”; portions of the album wouldn’t sound out of place on the most intergalactic of Tangerine Dream’s work. Then again, we may be insane. In what ways are these two albums connected in your mind? In what ways are they different to you – perhaps unexpectedly so?

Jon: Both albums differ in how they were produced. With V, we spent more time designing sounds and applying rigorous post-production. Ancestral Star was more focused on capturing nuance in a live setting. I’d say both albums move in similar ways between moments of vivid, composed frameworks and moments of atmospheric blur and improv.

Evan: In terms of expanding the actual frequency range, “V” really made use of extreme frequencies. Ancestral Star has some heavy modular synth drones on it, but we didn’t dive as deep into sound design at that point. The big shift between the records was changing the approach from playing live in a room and recording to tape to deconstructing sounds and using more electronic tools.

What was your first conscious introduction to exploring music through improvisation? Is a sustained creative inspiration necessary for successful improvisation?
Michelangelo viewed a sculpture as being pre-existing, with the artist’s role being to find it and release it. Would you consider this to be largely the case with improvised music as well?

Jon: Learning about the Alap in traditional Indian Classical music turned me on to the potential for discovery that comes along with letting emotion and intuition guide the creative process. Also being introduced to jazz was a big turning point. It took years to feel technically comfortable enough to take that risk and abandon basic structure. After years of taking those risks, it became a big part of our musical practice. That led to improv playing a key role in how we write. Many ideas emerge out of improvising, playing off each other and waiting for those moments when our creative trajectories line up perfectly.

Evan: Free jazz and raga were really mind expanding. In different ways they each broke down a lot of my notions of what music is and should be.
Not necessarily, improvisation is about the exchange of energy more than anything. Both between performers and audience. Improvisation in music can lead you to completely unexpected places so I find it difficult to think of anything being pre-existing.

How did you first hear of Austin Psych Fest? Are there any bands on the bill that you are excited about checking out?

Jon: Curious to check out Loop.

Evan: LOOP

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what Bay Area band have you been most inspired by over the years and why?

Jon: I’ve been listening to the new Actress, Carl Craig and releases from the Rastor-Noton label.

Evan: Lately it’s Eliane Radigue, Bernard Parmegiani, and Actress. Come to think of it, I can’t really think of any inspiring Bay Area bands.

18thcentury composer/philosopher – and Bay Area thrash pioneer – Jean-Jacques Rousseau said the following:
“With regard to equality, this word must not be understood to mean that degrees of power and wealth should be exactly the same, but rather that with regard to power, it should be incapable of all violence and never exerted except by virtue of status and the laws; and with regard to wealth, no citizen should be so opulent that he can buy another, and none so poor that he is constrained to sell himself.”

Your thoughts?

What’s next for Barn Owl?

Jon: We’ve got a bunch of new material, so I sense a recording session sometime in the near future. I also have a new solo record coming out on Thrill Jockey in March.


Catch Barn Owl at APF 2014 May 2 – 4. Tickets and camping passes are available for purchase HERE.